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New Digital Humanities Major Emphasizes Interdisciplinary Education

A new digital humanities major at Bethel challenges students to use modern skills like graphic design, data analysis, and programming to explore humanistic questions traditionally posed in fields like literature, history, and philosophy.

In a pioneering move, Bethel recently became one of the first Midwestern liberal arts colleges to offer a B.A. in Digital Humanities. The major, which officially launched in September, challenges students to use modern skills like graphic design, data analysis, and programming to explore humanistic questions traditionally posed in fields like literature, history, and philosophy.

“Increasingly, there is incredible anxiety about having something useful to bring to the job market,” says Assistant Professor of History Charlie Goldberg, who designed the major. “This is our attempt in the humanities to deliver marketable skills to students while also encouraging them to pursue their passion.”

While the digital humanities have been gaining national momentum since the early 2000s, experts in industry and academia alike are still working to make it a household term. Part of the challenge, Goldberg says, is communicating what the field looks like in action. For his students, it looks like creating digital maps of historical eras, using computer programs to analyze and identify patterns in the works of Shakespeare, and replicating demolished buildings with 3D modeling software.

Goldberg’s classes often meet in the Makerspace, a new space in the library dedicated to innovation and creativity. Right now, they’re working with archived blueprints of alternative building plans for Bethel’s campus. Students will bring them to life with 3D printers, creating a tangible version of the Bethel that could have been.

“A lot of students are coming in fresh and a little intimidated about the tech component, but they’re making these really cool projects,” Goldberg says. “It’s important for people to know that they can succeed in this thing without a technology background.”

The same goes for students who excel in computer science but struggle with creativity and critical thinking. Geared at shaping both groups into well-rounded professionals, the major capitalizes on students’ strengths and encourages them to collaborate to develop both their intellectual character and technical skillsets.

“The digital humanities ask students to step out of their discipline to work and communicate with other students from different backgrounds and perspectives,” Goldberg says. “It opens up what is traditionally a secluded educational experience.”

The major is a tandem major, which means students must earn at least one more degree in addition to the B.A. in Digital Humanities. About one-third of the major’s 34 credits come from a smattering of course offerings across the humanities, making a double major not only manageable but also empowering for students with diverse interests.

Although the major falls under the umbrella of the history department, faculty in computer science, communication, education, graphic design, history, and journalism have collaborated to make it a reality, with course offerings like Web Design for Mass Media, Digital Storytelling, and Scientific Computing.

“Our hope is that it will become a major which relies on the involvement and interest of professors, students, and staff from a variety of fields,” says AnneMarie Kooistra, department chair and professor of history. “The combination of philosophical humanities with pragmatic digital skills is very much in keeping with Bethel’s desire to foster whole and holy persons.”

It’s also in keeping with Bethel’s promise to produce sought-after graduates. A 2015 study by the Association of American College & Universities found that 96% of employers look for college students who have experience solving problems alongside people whose views are different from their own, making the digital humanities a hotspot for job prospects.  

“In this, Bethel is ahead of the game,” Goldberg says. “There aren’t many small, liberal arts colleges that offer what we do. For students looking to study the liberal arts and technology, Bethel offers something pretty unique.”

Learn more about Bethel’s new B.A. in Digital Humanities

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