Scholars' Lab Blog //MLA14 Roundtable on the Praxis Network: Rethinking Humanities Education, Together and In Public
Blog //MLA14 Roundtable on the Praxis Network: Rethinking Humanities Education, Together and In Public
Crossposted to my personal site.

I’m delighted to announce that our proposed roundtable on the Praxis Network has been accepted for the 2014 MLA Convention. Here are the details:

Session Proposal How can humanities programs better equip students for a wider range of careers, without sacrificing the core values or approaches of the disciplines? While not new, the question becomes more urgent as public funding for the humanities shrinks and the proportion of contingent faculty grows. Rather than see these pressures as threats, however, many programs see in them an opportunity to develop vibrant programs that take a broader view of possible methodological approaches, research products, and desirable career outcomes.

The participants in this proposed roundtable are all members of the Praxis Network, a new international partnership of graduate and undergraduate programs that are making effective interventions in the traditional models of humanities pedagogy and research. They represent programs that are embarking upon collaborative, interdisciplinary, project-based approaches to humanities education.

The Praxis Network features graduate programs at the University of Virginia, Michigan State University, CUNY Graduate Center, University College London, and Duke University, as well as undergraduate programs at Hope College and Brock University. By bringing together a collection of diverse programs that all aspire to similar goals of increasing the effectiveness of humanities educational practices and making their methodologies more widely applicable, we hope to spark ideas among institutions that are exploring similar initiatives. Each roundtable participant will give brief remarks to introduce their program, leaving substantial time for broader discussion and questions.

The partnership is one of three complementary projects in the Scholarly Communication Institute’s latest work on rethinking graduate education. A recent SCI study on the level of career preparation provided by graduate programs makes it clear that most graduates and their employers find that they do not gain many of the skills that are important in their professional environments—such as collaboration, project management, and communication with varied audiences—through their graduate programs. The Praxis Network provides a closer look at select programs that have taken unusual and effective approaches to addressing some of the issues that the survey uncovered.

Beyond preparing students for a broader range of careers, the Praxis Network programs also provide excellent models for the relevance of humanities scholarship in a changing public landscape. With federal and state funding for higher education facing tremendous pressure, making humanities scholarship meaningful to a much broader audience is critical. Fortunately, scholarly work is becoming increasingly available to a broader and less specialized public, whether through open-access journals, via blogs and personal websites, or as standalone digital projects. The programs in the Praxis Network address these two trends by encouraging students to develop public-facing projects that are accessible to non-specialists, without sacrificing disciplinary rigor. In fact, the students’ research output shows that encouraging students to think critically about their intended audience helps them to better grasp not only what is appropriate for the general public, but also what matters to their academic peers.

Humanities programs have the opportunity to better serve their students as well as the public by examining our core values and rethinking the methods we use to teach them. Increased public engagement is not only valuable to general audiences, but also healthy for academic disciplines and for individual graduates. Still, a great deal of work remains before humanities departments will commonly evaluate their success through outcomes other than tenure-track job placement. For wide-scale change to be possible, programs must find it valuable to equip students for varied careers in universities, libraries, cultural heritage organizations, non-profits, government offices, and more.

The programs in the Praxis Network show the tremendous potential of encouraging students to approach humanistic inquiry in new ways as the discipline moves toward embracing increased collaboration, meaningful public engagement, and an ethos of openness and exploration. Bringing together representatives of each program in a roundtable discussion will provide a fruitful opportunity for others in the humanities community to learn about the developments, to ask questions relevant to the goals and directions of their own institutions, and to spark new ideas for growth and change.

Participant Bios David F. Bell, co-director of the Duke PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, is Professor of French Studies at Duke University. His research focuses on nineteenth-century French literature and culture, including urban space and technologies of communication. He also works on the concept of tact as a discursive strategy, and on the notion of debt in French literature. He is the co-editor of SubStance.

Matthew K. Gold directs the Digital Fellows program at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and holds joint appointments there and at the New York City College of Technology. Gold is an Associate Professor of English at City Tech, while his roles at the Graduate Center include Director, CUNY Academic Commons; Advisor to the Provost for Master’s Programs and Digital Initiatives; and Acting Executive Officer, MA Program in Liberal Studies. Gold recently edited a collection of essays related to the digital humanities, titled Debates in Digital Humanities. Other projects include “Looking for Whitman”, a multi-campus experiment in digital pedagogy sponsored by two NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants, Commons In A Box, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and JustPublics@365, funded by the Ford Foundation.

Kevin Kee is Canada Research Chair of Digital Humanities and Associate Professor in the Department of History and the Centre for Digital Humanities at Brock University, where he also directs the Interactive Arts and Science program. Kee’s research focuses on the intersection of history, computing, education, and game studies, with a particular interest in the use of computing for innovative expressions of culture and history. Part of his innovative approach includes a strong emphasis on partnerships across the university and with the broader community; his development of the business incubator nGen enables a deep level of crossover between the two.

Cecilia Márquez is a PhD student at the University of Virginia’s Corcoran Department of History, and is one of the 2012-2013 Praxis Fellows. She became interested in the digital humanities through the South Atlantic Studies Fellowship for the Public Humanities, funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Márquez’s recent work focuses on the experience of Latina/os in the American South during the Civil Rights Movement. Her research interests include African American, Latina/o, and Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Kelli Massa earned her MSc in the Digital Humanities Program at University College London. As a graduate student in the UCL DH program, Massa had the opportunity to take a variety of stimulating courses connecting the humanities with digital technologies. Entering the program with a humanities background (MA in Literature), she focused primarily on the computer science side of the program and pursued an MSc. Her internship with JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) sparked an interest in academic software sustainability and repositories, which she plan to research for her dissertation.

William Pannapacker is Professor of English at Hope College and directs the Mellon Scholars program. His research and teaching interests include American literature and culture and digital humanities. Pannapacker is also a columnist for the Chronicle of Higher Education and a contributor to The New York Times and Slate, where he writes about a range of issues related to higher education in the humanities.

Donnie Sackey is a PhD candidate in the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures department at Michigan State University, and a 2012-2013 Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative Graduate Fellow. Through his dissertation research on invasive species, Sackey explores the relationship between rhetoric and the environment, as well as ways in which creative applications of information and computing technologies can help map environments and subsequently allow for alternative levels of engagement.

Katina Rogers researches graduate education reform and career paths for humanities scholars in her capacity as Senior Research Specialist at the Scholarly Communication Institute. Rogers collaborated on the development of the Praxis Network website and conducted a study of career preparation in humanities graduate programs. She has given invited lectures on her work on graduate education reform and alternative academic career paths at New York University, Stanford University, and the University of Delaware, and her work has been written up in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Effective September 2013, she will begin a new role as Managing Editor of MLA Commons.