16.356 report on MA in Humanities Computing at Alberta

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Sat Nov 30 2002 - 04:01:53 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 356.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Sat, 30 Nov 2002 07:19:04 +0000
             From: Stefan Sinclair <ss@huco.lang.arts.ualberta.ca>
             Subject: report on M.A. in Humanities Computing at the UofA

    Dear Colleagues,

    Last spring I had planned to produce a report for Humanist describing the
    successes and difficulties encountered during the first year of operation
    of the M.A. in Humanities Computing at the University of Alberta. In many
    ways the circumstances of the programme represent a microcosm of our
    discipline: we are confronting the issues of defining ourselves for at
    least three potentially very different purposes: teaching, research, and

    At about the same moment that I began drafting the report for Humanist, I
    was invited to prepare an article on the programme to be considered for
    publication in another venue. Although this distracted me from my original
    purpose, it did provide me a context for examining the M.A. programme in
    more depth. The result, co-authored with Sean Gouglas (my colleague in the
    M.A. programme), is available in _Arts & Humanities in Higher Education_:
    "Theory into Practice: A Case Study of the Humanities Computing Master or
    Arts Programme at the University of Alberta" (volume 1, issue 2, pp.

    The tone and content of the article are (more?) appropriate for a wide
    audience in the liberal arts. For instance, I don't imagine that many
    subscribers to Humanist need to be convinced of the potential for
    technology to promote interdisciplinary research and teaching. Similarly,
    the description of the circumstances leading to the conception and
    development of the M.A in Humanities Computing may be more engaging for
    administrators than researchers. On the other hand, the philosophy behind
    the curriculum and the descriptions of the primary courses may be of
    interest to readers of Humanist, particularly those who teach in our

    Given that "Humanities Computing" still has considerable mystique in
    academe (read: is still not widely known or understood), Sean and I made
    an effort in the article to focus on the many positive sides of the field,
    especially for those who may be encountering it for the first time. In the
    context of a posting to Humanist, I'm much more prepared to expose and
    debate our vulnerabilities as well. What follows is an attempt to identify
    more frankly the principal successes and challenges that we have


    a) convincing people that Humanities Computing for us includes not only
    the Humanities, but also the Social Sciences and Fine Arts (students have
    a "home" department from any one of these major divisions, so the name
    issue is important to us)

    b) teaching the technical components of the programme to students who have
    widely divergent skill sets when entering the programme (we don't want to
    exclude students without technical skills - on the contrary); it's worth
    noting that divergence in theoretical and disciplinary background has
    proven to be much less an issue

    c) offering social space to accompany the excellent lab space that we have
    - Humanities Computing should certainly be aware of the importance of
    human interaction in the work we do

    d) covering the broad range of topics through essentially the two
    professors who were hired to teach the programme (I'd also be tempted to
    put this under "successes" because I think we have managed quite well,
    particularly with topics that were new to us, but it has certainly been a

    e) offering a diversity of optional courses for the second year students
    (this has partly to do with the administrative difficulties in "sharing"
    resources with other departments - we are finding solutions through
    cross-listing courses and sessional instructors)

    f) providing funding for students (again, we have succeeded well here -
    nearly all students are receiving substantial funding, often as a direct
    result of their new found skills - but it has been a challenge,
    particularly since most of the funding has to come from the students'
    administrative home departments)

    Some of these challenges (and others) are not necessarily problems to be
    resolved; strategic choices have been made (like calling ourselves
    "Humanities Computing" or anchoring the programme in more traditional
    disciplines) and though they present challenges, they are not decisions
    that we regret.


    a) our first year we received 8 students into the programme, this
    September we received 15 new students - this two year ramp-up is
    remarkable considering there is no direct feeder programme (B.A. in
    Humanities Computing)

    b) there is considerable interest from international students - nearly
    half of the new students this year are from outside of Canada and we
    receive many more inquiries

    c) we have established an impressive lab specially designed for the
    programme with a large seminar table and high-end computers

    d) this year's annual Humanities Computing Graduate Conference has an
    international collection of 28 speakers

    e) as an outcome from a course project last year, the students have
    established a Humanities Computing consulting company, run almost entirely
    by themselves, that will provide management experience for upper year
    students and work experience for lower year students

    f) we have now established a solid curriculum and taught six new graduate
    courses: Survey of Humanities Computing, Technical Concepts in Humanities
    Computing, Project Management and Design, Theoretical Aspects of
    Humanities Computing, Electronic Texts, Multimedia in the Humanities

    Needless to say, many of these successes (and others) are the product of
    the dedication of many people, particularly the planning committees and
    the current students. We are also indebted to many of you who have
    supported the programme in various ways, particularly in suggesting you're
    upper year undergraduate students to apply (and please continue to do
    so!). The success of our Humanities Computing programme is very much an
    indication of the success of Humanities Computing in general.

    Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments
    about this message or the programme in general.

    M.A. in Humanities Computing at the UofA: http://huco.ualberta.ca/

    Stefan Sinclair, University of Alberta
    Phone: (780) 492-6768, FAX: (780) 492-9106, Office: Arts 218-B
    Address: Arts 200, MLCS, UofA, Edmonton, AB (Canada) T6G 2E6
    M.A. in Humanities Computing: http://huco.ualberta.ca/

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