I am absolutely thrilled to kick off our blog on the new Digital Liberal Arts website at Penn State. With your help, this site will become a useful source of information and insights about digital studies at the College of Liberal Arts and beyond.

Great! So, where do we start? Well, I would like to start with a definition to open up our conversation and give us some common ground from which to build. What is Digital Liberal Arts? Why DLA? In an article called “Stop Calling it ‘Digital Humanities‘” published in the Chronicle, William Pannapacker defined DLA as a broad set of methods that work to integrate research and teaching practices within the liberal arts through the use of computational technologies. In short, DLA champions the innovative and unique traditions within the liberal arts and seeks to augment them with new methods:

Even before [Digital Humanities] DH arrived, liberal-arts colleges were moving from traditional, lecture-based courses toward a model of teachers and students as co-researchers, collaborating across disciplines and cohorts, attempting to build projects that can serve a wide range of needs, seeking support for those projects, and presenting that work at conferences and now, increasingly, online. In that context, DH is not a “disruption”—it is an enhancement of the core methods of an ideal liberal-arts education.

~William Pannapacker, “Stop Calling It ‘Digital Humanities'” (2013)

DLA seeks to further develop a model of education in the liberal arts that is both collaborative and public facing. Students and faculty often work shoulder to shoulder on digital projects capable of engaging with multiple knowledge stakeholders. We often regard students, faculty, librarians, archivists, alumni, and the general public as our target audience. Most importantly, we want to engage the public with ideas and discussions happening within our disciplines. We want our research, and that of our students, to be a resource for larger political, cultural, and social conversations happening at the local and global level. We want to mobilize the best of the humanities and social science in a way that is appropriate for the 21st century.

Because this is an inaugural blog post, it makes sense to have such broad strokes, but let’s try to narrow our focus a little. Rafael Alvarado offers an interesting reflection on Pannapacker’s post that might help us refine our definition further. In Alvarado’s post, “Start Calling it Digital Liberal Arts,” he explicitly defines DLA as using digital technology to open up dialogue. After all, the internet is a big deal! It offers us an unprecedented ability to embed scholarly conversations within public discourse. The internet is also the place where so much contemporary culture is happening right now. Thinking about our work in a public way also offers our students a chance to direct their passions and interests beyond the confines of the classroom. We are best able to serve the public interest as well as the interest of our students when we enter the digital commons and showcase the academic excellence of our institutions. With regard to this network of concerns, Alvarado says,

the digital liberal arts seeks to locate digital media squarely within the frame of the liberal arts, broadly conceived as a curriculum, not a discipline or even set of disciplines, and as a distinctive mode of educational experience, not a set of received theoretical concerns. It is a framing particularly suited to liberal arts colleges — America’s great contribution to higher learning — but also to universities, such as UVa, whose souls are in the liberal arts as well.

~Rafael Alvarado, “Start Calling it Digital Liberal Arts” (2013)

I think Alvarado’s words perfectly describe our situation at Penn State. We are a university whose soul is in the liberal arts. We do not need disciplinary doctrine to refactor the fine work that we do. We may simply need the curricular structures and technical support to help frame our work within the realities of the web and other technologies. In many cases, our research and teaching will be shaped by the new questions that are possible with computational tools. In other cases, we may be moved to mobilize our work in a public and participatory way. We may be attuned to our colleagues and find productive partnerships and collaborations. In whatever form DLA takes at Penn State, the culture we build will serve the mission of the University and the College of Liberal Arts. Our students can only stand to benefit from this kind of patient, capacious, and generous outlook.

In the spirit of generosity, we’ve brought together a set of useful links to help get things rolling. We have pages on digital tools, projects, events, and other resources. Let us know what you think so far. Feel free to offer other links and projects!

Here is the final call to action!

We want this blog to be an open project. If you want to write a post about your digital project, please get in touch! If you are working with technology in your classes, we would love to hear about your pedagogical experiments. If you are working in a related field and would like to draw connections across the university, we’d warmly welcome your point of view!

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