Interest in digital humanities (increasingly known as digital scholarship) as a form of undergraduate research is rising. More and more, undergraduates are expected to communicate their scholarship in digital forms that go beyond the conventional research paper or oral presentation. Students are excited about stretching their digital skills to use platforms like Omeka and WordPress, and data visualization tools for space and time, to organize and interpret their research. Yet, our faculty members often hesitate to introduce such tools and techniques because they fall outside of their subject expertise, often do not count towards promotion or tenure, and are time-consuming to learn. At Gettysburg College, a small, private, liberal arts college, our response is an innovative, library-led, student-centered approach to digital scholarship.
Our Digital Scholarship Summer Fellowship is an 8-week, paid, summer program for rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors launched in 2016. Fellows are exposed to a range of tools (some customized based on their chosen projects) and converse with appropriate partners about research practices and possibilities (including but not limited to the systems librarian, research & instruction librarians, archivists, instructional technologists, professors, and other members of the student cohort). Fellows utilize digital scholarship tools and techniques to produce their own individual public-facing, academic, digital projects. Students are encouraged to use materials from Gettysburg College’s Special Collections & College Archives when conceiving their projects. Using our historic collections as the foundation of a digital project strengthens existing connections between the library and the academic curriculum, and also provides additional exposure to the library’s collections.
We intend to leverage the expertise students develop in using digital tools during the summer to support classes using digital tools in the fall semester. Digital Scholarship Fellows are expected to assist faculty in supporting digital assignments and directly support the students enrolled in those classes. Peer learning programs are already part of our campus culture, so we believe that using student fellows to support digital scholarship by other undergraduates will be successful. Students completing course-based digital scholarship assignments may or may not be creating original research, but they may engage in digital undergraduate research in subsequent years as a result of early exposure to these methods.
Unlike other research fellowship opportunities, the Digital Scholarship Summer Fellowship is programmatic, based on a curriculum designed to provide students a broad introduction to digital scholarship. Digital tools, project management, documentation, and the philosophy behind digital scholarship are equally emphasized. While a student-created, public-facing project is an expected outcome of the fellowship, the process of getting to that point is the primary pedagogical emphasis.