The Changing Humanities: UVA’s Praxis Program

In a recent op-ed as part of The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Digital Campus special issue, Bethany Nowviskie, director of Digital Research and Scholarship at the University of Virginia Library and president of the Association for Computers and the Humanities, highlights UVA’s Praxis Program. The program, a competitively-awarded yearlong digital methods workshop and apprenticeship designed to train emerging scholars in the humanities, provides “a small team of graduate students with soup-to-nuts training in software development for humanities research and exchange,” Nowviskie writes. An important aspect of the program is its collaborative nature, and students “learn to collaborate effectively across disciplinary borders and class lines in the academy, and with practitioners from profoundly different intellectual traditions,” including other students, librarians and information-technology professionals. This project-based structure is evidence of what Nowviskie calls the development of a parallel hermeneutic through humanities computing/digital humanities:

The great project of humanities computing is the development of a hermeneutic—a concept and practice of interpretation—parallel to that of the dominant, postwar, theory-driven humanities: a way of performing cultural and aesthetic criticism less through solitary points of view expressed in language, and more in team-based acts of building.

This emphasis on process and on project building is important not only for Prism, a tool for crowd-sourcing textual analysis, visualization, and humanities interpretation developed by the Praxis team, but also for the future careers of the students themselves. As Nowviskie writes,

We hope they will leave better prepared to teach and do research as faculty members who are producers—not just critics—of new media. And we expect some of them will blaze trails off the tenure track, as knowledge-workers in alternative academic careers (the fostering of which provides higher education’s best chance to keep a generation of passionate humanities scholars productively employed in arts, letters, and cultural institutions).

Read more at The Chronicle and at Nowviskie’s blog.

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