The “virtual internship” this past year allowed me to see digital humanities at work outside of the “virtual classroom.” I was able to participate in three distinctly different platforms where DH is applied. During the first internship at the Smithsonian Learning Lab, I learned about the the impact of digitization and the change it has unleashed in education. Teachers and students have free access to the abundant collection of the Smithsonian Institutes. These digital resources from the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, 9 major research centers, and the National Zoo can be used for teaching and learning at the click of a mouse. Although finding resources online is not a new phenomenon, having the museums available on the computer screen along with already developed lessons, collections, and ideas for learning is a continuously growing and challenging opportunity for many to explore. Through reviewing and filtering the newly created collections on the site, I could follow in real time the developing ideas/lessons and ponder the purpose behind them. While the work itself was terribly challenging, it did stop me in my tracks since I had to consider the use of each collection created and keep in mind the public audience and copyright issues.
Having had a reasonably easy start, Stanford University’s Literary Lab presented some confusing challenges. After I attended one of the DH symposiums at Stanford University, I was intrigued to learn more about what they actually do in the Literary Lab. One of the presentations discussed a project called Emotions of London and I had a chance to talk to one of the professors who lead the project. My initial goal was to learn more about the strategies and DH tools used to examine literature. Previously, during the GMU DH courses I developed a public DH site designed to use crowdsourcing to further the content and collect the history of a place, and Emotions of London does exactly that, but with literature. While I was welcomed in every project meeting, I could not fully take part in these projects as an outsider, so my learning curve stayed flat. Nevertheless, I learned about the workings of higher academic projects in DH. These projects serve a small circle of the public by being published in journals and presented at conferences. The tools implemented were beyond the ones we learned about in the DH courses, and it was challenging to understand their function. In addition, the Stanford team did not treat me as an intern, I was to jump in the project or simple take notes. Without previous training or support or knowledge of the available ongoing literary projects, it became impossible to actually participate or advance my learning. At the end it seemed more reasonable to abandon this hopeful opportunity.
As the internship wraps up, I am fully engaged in a history project that allows me to create a module as part of the course for Hidden in Plain Sight . In this endeavor, I am able to incorporate literary connections with the history being presented through primary sources. The module traces the history of the Great Migration, paralleling the history and importance of yam, and presents how they echo in literature. This project combines the challenges of research, creativity, writing, and education. It is rewarding in a sense that it does give freedom in choosing the topic of my own and writing up the module in a way that it narrates this moment in American history. One of the incredible bonus that arrived with this internship opportunity is the tremendous professional academic support provided by the two professors working with this project. Their feedback is valued in igniting the interest to develop the module and through giving constructive detailed advice to revise and move forward. I am most of the way through with collecting the images writing up the sources for the module leading into the final essay. The project has a double edged sword element to it. The first idea/image was inspired by one of the novels I read with my high school students, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and many of the literary references are from my classroom readings. However, in return, the research I had conducted expands on the literature I teach and will be incorporating it in my curriculum. In addition, the work and research around the images and primary sources needed for the module gave a boost to my knowledge regarding copyrights and forced me to learn to look more closely to find them and request to attain them.
Interestingly, what the internship highlighted for me is the public element of digital humanities. Whether I create something from available digital sources or review already developed sites, it is impossible to know all the future possibilities they offer for the public — one thing is sure though, it will continue to offer possibilities. Stanford faculty at one point discussed the direction and use of their DH projects and the element missing was the public use, which limits their function and accessibility. They were searching to their theories and applications more public friendly and relevant. I also see the merging of disciplines in DH becoming more common and organic as they inevitably combine and enhance one another.
As I move forward with with my own professional development, I hope to gain more practice with DH and will push to use it more organically in my classroom teaching. I would also like to explore opportunities to develop DH courses for online teaching.