UW-Madison Center for the Humanities

Center for the Humanities

Past Faculty Development Seminars

Spring 2009: Digital Humanities

Led by Jon McKenzie (English)

Digital humanities is an emerging area that draws on such fields as media studies, humanities computing, and new media arts. It brings together scholars working on, with, or through digital technology, whether it be studying computers' impact on society, inventing electronic research tools, creating multimedia work, or incorporating online activities into teaching and learning. The National Endowment for the Humanities recently upgraded their Digital Humanities Initiative into a standing Digital Humanities Office, thus signaling this area's importance to 21st-century humanities. This seminar focuses on enhancing and developing digital humanities across the UW-Madison campus.

The faculty seminar is developmental in two ways: it seeks to develop faculty knowledge of digital humanities, while also applying this knowledge toward the development of digital humanities at UW–Madison. Thus the seminar will work toward three goals:

  • an historical consideration of interrelation of the humanities and technology;
  • a critical understanding of "digital humanities" proper, the field's contours and defining issues;
  • and most importantly, the forging of a network of UW-Madison faculty currently working on, with, or through digital media and technology.


The seminar will consist primarily of discussions of seminal texts in digital humanities, new media studies, and related fields; and weekly readings will be held to approximately sixty pages. In addition, invited speakers will share their experience working on or with digital technologies. At the seminar’s core will be such issues as the relation of knowledge and technology, the language and rhetoric of new media, and the nature of mediated collaboration and distributed agency. Throughout, we will examine the digital’s transformational potential for the humanities—and inquire into just what the humanities offers to emerging digital societies.

One guiding assumption is that all humanists work within the digital--routinely using email, web browsers, and word processors--while a much smaller number work on or with the digital, either as an object of study or as a primary component of their research or teaching. Ideally, the seminar will serve both groups, those currently doing digital humanities and those interested in doing so more effectively.