Binghamton DHRI New York

May 28-31, 2019

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The Binghamton Digital Humanities Research Institute was offered as a 4-day intensive workshop for university faculty and graduate students who are interested in the digital humanities. The institute included seminar-type sessions oriented around critical discussion and hands-on workshops that introduced the foundational skills and tools that are central to digital humanities practices. Sessions treated topics such as the command line, data visualization, digital mapping, Python, text analysis, platforms for the digital presentation of research, open access and ethics. The goal for the Institute was to foster a dynamic, robust and generative community of digital humanities researchers and teachers at Binghamton University.



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Binghamton University Libraries

Center for Learning and Teaching, Binghamton University

Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, Binghamton University

The Graduate School, Binghamton University

Harpur College of Art & Sciences, Binghamton University

Office of Undergraduate Education, Binghamton University

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Community Leaders
Image depicting Nancy Um

Nancy Um is Professor in the Department of Art History and co-director of the Middle East and North Africa Studies Program at Binghamton University. Her research explores the Islamic world from the perspective of the coast, with a focus on material, visual, and built culture on the Arabian Peninsula and around the rims of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. She is the author of The Merchant Houses of Mocha: Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port (University of Washington Press, 2009) and Shipped but not Sold: Material Culture and the Social Protocols of Trade during Yemen’s Age of Coffee (University of Hawai’i Press, 2017). She recently co-edited (with Carrie Anderson), "Coordinates: Digital Mapping and 18th-C Visual, Material and Built Cultures," Journal18: a journal of eighteenth-century art and culture (Spring 2018).

Image depicting Amy Gay

Amy Gay recently joined Binghamton University Libraries as their first Digital Scholarship Librarian, where she is leading the implementation of digital scholarship initiatives for the Libraries, works to help strengthen programs related to digital scholarship services, and supports and serves as a resource to faculty developing digital scholarship projects. Before coming to Binghamton University, Amy was part of the National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) D.C. cohort in 2016, which is administered by the Library of Congress and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. During this time, she managed projects at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration that focused on enabling open science, including the creation of a publicly searchable science data catalog for the Office of Science and Engineering Laboratories within the Center for Devices and Radiological Health. She received her MLIS from Syracuse University, and her research interests include primary source literacy, interactive technology and pedagogy, war history and cultural heritage preservation. In her free time, Amy enjoys attending trivia nights, hiking along the Upstate gorges, and trying out local eateries and diners.


Video 12 minutes


In May 2019, we led the Binghamton DHRI which included 17 participants: faculty members and advanced graduate students. We spent four days studying data visualization, mapping, Python, platforms for digital publishing, and engaging in lots of independent work as well. One piece of feedback that we received from our participants was that we didn't give them enough time to play with the new tools and skills that they had learned and we had put together a schedule that was very robust and very demanding. I would say everyone was exhausted by the end of the day but we wanted to really pack things in. We really had an agenda we wanted them to learn and walk away with. But then the kind of negative side of that was that they didn't have enough time to explore on their own. So if we were to do this again, we would definitely give them the opportunity to take maybe an hour a day maybe at the end of each day, maybe a little bit more, to work with the tools that they had gained exposure to, with the collaboration of their peers as well as the mentors in the room.


We were really fortunate to be able to bring in outside speakers and instructors. When we first started thinking about how this line-up was going to go, it was about bringing in expertise that we didn't feel was represented among our group. We had two co-organizers, each of us taught, and two graduate assistants who also taught. But we wanted to bring in for instance someone to teach text analysis, who came from Cornell, and we had someone come in to teach the command line, also from Cornell. So that was our idea first: it was about expertise. But then we realized that having these diverse voices was amazingly helpful for our participants. There were things that I think I said on the first day and maybe the second day, but when they heard it on the third day or in the afternoon of the second day from someone else, it could have been said in a different way or put differently, it really got through to them. So having this range of voices was really, really importan. So those were two of our instructors. We were also very fortunate to have two outside lectures and one of them was Lisa Rhody from CUNY and the other was Nicky Agate from Columbia. And they were really, really amazing in bringing into perspective what we were doing and why we were doing it. For instance, Lisa brought forward a whole range of digital projects that our participants had never seen—they didn't know about. They were gained exposure to them and were able to put them into context of what they were learning. And Nicky Agate came and she talked about the values of open scholarship and thinking about taking control of one's scholarly identity. Those were really really powerful ideas that I would say had never been introduced to our campus before. That was the first time I heard a talk like that on our campus. I feel like we accomplished a lot; even beyond the agenda that we had set forward for the Institute, with the help of these colleagues from other institutions.

Recruiting Sponsors

We went knocking on doors. We made sure to go to visit the stakeholders on campus in their offices and we had really interesting conversations with each of them. Just to give you a few examples, the Dean of Harpur College was one of our co-sponsors, the Dean of the Graduate School was another co-sponsor. The office of undergraduate education was also another sponsor, and the Center for learning and teaching as well as the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. All of these different groups were interested in Digital Humanities. They knew that there were great possibilities and opportunities in the Digital Humanities. We were really able to communicate to them why one needed to bring the experience of DH to Binghamton rather than say sending our colleagues to another institution, which of course, is another possibility but why we needed to bring this experience onto our own campus and what all of us could gain from it. So we were very fortunate to have five generous co-sponsors who were also engaged and present with us. This is something that was really important: many of these co-sponsors sent representatives from their units to join us in our sessions, to sit down and learn Python with us. I think that they were able to really understand what it means to learn and teach these approaches, these tools, these issues. It turned out to be an amazingly collaborative event.

Engaging Faculty and Graduate Students

I will say, for us at Binghamton, the graduate students I think are key in any humanities initiative. And one thing that I've observed in DH in general is that the kinds of lines of mentorship don't always move in the way that we expect them to, where knowledge starts here and it goes down to students; that's just simply not the way it works. And I know that it's been very powerful on our campus, for graduate students, to begin doing computational work and then sometimes they show their advisors what they've done, and the advisor goes: "How did you do that? What is this? I've never seen this before!" And that is how then we get the faculty engaged in the digital humanities, or that's one way, and I've seen that to be a very effective way. So from the beginning, Amy and I as collaborators knew that the graduate students needed to play a really important role in this process. So one thing that we did is we were very fortunate, again, with sponsorship to hire two graduate assistants who were with us the entire four days, but also taught their own units. We also knew that we wanted to have graduate students as part of our cohort among the participants. This is interesting because some of our co-sponsors said: "Well, you know, classroom students are going to leave the institution and then then is it worth it to train them in this way? Because are they going to be able to cultivate our community?" And our answer was without question: Yes, we need to have graduate students in the room. And they were just an amazing presence in the room and I will say that I think many of my colleagues among the faculty, I don't think that they had necessarily had the experience of learning next to graduate students and also learning from graduate students. And so they got to do both during that week. And you know we started characteristically with our icebreaker, and I would say these icebreakers—some people think they're very corny. I told our participants one of the reasons we do the icebreaker is so that we can understand that these hierarchies that we often observe; that they have to be reset. And we do it through something like an icebreaker that doesn't start out, "I'm a professor" or "I'm a graduate student." We did a very silly icebreaker actually which was what really set us all on the same footing. And I thought that was really important and a great way to begin our experience.


The question of pedagogical approach was one that we went back and forth on and we talked a lot with Lisa and Kalle about. And the foundational approach that we undertook at CUNY last summer was, for me, just pivotal. As someone who had been involved in DH and had done lots of workshops, lots of trainings, had had lots of exposure to different methods, I didn't know that what was stopping me was the fact that I did not have those foundations. I kept hitting these walls in terms of my research and so that, for me, was just so important and so with that knowledge we moved forward to plan our DHRI. But I will tell you we did not go entirely with the foundational approach that CUNY offered us, and we had reasons for doing so. We felt as if we wanted to combine that with what we call "out-of-the-box approach" of much more kind of tool-focus very specific outcome approach. We did both, and the reasoning behind that was that we knew that our colleagues needed to have something that was very concrete kind of tangible takeaways from that four days. By kind of toggling back-and-forth between some of these foundations, which were more abstract, and then these very tangible tools, we were able to show them that there were lots of ways to do any one thing. There was not just one single right way to engage in any task and we really emphasized versatility, but also making choices. And making choices not just because you click on this icon and your computer defaults to opening it in this program but because you understand what the possibilities are. And you're making a meaningful and substantive choice. So that turned out to be kind of the goal, the pedagogical approach that we came to, maybe accidentally, but that was something that came from that moving back and forth between these foundational concepts and then these very kind of specific tool-oriented tasks, really.


I would just like to say that the experience of being part of the CUNY DHRI has just been unbelievable. When I saw the DHRI advertised—that was now over a year and a half ago— I had been thinking, "This is exactly what I wanted to do on my campus!" I knew that there was something that needed to happen at Binghamton. We had been offering a workshop here, a workshop there but we never got any traction. At the same time, I would hear people, they would come to me and say, "Well, we're kind of interested in this Digital Humanities thing," and, you know, there would be all these kind of all these little kind of flickers of interest that we couldn't move forward on. And so when I saw the opportunity to do this, I just knew it was something I had to go for. And it has been amazing. It has been really amazing. It has been amazing because I had exposure to just the fantastic community here. I got to work with an amazing collaborator, Amy Gay, who is the digital scholarship librarian. I feel like our collaboration was one between a faculty member and a librarian that was really successful if I can say that at this stage—we are still kind of gauging the level of success but just working together was so fulfilling. And the kinds of exposure I had to my colleagues, in a different way. They were terrific. And they surprised me, as well, in their openness, their interest, their excitement. I would say, as well, that I've been teaching at Binghamton now for eighteen years, so a long time, the ability to bring people into a room and to realize that this group of people have never been brought into a room together for any particular reason—that's exciting, right? Because we're often looking at the same faces across the table and so we built a new community and I think that that's pretty exciting.