One of my primary goals for digital humanities at CSU is to foster a dynamic community of students, faculty, and staff who are interested in digital methods. As part of this vision, I designed a research seminar based on digital methods and historical thinking in and offered it in Fall 2017 as “The Politics of Peace and Gender.” I combined my interests in spatial analysis, gender studies, and protest movement history to create an environment where students could become familiar with the historical content as well as the transferable skills inherent in a digital humanities curriculum. Here are my initial design goals for the course:
- Focus the course on the interdisciplinary work of geographers, political scientists, sociologists, historians, anthropologists, musicologists, and activists;
- Emphasize the transferable skills our department and the AHA argue are an essential part of history education;
- Pilot this course as a methods course for a future certificate or minor program in digital humanities at CSU.
You can view the syllabus and here is the general course description:
This course investigates perceptions of peace and gender in politics, drawing on insights from international relations and human rights history to study gendered conceptualizations of peace as “feminine” and assumptions that militarism and war are historically “masculine.” The chronology of the course begins with Bertha von Suttner’s pacifist novel Lay Down your Arms! (1889) and ends in the present day. Through primary and secondary research, students will evaluate the importance of gender analysis in the study of war and its opponents. In particular, this course emphasizes the various roles of men and women participating in protest events and the spaces they choose occupy. The course fosters a transnational perspective, highlighting different historical and geographical contexts such as 19th– century nationalism in Europe, the experience and aftermath of World War I, international debates around disarmament including nuclear disarmament, gendered violence during the dirty wars in Latin America, and more recent mass transnational protest events such as the Women’s March on Washington and the Occupy Movement.
“Politics of Peace and Gender” enrolled 13 undergraduates, 2 graduate students, and 3 “Project 60” students. This was one of the most academically diverse groups of students I have ever taught in an upper-level history course. Not only did students range in technical ability, they came to the course from various majors and programs including Asian Studies, Black Studies, Education, English, Gender and Women’s Studies, History, Political Science, Psychology, and Social Studies. Early in the semester, I adopted the strategy of pulling key terms from our daily readings and posting them on the course chat (in this case we used university-supported Microsoft Teams). I also wrote the term list on the whiteboard in the classroom before each discussion. While I took attendance, students could walk to the board and put a checkmark next to the term(s) they wanted to be sure we reviewed during our session. This turned out to be a valuable exercise due to the interdisciplinary nature of both the materials and students. For instance, a term like “thick description” is familiar to history and anthropology students, but often unfamiliar to psychologists and others in the room.
In order to emphasize transferable skills, students created an Omeka exhibit on a protest event of their choice as a final project. I drew heavily on my experience with project-based learning (PBL) and used the student-created exhibits from the Colored Conventions Project as a model to design a series of weekly skill-based labs that provided a foundation for the final project. I thought carefully about the branding for this course, and ultimately decided to use the word “lab” for work sessions. While the idea of a laboratory is borrowed from STEM fields, I use it to emphasize that these sessions are a time to experiment with digital methods. I made a conscious effort to convey to my students that it was ok to stumble, or even fail, when creating digital content – just like many scientists.
I love that digital humanities methods and projects challenge the assumption among academics and students that all assignments must represent a “finished” product. I stress to my students that it is fine to have work in progress. After all, academics present their own work at conferences before polishing ideas into an article or book. This is the reason why I grade labs separately from the final project (which deviates slightly from the traditional PBL model). My goal is to provide students with space to grow and, I hope, to be more courageous in their final project. Students were able to use network diagrams, maps, and other elements from their labs, but they were not required to use all of them in order to preserve the element of choice that is considered key to PBL.
Project-based learning calls for a public product for the final projects. The “Politics of Peace and Gender,” student exhibits are posted on a public Omeka site. All students were required to present their exhibit at the DigitalCSU working group research showcase in our library at the end of the semester. At the time, I hosted the site as a subdomain on my own website. I am now in the process of working with the CSU library to archive this site on their servers to ensure sustainability and to link it more clearly to the university’s Bepress site, EngagedScholarship @ CSU. Students were evaluated according to this rubric.
As a special topics course “Politics of Peace and Gender” was cross-listed for both undergraduate and M.A. students. Each M.A. student completed the Omeka exhibit and also wrote an academic blog post. Katherine Behnke’s post on Bernadette Devlin was published on the Peace & Change blog in July 2018. It’s an excellent example of how research for the digital exhibit revealed a significant gap in the historiography of a well-known protest event. (I also wrote up a summary of the course for the P & C Blog and here are slides from my presentation on this course at the GSA in September)
FUTURE PLANS: I will teach this course again as an upper-level undergraduate seminar with the name “Politics of Protest and Gender” in Fall 2019. The use of “protest” instead of “peace” is important, because it opens up topics beyond specifically antiwar events. My Fall 2017 students already engaged with topics including the athlete protests and civil rights, and this change reflects the practical workings of the course.
Special thanks to Mandi Goodsett (Performing Arts & Humanities Librarian), Marsha Miles (Digital Intitiatives Librarian), Jeffery Beuck (Senior Library Systems and Data Specialist) and Barb Loomis (EngagedScholarship & Project Coordinator) for their excellent support of this course & DigitalCSU!