When Ed Ayers has something to say about the digital humanities I tend to listen--attentively. Today the Chronicle of Higher Education is running a piece by Ayers titled "A More Radical Online Revolution." He introduces his readers to the "History Harvest" project at the University of Nebraska and the "Visualizing Emancipation" project at his own University of Richmond (Ayers is the president). In the process he makes a compelling argument for the role that digital history might play in the entire MOOC, online learning, and technology conversation.
Here is a taste of his piece:
Ironically, the advocates and skeptics of online teaching might find
common ground by thinking more boldly, beyond the terms of the current
debate. The skeptics might ask whether the new technologies cannot offer
useful amplification to our scholarly work of discovery; the advocates
of the new technologies need to think more directly about how to reach
broad audiences while also fostering meaningful conversations across the
disciplines and bridging a division between teaching and scholarship.
Two crucial parts of higher education that have received little
attention in the debates thus far—the humanities and the creation of new
knowledge—can help advance those conversations.
A deeper engagement with the methods and purposes of the humanities
is essential for any online enterprise that claims to offer a university
education. Though humanities courses appear on some of the listings
from the new consortia, and though some courses have proved extremely
popular, much of the attention devoted to MOOCs focuses on the
procedural, cumulative methods of teaching of computer science,
statistics, and the basic sciences. The humanities, by contrast,
flourish with different ways of thinking and teaching, more ambiguous,
open-ended, and interpretive.
Whatever the discipline, the new online world must find ways to help
create new knowledge. Online education cannot run indefinitely, as it
does now, on borrowed intellectual capital, disseminating what we
already know. Higher education takes its energy, its purpose, from a
charged circuit between teaching and research, between sharing knowledge
and making knowledge. New forms of teaching must be able to generate
Scholarship expressly built for electronic environments has been slow
to develop. Perhaps surprisingly, given how slow online teaching
methods have been to adapt to the humanities, those disciplines are in
the forefront of developing this new kind of scholarship. The digital
humanities are growing rapidly, establishing centers at many
institutions, hiring professors and researchers, sustaining rich
conversations online and in national and international conferences.
Indeed, the digital humanities can serve as a model for other
disciplines, and for the larger online enterprise.