Cogut Institute for the Humanities

New digital humanities doctoral certificate fosters community and prepares students for a changing research landscape

In Fall 2022, the Center for Digital Scholarship at Brown University Library and the Cogut Institute launched a Doctoral Certificate in Digital Humanities. This new initiative prepares students for work in a world where research opportunities rapidly evolve alongside technology. Here, the institute talks with the center’s director, Ashley Champagne, about the certificate’s first year and direction for the future.

Congratulations on wrapping up the inaugural year of the certificate program! What was the experience of teaching its very first introductory course like?

It was great! The course brought together a wonderful group of graduate students from a variety of disciplines including history, economics, English, and comparative literature. The students had a passion for learning and working with digital methodologies. We plan to teach the “Introduction to Digital Humanities” course every spring, and each time it will necessarily evolve as the field of digital humanities changes and as new technologies impact and contribute to scholarly research. 

The certificate program, shaped as it is by technological innovation, seems extremely dynamic and timely. Why would you say it’s an important addition to Brown?

Digital humanities is such a vibrant and wide-ranging research domain. The field uses digital methodologies and formats to answer humanities and humanistic social science research questions, produce and share knowledge, and teach. It provides perpetually new avenues for exploring the world.

When I taught digital humanities workshops the past several years, before the certificate program existed, students would regularly respond, “How do I keep learning in this field?” The certificate provides a response to that request by organizing a list of offerings in digital humanities across the University.

It’s also a great opportunity for the Center for Digital Scholarship to encourage more researchers to teach in the field. Already, I’ve had great conversations with other center directors on how we can incorporate digital humanities into existing curricular offerings, such as the S4 (Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences) Summer GIS Institute and the Data Science Institute’s workshop series. 

It sounds like you’re already building community at Brown around digital humanities.

Yes! It’s gratifying to see. Community around digital humanities is really important for many reasons. The field is collaborative and often relies on researchers from different disciplines and with different skill sets. Having connections and building collaborations with an interdisciplinary community of digital humanists is very helpful in crafting your own scholarship in the field.

To help build community, the Center for Digital Scholarship puts together the Digital Humanities Salons, a regular, informal series of presentations by digital humanities researchers at Brown. One of the DH salons in the spring 2023, for example, was the “Artificial Intelligence in Humanities Research” roundtable. It brought together Lindsey Caplan (History of Art and Architecture), Holly Case (History), Kiri Miller (American Studies), and Sydney Skybetter (Theatre Arts and Performance Studies), to talk about how new AI tools hold out the promise of new techniques for research, writing and presentations in the humanities, as well as new challenges to originality and ethics.

This was the perfect event for the DH salons because the series welcomes and encourages scholars from different disciplines to informally talk about their work within the realm of digital humanities. Some of the faculty noted that they knew of each other’s work within the realm of AI and humanities research but didn’t often have the opportunity to connect.

Stay tuned for the upcoming announcement about our Fall 2023 schedule!

“ The ability to work with and ask good questions about digital methods and tools is important and widely applicable both within the academy and outside it. ”

Ashley Champagne Director of the Center for Digital Scholarship

Speaking of connections, this is a time when people are asking lots of questions about the relevancy of education to the working world. How does the certificate program prepare students for scholarship and careers beyond Brown?

The certificate program provides students with a foundation in digital methods and skills for their research, as well as an understanding of the broader theoretical questions that digital approaches to scholarship offer. The ability to work with and ask good questions about digital methods and tools is important and widely applicable both within the academy and outside it.

My Ph.D. is in English literature, and I worked in digital humanities throughout my graduate education. It was a significant part of my dissertation. Because of that experience, I felt confident after graduation that I could both apply to jobs in the professoriate and also in “alternative academic,” or “alt-ac,” careers.

I’ve worked as a technical writer at an telecommunications company, a content strategist in advertising, a teacher, and more. Digital humanities often requires scholars to work with many different types of people and to work collaboratively, and the methodologies used within digital humanities work are widely applicable. For example, I applied the data analysis skills I’d learned in graduate school when my clients in advertising needed to understand large datasets relevant to their work.

Digital humanities is also hugely important within academia and within tenure-track positions. My colleagues who have gone on to tenure-track positions have mentioned to me that “digital humanities” came up in their interview even though it wasn’t mentioned in the job advertisement. The digital humanities certificate allows students to gain a good base in the field, which they can use in all sorts of ways and career paths.

“ Digital humanities encourages curiosity, trying new things, and approaching research from all sorts of different angles. ”

Ashley Champagne Director of the Center for Digital Scholarship

What type of doctoral work do you hope might grow out of the certificate?

I love this question! I’m hopeful that the certificate will encourage more students to work within the digital humanities. It’s so interesting to try out new digital methodologies and experiment with new approaches to try to get at original research questions. I think digital humanities encourages curiosity, trying new things, and approaching research from all sorts of different angles. This curious and experimental mindset, I think, produces such interesting and meaningful work and teaching.

Ashley Champagne is Director of the Center for Digital Scholarship, the University’s digital scholarship hub that provides inspiration, expertise, services, and teaching in digital scholarship methodologies, project development, and publication to Brown faculty, staff, and students. She is also a Cogut Institute Lecturer in Humanities, teaching courses in digital humanities and supporting the Doctoral Certificate in Digital Humanities program. She is the Principal Investigator of the “New Frameworks to Preserve and Publish Born-Digital Art,” a project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, and the co-Research Director on the “Stolen Relations: Recovering Stories of Indigenous Enslavement in the Americas” project, which is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her work has appeared in Interdisciplinary Digital Engagement in Arts & Humanities, JMIR Infodemiology, ITHAKA S+R, and Digital Humanities Now. She earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2018.