Humanities Plus

I am the founding director of Humanities Plus at George Fox University, which focuses on integrating applied computing skills into undergraduate research in the humanities. Why bring computing to the humanities?

First, to provide clearer pathways from college to career. There were never very many jobs explicitly for English or history majors, but graduates from those disciplines have always gone on to do just about everything. That has not changed. It has, however, become less clear to incoming college students what career paths might be open to humanities majors. We think more students would major in the humanities if they could see visible pathways to career outcomes. Just as importantly, there are very good reason to believe—and many executives and hiring managers in the technology space concur—that humanities majors train very important skills that will never become obsolete.

Second, the humanities are a tremendous way to train students to innovate with technology. There are no toy problems in humanities computing; they are all major, novel problems. Each problem requires us to frame a very different problem, then to determine which parts of it might be augmented or automated by programmatic or computational methods that were developed for very different purposes. Integrating the results back into our more diverse ways but highly disciplined ways of knowing provides excellent practice using not just producing metrics, but using analytics to produce knowledge.

So we decided to put down pavement and add signage to the trails that had already been beaten down by a generation of flexible, creative graduates. In Humanities Plus, those paths run directly through undergraduate research. English and history are often mistaken for bodies of knowledge when they are better understood as disciplined ways of knowing. It happens that these disciplines are especially averse to autmoation, or even to linear problem solving. They are as notoriously inneficient and slow as they are fascinating and necessary. There is no right place to drop into history or literature to try to make plausible sense of the seeming chaos. You can learn many wonderful skills and habits of the mind working on problems like that for a sustained period; you can also learn a lot about applying technology and using the results—whether it worked or not!—by trying to compute the nearly incomputable.

An image created by MidJourney Bot using the prompt "medieval_style_computer_program." An image created by MidJourney Bot using the prompt “medieval style computer program.”

So how does it work? Humanities Plus is an innovative academic opportunity unique to George Fox, but rooted in the growing emphasis on informatics in higher education. Informatics focuses on the application of the core disciplines of information and computer science to problems in other domains. In this case, students acquire skills by taking a course or two in computer science or another appropriate discipline at George Fox, but then they do the hard work of applying that skill to two kinds of problems rooted in the humanities:

  1. Their own undergraduate research topics from their major courses
  2. Large, shared projects undertaken in the lab for stakeholders internal and external to George Fox University.

Humanities Plus is highly flexible. I work with students to identify their intellectual interests, career goals, and aptitudes as they change and grow. Acquiring a technical skill and cracking major research questions in the humanities are both long, challenging processes that require faculty and peer mentorship and community. H+ creates the space to grow together through that long process, fulfilling our promise that students at George Fox University will “be known.”

If you are a prospective student, a parent, another scholar, or anyone else with a question about H+, please feel free to contact me via email or drop by my office in Minthorn.