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This wiki space contains archival documentation of Project Bamboo, April 2008 - March 2013.

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Mapping the Digital Humanities

Collection Date: 24 Dec 2008

Scholar #1 Info:

  • Name: Jentery Sayers
  • Email:
  • Title: PhD Candidate
  • Institution/Organization: University of Washington
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: Digital Humanities, English, Science and Technology Studies

Scholar #2 Info:

  • Name: Matthew W. Wilson
  • Email:
  • Title: PhD Candidate
  • Institution/Organization: University of Washington
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: Geography, Critical Geographic Information Systems

Scholar #3 Info:

  • Name: Phillip Thurtle
  • Email:
  • Title: Associate Professor
  • Institution/Organization: University of Washington
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: Science and Technology Studies, Intellectual History, and Cultural Studies of Biology

Scholar #4 Info:

  • Name: Sarah Elwood
  • Email:
  • Title: Associate Professor
  • Institution/Organization: University of Washington
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: Geography, Science and Technology Studies, Critical Geographic Information Systems

Scholar #5 Info:

  • Name: Curtis Hisayasu
  • Email:
  • Title: PhD Candidate
  • Institution/Organization: University of Washington
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: English, American Studies, Urban Studies

Scholar #6 Info:

  • Name: Megan J. Kelly
  • Email:
  • Title: PhD Student
  • Institution/Organization: University of Washington
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: English, Language and Rhetoric

Collector Info (can be the same as "Scholar" above):

  • Name: Jentery Sayers
  • Email:
  • Title: PhD Candidate
  • Institution/Organization: University of Washington

Notes on Methodology:

This story is excerpted from a description of a tool and a curriculum currently being developed by University of Washington faculty and graduate students.  In spring quarter 2009 (March - June), both the tool and the curriculum will be mobilized in a Comparative History of Ideas course entitled, "Project-Based Approaches to the Digital Humanities."  Below is a brief synopsis of the project, with an emphasis on its motivation and methodology: 

How might digital humanities curricula synthesize the acquisition of technical skills with critical practices? Motivated by this question, our project, funded in part by a University of Washington (UW) Graduate School Huckabay Teaching Fellowship, not only explores the implementation of new technologies in humanistic inquiry, but also the social implications of that implementation. In English and the Comparative History of Ideas at the UW, students are trained to examine and critique the ways in which technology is culturally embedded, how it influences aesthetics, and how it shapes our understanding of the humane. However, these same students rarely have the opportunity to learn the technical skills required to produce the very objects they study. In Geography at the UW, there is a similar trajectory, yet in nearly the opposite direction: students often learn technical skills in geographic information systems (GIS) without becoming well-versed in qualitative or critical GIS, fields that consider technology to be value-laden. As such, we are designing a digital humanities curriculum that asks undergraduates to approach the concept of "mapping" in the digital humanites from two different perspectives.  First, students will use mobile technologies to collaboratively compose an interactive, digital map of the University of Washington, Seattle.  Second, they will pursue individual projects, where they will produce digital representations, or "mappings," of their humanities research on, say, technoculture, American literature, or cultural histories of the University.  Put this way, both the collaborative and individual projects will be articulated as vehicles for "animating" information and moving audiences toward new ways of perceiving and inhabiting humanities research. Included in the curriculum are learning modules on metadata creation/maintenance (e.g., XML, EXIF, and FGDC standards), geo-coding, digital cartography, website design (e.g., HTML and PHP), GIS, and multi-authored blogging.  By synthesizing technical skills with critical practices, the curriculum allows UW students and faculty to: (1) implement a new, next-generation authoring tool for collecting and archiving information, (2) pursue sustainable forms of collaborative and networked digital scholarship, (3) become more familiar with how to use digital technologies for pedagogical purposes and participatory learning, and (4) develop a complex, participatory geospatial representation of the University.


  1. Participation: There are different levels of participation in this project.  While Sayers and Wilson are currently project leaders in the curriculum development, Hisayasu and Kelly assisted in the project's initial stages.  Elwood and Thurtle are serving as mentors for Sayers and Wilson; and, of course, the ultimate goal of the project is to have undergraduate students not only map the campus, but also take the lead in producing their own mapping projects.  Ideally, in summer 2009 (June - September 2009), Sayers and Wilson will be able to circulate the curriculum, including its learning modules, to other faculty and graduate students (at the UW and beyond) who are interested in digital humanities research and pedagogy. We are also considering the potential for the project to be utilized by the University's community partners, perhaps through a public humanities initiative. 
  2. Members and Field of Study: This project is designed with digital humanities scholars as its target audience; however, other fields of study include Geography, English, Cultural Studies, and Computers & Composition.  Per the "Notes on Metodology" above, we see the project at an unrealized intersection between multiple fields of study, an intersection that attempts to meet the increasing demands of humanities undergraduates for critically-inclined curricula in humanities computing. 
  3. Outcomes: Potential outcomes for the project include: (a) developing more concrete knowledge in an emerging field of study, (b) learning more about the benefits and limits of project-based curricula, (c) publishing findings in anthologies on the digital humanities and presenting work at relevant conferences, (d) acquiring more information on the use of critical geographic information systems and geo-coding in humanities courses, (e) furthering the development of digital humanities initiatives at the University of Washington, (f) considering how digital humanities research might be best mobilized through public humanities projects, and (g) gathering student feedback on project-based approaches to the digital humanities for the development of future courses and curricula. 


Please provide some keywords that will allow us to group or cluster related stories--or aspects of stories.

1. Was this story collected for a particular Bamboo working group?  If so, please include, as keywords, the appropriate group(s).

  • Stories

2. Suggested keywords: Does this story contain elements that could be mapped to these keywords?  If so, please indicate which ones and briefly describe the mapping.  Add any additional keywords in #3. (These are global keywords from this page keywords)

3. Please list additional keywords here:

Digital Humanities, Neogeography, Geographic Information Systems

4. Related Stories: Are there parts of the story that relate to other collected stories? Please provide title(s) and link to the story page. 

Biofutures - University of Washington

Electronic Piers Plowman - University of Washington

Extended Development Project - University of Washington


This curriculum began as the core material for an English composition course at the University of Washington, entitled "Composing a Virtual Campus," which was co-developed by Sayers and Kelly.  After that course, Sayers, together with Hisayasu, published the curriculum (in its initial stage), a "geoblogging" tool (including examples), writing prompts, and the argument for the curriculum in "Geolocating Compositional Strategies at the Virtual University," in Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, volume 12.2

After that course and publication, Sayers and Wilson, as fellows in the 2007 Institute on the Public Humanities at the UW, decided to develop the existing curriculum by articulating the digital humanities with critical GIS.  Both saw the increasing need for students and faculty in their respective fields to acquire proficiencies in technical skills and critical practices.  Noting that undergraduate courses along these lines rarely existed, at least in the humanities, at the UW, the two decided to co-apply for a University of Washington (UW) Graduate School Huckabay Teaching Fellowship, which they received. 

Sayers and Wilson are now in the process of developing the digital humanities curriculum, under the mentorship of Thurtle and Elwood, and have already presented their work on the UW campus, as part of the Information School's Research Conversation Series.  What they are learning is that the visualization and animation of information in humanities contexts is not just a trend in fields such as the digital humanities; it's indicative of a mode of thought, one that is especially common amongst undergraduates.  Through an emphasis on "mapping" in the geographical and textual senses, they are stressing how a curriculum that includes pattern analysis, information aggregation, "distant reading," and data structuring and preservation might simultaneously appeal to emerging learning styles and research practices and help produce new ways of imagining the work of humanistic inquiry.  These "new ways" almost undboutedly include re-thinking writing and composition to include new media, collaboration, and networked narratives, all of which are encapsulated in Sayers's and Wilson's conceptualization of mapping. 

"Mapping" ultimately became a hinge, if you will, between Sayers's and Wilson's approaches to technology.  They found that they both used the term often, but almost always with different valences.  Unpacking those valences and drawing affiliations across them thus functioned as means to better understand each other's disciplines, research, archives, and lexica.  And from their ongoing conversations, Sayers and Wilson are also learning that it is not their shared technical skills or critical practices that are necessarily bridging their approaches and fields of study.  Rather, that bridge is the continuing desire to seek novel forms of technoliteracy at the UW and elsewhere: to encourage creative thinking with and through technology, to animate existing histories and archives in new directions, to promote participatory learning climates, and (most importantly) to frame technology as neither determinant nor neutral. 

In many ways, this project is very much in its nascent stages.  Since the course will not be taught for another three months, and since most of the planning will occur between January and March 2009, Sayers and Wilson are in an anticipation phase.  That said, perhaps the most practical ending for this story is a series of questions they are considering:

  • How does the use of digital technologies in humanities contexts alter our expectations and assessments of humanities research?
  • How should existing standards for digital work (e.g., metadata standards) be taught in the humanities classroom?  For example, should they be readily adopted and mobilized without critique?  Or should course- or project-specific standards be created? 
  • How should practices in data aggregation, harvesting, and preservation figure into undergraduate research projects? 
  • How might digital technologies and networked narratives stretch the boundaries of the classroom (to included other universities or publics), and how should students and instructors present and structure their work accordingly?
  • How will emerging trends in data visualization and animation influence critical writing practices?  And critical thinking, broadly speaking?
  • What are some concrete ways, through tangible learning modules, to synthesize critical practice, collaboration, creative thinking, and technical skills as part of a digital humanities curriculum? 
  • How do you teach something like the digital humanities to undergraduates, who are likely unfamiliar with the field?  For example, how would historical and applied approaches differ, and to what effects?
  • How important are open-source software and shareware to digital humanities curricula? 

Other Comments:

See the links below.

Comparative History of Ideas

UW Program in which our digital humanities course will be taught

UW Graduate School Huckabay Teaching Fellowships

For more on the Huckabay Teaching Fellowships at the UW

Digital Humanities Initiatives at the Simpson Center for the Humanities

For more on digital humanities initiatives at the UW

"Geolocating Compositional Strategies at the Virtual University"

Article published in Kairos by Sayers and Hisayasu

"Composing a Virtual Campus"

Site for English course co-designed by Sayers and Kelly