Working at the Intersection Digital Humanities Pedagogy, Social Justice, and Librarianship

1. Abstract

At many institutions, the library is at the center of Digital Humanities work on campus. Academic libraries are important discipline-spanning partners in the digital humanities, from research to teaching. DH library staff engage in a broad range of pedagogic activities, including teaching for-credit classes, partnering with teaching faculty in their classrooms, and offering workshops, to name a few. These sites of learning offer possibilities for social justice pedagogy across a spectrum of pedagogic praxis. This panel will explore a range of approaches DH librarians and staff across the United States employ for social justice pedagogy, representing a range of institutions from research universities to liberal arts colleges. We will examine ways of infusing critical pedagogy into DH library instruction, including one-shot instruction and embedded librarianship, as well as DH instruction designed specifically for classes related to social justice. We will cover varying approaches to building academic communities based on collaboration, kindness, generosity, and shared values, and we will discuss user-centered DH teaching and learning that is inclusive and responsive to particular student needs. We will also contemplate the perils and possibilities of engaging in DH and social justice work within and beyond libraries. Libraries are an important site to examine the intersections of DH, social justice, and pedagogy, and we hope this panel will offer multiple windows into the on-going work in this area and move forward both the conversation and the practice around the way we engage with DH learners.

Pamella R. Lach, Digital Humanities Librarian, San Diego State University. “Infusing Critical Digital Humanities Pedagogy in the Library Classroom: From One-Shot Instruction to Embedded Librarianship”

Digital Humanities librarians engage in a range of DH-related instruction, from the “one-shot”—a single and standalone interaction with a class—to embedded librarianship—in which a librarian works closely with a class for the duration of a semester. Librarians striving to infuse critical digital humanities approaches into classrooms that are not their own must be prepared to incorporate critical approaches in both small and large ways. This talk explores the opportunities and challenges for one DH librarian attempting to infuse critical digital humanities into their instruction.

Often faced with a limited amount of time with students, I carefully select DH project examples that have a social justice focus, whether a digital history project that serves as a corrective to the archival silencing of people of color, or a project explicitly designed to advance equity, diversity, inclusion (EDI), and social justice through its digital praxis. I also ask students to explore well-intentioned projects that fall short of these goals—for example, projects that re-objectify and dehumanize individuals through problematic visual representations. In examining a range of projects dedicated to people of color—their histories and stories—my students and I engage in critical sensemaking that interrogates the motivations of the projects’ creators, the assumptions and biases baked into the projects, and the unintended messages being delivered. While I cannot always provide solutions to these problems, the questioning that we engage in together leads to a critical praxis that I hope they will apply to other classes and scholarship (digital or analog).

More often than not, I work closely with classes over an entire semester in a more embedded style, which affords me opportunities for even greater social justice interventions.

When engaging in ongoing work with a class—whether project- or tools-based—I bring in that same critical framework. But my obligation towards critical DH extends beyond the examples I use to teach or the conversations we have in class. Working at a lesser-resourced, teaching-intensive institution where not all students own a laptop or are comfortable with technology, I often select free, lower-tech solutions with minimal access barriers. But in selecting such tools, many of which rely on Google integration, I am also aware of the risks to the students, particularly for undocumented students who might be vulnerable using tools that do not guarantee data privacy or expose them to surveillance risks. While opting for expensive tools may not necessarily be the solution, I try to make these choices transparent, call attention to the risks, and offer meaningful alternatives and opt-out solutions so that students can make informed decisions about how they want to engage in DH in their classes.

Even when we are not instructors of record, DH librarians can make important contributions to the classroom by modeling critical inquiry and helping students evaluate digital scholarship from an EDI- and social justice-informed lens. Whether they are reviewing existing digital projects or creating their own, we can teach students to make careful—if constrained—choices, and to be open and honest about those choices.

Megan Martinsen, Digital Scholarship Librarian, Georgetown University. “Digital Humanities Methods for Social Justice Pedagogy”

The growing discussion about infusing digital humanities pedagogy with social justice concepts is incredibly important work and exciting to see. Less discussed, but equally exciting in my view, is the reverse. Embedding digital humanities tools and methods into social justice pedagogy is a useful and important endeavor. It can open up avenues for social justice students to share their important work online as public scholars and as students gain comfort with digital research methods, they can potentially ask new questions about the social justice topics they study.
My talk will present a case study of a social justice course at my institution where I collaborated with the teaching faculty member to create a final project that used digital humanities methods and where I served as an embedded librarian for the semester. The course, Justice and Peace Studies 299, is the research methods course required for the Justice and Peace Studies major and minor. The bulk of the course is spent exploring research methods used in social justice studies. My collaboration with the teaching faculty member added a section on digital humanities methods that can be applied to social justice studies.

The assignment we created had students work in groups focused on a social justice issue of their choosing. Each group was required to write a paper that employed basic text mining, create an infographic, create a data visualization, and create a map. My talk will delve into how the assignment came to be, student reactions to the assignment, and common issues the student groups faced. And I’ll discuss lessons learned from the project and how we might change and shift the project in upcoming semesters.
While not every institution has a social justice degree path, they are growing in popularity and many institutions now offer at least some coursework in social justice studies. My hope is that this talk will help digital humanities practitioners see a role for themselves as collaborators with these emergent programs.

Brandon Walsh, Scholars’ Lab Head of Student Programs, University of Virginia Library; Amanda Visconti, Scholars’ Lab Managing Director, University of Virginia Library. “Building Community and Generosity in the Context of Graduate Education”

The academy trains students in complex intellectual work and tends to reward the performance of one’s own intelligence, both in coursework and in conferences. But in collaborative digital projects, this sort of focus on the individual is detrimental to the group dynamic, which must take shape around more than just the individual. In our year-long introduction to digital humanities by way of project-based pedagogy, we consistently noted this tension in our fellowship cohorts. Each year, we struggled to promote healthy collaboration centered on shared buy-in and generosity; our students instead remained focused on what a group project would mean for them and their careers. While these are important needs and understandable desires, we hoped to use their year with us as an opportunity for them to grow beyond this framing. We eventually realized that our problem was expecting the students to act in a way different than habitually expected and taught in other parts of the academy. We realized this was a matter of training: our students were trained in seminar-type environments that value the performance of individual thought, and never were exposed to or rewarded for a different approach. This talk discusses workshops and exercises for our graduate student fellows that encourage reorienting their collaborative practices away from a focus on the self, and towards creating more generous and kind community spaces. We will focus on a workshop on community and collaboration we now teach for our students, where we discuss what might be gained by de-centering yourself, building up rather than deconstructing, leading from trust and kindness, and more. This session is part of a larger exercise in producing group statements of values—charters—that require students to examine their own personal goals, experiences, and backgrounds in relationship to the whole. This process tries to help students recognize that these conversations deserve a space in academic discourse, that academic practice can be different than they’ve experienced elsewhere, and that this conversation can be a space in which to begin to shape a different kind of scholarly work.

Heather Froehlich, Literary Informatics Librarian, Penn State University. “Digital Pedagogy at Scale: Reaching Different Student Populations”
How we adapt classroom pedagogy based on the needs of a given student population is a common discussion in instruction and pedagogy circles. However, this has been less of a discussion in Digital Humanities instruction: the assumption seems to be primarily focused on a specific population signed up for a class with a DH element. But what happens when your institutional population covers a range of students and socioeconomic backgrounds across a wide range of the state’s demographics? In this talk I will discuss some practical considerations about teaching digital methods across a multi-campus state university system using two examples of digital humanities instruction related to early modern digital projects. One project at a well-resourced flagship campus involving a graduate seminar in scholarly editing where students are learning about digital scholarly editing with TEI; the associated undergraduate class is learning to flex their muscles in a lower-stakes editing task. The other project, at one of our 4-year undergraduate, more residential colleges is an exercise in undergraduate student research related to 17th century recipe books; students transcribe and are developing research projects around this manuscript.

In each situation, the pedagogical contexts are wildly different: at one campus, our students are widely understood to be from more upper middle-class families and often have a parent or family member who went to college; at another campus, our students are primarily local and a significant population are 1st-generation and/or coming in via local, urban community colleges. Our graduate students represent a third vector, given that they all have undergraduate degrees and many of them are in a combined MA-PhD program. Developing models of instruction for these classes require a level of flexibility for the librarian and faculty partners: what works for one group does not always work for all others.
R.C. Miessler, Systems Librarian, Gettysburg College. “Values-Based Communities of Practice in the Digital Humanities”

The Digital Scholarship Summer Fellowship is a library-led, high-impact learning experience for undergraduates at a liberal arts college that provides students an introduction to Digital Humanities tools and methods. Student fellows receive a stipend for the summer to participate in the program, in which they choose their own research question and create a digital project. While the students’ research topics may or may not share themes, tools, or methods during the course of the summer program, all fellows participate in a common curriculum, read and discuss a variety of readings from a diverse range of DH practitioners, and publicly present their projects at the end of the summer. The librarian facilitators of the program draw from their own areas of expertise or interest to mentor students, deliver workshops, and guide discussions. Together, both students and librarians broaden their own understanding of the nature and workings of DH in a space that encourages experimentation and failure.

The core experience of the summer program is the emphasis on the development of a community of practice amongst the student cohort and librarian facilitators; rather than focusing on a single research question or method, the community is centered on shared values. To support a wide range of research questions, the librarians who facilitate the fellowship approach Digital Humanities pedagogy from a generalist and discipline-agnostic perspective when teaching tools and methods. With each student fellow undertaking an independent research project, workshops focus on critical evaluation of the affordances and limitations of the Digital Humanities more broadly, as well as introducing students to project management, user experience, and public speaking. Through the framework of the curriculum, students have agency to choose which tools and methods are best suited to their research while acknowledging the limitations of what they can reasonably accomplish in the course of the summer program.

This talk will focus on the evolution of the development of local, values-based DH communities of practice that transcend typical administrator/undergraduate hierarchies and how those values are transmitted and reinforced via experimentation, mentorship, and pedagogy. Past student projects created during the summer programs that have focused on the local community and issues of social justice will also be highlighted to show how the values have carried on in student research activity.

Nabil Kashyap, Digital Scholarship Librarian, Swarthmore College. “Institutional Tactics: Locating Social Justice in Liberal Arts DH”

Drawing on a breadth of library activities at a liberal arts college, this talk explores how our campus has engaged highly elusive, tangled issues around digital humanities pedagogy and social justice. The questions that animate our work: Where can we find and make space in our professional practices to address injustice? How can we make that work legible and articulate value when it takes place diffusely across a range of decisions, sites, and stakeholders? Given our context, how can we avoid being subsumed by trends in higher education and resist institutional virtue signaling?

We examine three loci of recent activity: faculty pedagogy, student programs, and ad hoc collaboration. We regularly design and lead workshops aimed at instructors around digital assignments and implementing DH tools in the classroom. The resulting skills intensives have taken place both at liberal arts colleges and larger campuses. This process affords us opportunities to explicitly engage the perils and possibilities of digital assignments and platforms--from the violence of metadata to military/colonial histories of particular tools to minimal web development for decentralized, public humanities.

We run several co-curricular student programs including a digital scholarship student initiative that brings humanities and computer science majors together around theory and praxis of digital environments. We read widely in STS, Post-Colonial DH, and media theory, while working hands-on with the web stack, attentive to the ecological, political, and social dimensions of everyday digital infrastructure.

We also have regular opportunities to collaborate with other units on campus. How might we, for example, partner with initiatives oriented around innovation and entrepreneurship? One way was to co-sponsored a hackathon, which allowed us to shape the structure and goals of event. Through that process we were able to eschew commercial webapps in favor of partnering with local activist organizations representing pressing community needs.

Rather than showcasing disparate library initiatives, these activities taken in aggregate point to the library as a site for contingent tactics deployed alongside institutional strategies. We engage in flexible if fallible approaches to our professional and personal commitments to social justice as enacted through and imperiled by digital environments.

Pamella R. Lach (, San Diego State University, Megan Martinsen (, Georgetown University, Amanda Visconti (, University of Virginia, Brandon Walsh (, University of Virginia, Heather Froehlich (, Penn State University, R.C. Miessler (, Gettysburg College and Nabil Kashyap (, Swarthmore College

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