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 a history major or an English major can do after graduation. Given the rising costs of higher education, students are increasingly choosing majors that sound more employable, whether or not they actually are. We want to provide better information to prospective students about majors, education, and career outcomes. We also want to be more intentional in adapting our ancient disciplines to prepare thoughtful, critical, flexible thinkers to engage with and transform an increasingly data-driven world. As long as we are teaching students how to learn through these fun, fulfilling disciplined ways of thinking, why not also teach them how to emerging technologies and now-ubiquitous data?
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. That would be a major disadvantage in the real world, but it presents a powerful educational opportunity for Humanities Plus students. Completing a major in them requires the slow habituation of deep, powerful habits of the mind. Our slow, accretive disciplines train invaluable skills in reading, writing, and analysis. Setting aside the value of the content of history, English, or theology—also a valuable asset!—the skills and habits trained in these majors will never become obsolete; they will prove useful to graduates long after the hottest technologies of tomorrow are long forgotten.
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:
- Their own undergraduate research topics from their major courses
- 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.