Blog Posts Reflection

Reflection: Leah Rosenberg

Institute co-director Dr. Leah Rosenberg (Department of English, University of Florida) traces the development of the program from conception to fruition.

The seeds for the NEH institute were sown in 2012 by Professor Rhonda Cobham-Sander when she suggested that we design and teach a course—across multiple campuses—dLOC would support and that would center on materials in dLOC. Faculty and librarians at the University of West Indies (Cave Hill), Amherst College, the University of Miami, and the University of Florida collaboratively designed and taught  Panama Silver, Asian Gold, Migration, Money, and the Making of the Modern Caribbean, a course designed to enhance and bring visibility to dLOC’s collections on post-emancipation migration in the Caribbean. The experience felt like a first step in building a community of scholars, librarians, and students in Caribbean studies and digital humanities. 

To build this community, we organized two panels on teaching with Caribbean digital libraries at the West Indian Literature Conference in 2016; there we discussed needs and priorities for Caribbean studies scholars engaged in DH. Audience members asked for a NEH institute. In the following year, we built on these discussions by organizing “Collaborating Across the Divide: Digital Humanities and the Caribbean,” a conference to bring together scholars and artists from the Caribbean and the United States to discuss how to collaborate through digital humanities in ways that decolonize knowledge and empower Caribbean subjects. Participants, again, suggested an NEH institute and by this time we had accumulated the necessary experience and support to undertake the much larger project of organizing an NEH summer institute. We had started with two of us, Rhonda and I at a hotel restaurant by the sea in Guadeloupe; the course involved six organizers; the roundtables seven; the conference had 11 speakers; the Institute would have over forty participants and presenters. For me, the first satisfaction and surprise of the institute was reading the applications. We had over 100 applications and all were highly qualified, involved in innovative and high-quality digital humanities work in Caribbean studies and they were working all over the country and indeed the world.  The community was so much larger than we had imagined.

Blog Posts Reflection

Reflection: Laurie Taylor and Hélène Huet

Institute co-directors Dr. Laurie Taylor and Dr. Hélène Huet (University of Florida Libraries) share on their role in designing and planning the institute and its impacts.

Our involvement in planning and co-leading the NEH Digital Humanities Institute draws on a wealth of existing collaborative experience and deeply shared goals. All three of us are passionate about supporting our home communities, which include among others Caribbean literary, Digital Humanities, and library professionals. The NEH Institute grew out of our collaborations and work in Caribbean Studies. For example: 

  • Laurie started with dLOC over a decade ago as the Technical Director, moving into the Digital Scholarship Director role specifically to build on dLOC’s existing infrastructure and collections, to enable new ways of researching and teaching in the digital age. 
  • Hélène, as Chair of and the Florida Digital Institute Consortium (FLDH), has worked on highlighting the various digital projects done in the state of Florida, such as dLOC, both on the FLDH website or via conferences and recorded webinars.
  • Institute co-director Dr. Leah Rosenberg has led library collaborations for Caribbean Studies, including serving on the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) Scholarly Advisory Board for over a decade.  
Hélène Huet (left) and Laurie Taylor (right) at podium

Through our various collaborations with different groups of people over the years, the most common requests for help we heard were: 

  • Finding specific items for digitization 
    • Often resulting in items being found and digitized; and often a bit of community building, with recommendations to contact another or a couple of others who are working on the same period, author, place.
  • Receiving training and technical assistance
    • dLOC’s technical team supports partners in digitization and digital curation technical needs, but we previously had an adhoc response to training, with webinars and one-off sessions, sometimes embedded in particular projects or events

In addition, people often shared with us how much they’d love  to have an in-person institute that would bring together scholarly, teaching, and library (and archives and all collections) expertise, focusing on the Caribbean and Digital Humanities.

Thus, we decided to design the Institute based on the grounded discussions with collaborators on what they saw as being needed, and on what we knew matched their needs in terms of technologies for teaching and research. We also wanted to make sure that the technologies we introduced would be available and usable by everyone, no matter where they lived or which institution they worked at, which means we focused on free, stable, useful technologies with productive applications to teaching and research. 

We expected a good level of interest, and that we would be able to find 26 participants as planned, even though the Institute was in Gainesville, Florida–also known as the Swamp–in the summer, with dorm accommodations and without the conveniences of a city. Surprisingly, we received over 100 applications and were overwhelmed by seeing the  fantastic work by so many people, some who are long connected and some who were new to us.

During the Institute, the engagement was incredible. We learned from and with so many amazing people. Our collective learning spanned specific applications (e.g., technologies, classes, assignments) and broad understanding of how we can best support our work together as a community of practice, to undertake changed work for individual and community good. We have read the participant reflections with joy and appreciation. We give thanks to the wonderful teams of folks supporting and taking part in dLOC and the Institute. Thanks to all for great work, and we are excited to see the things to come!

Blog Posts Reflection

Reflection: Juliet Glenn-Callender

Juliet Glenn-Callender (Campus Librarian, University of The Bahamas-North) shares how she incorporated minimal computing techniques she learned into a digital course project after Hurricane Dorian.

I was encouraged to attend the NEH Caribbean Studies and Digital Humanities Institute by my coworker Dr. Sally Everson of the University of The Bahamas English Department. I was working with her to provide guidance in describing the artifacts and information, that students of the ENGLISH 119 and 120 classes had collected about historical sites and events in Grand Bahama. The goal of the project was to collect stories and images that were not documented before. The students would learn how to do research and describe the items that they had collected. We would provide technical support to put items on a platform that could be easily accessed by the class initially. 

Attendance at the NEH Institute assisted me in gaining valuable skills that were needed in order to create small scale digital projects that could be used within the University. The project that Dr. Everson and myself had proposed to work on fell through as a result of Hurricane Dorian which destroyed our campus in September of 2019. However, having gone through the workshops and materials that were provided and in an effort to utilize the skills and knowledge gained, I decided to propose a small Digital Humanities assignment to be completed by the students of Academic Enhancement History – Topics in 20th Century History of the University of The Bahamas. I taught students in the Spring semester and would teach them again in the Fall, so I took the opportunity to create an assignment that would be more engaging for students at the College Prep level.

The objective of this assignment entitled The Road to Majority Rule in Bahamas (1942-1967) and Independence in The Bahamas is to explore the significant events in Bahamian history leading up and emanating from Majority Rule and culminating in the country achieving its Independence in 1973.

Students would make a narrative map using StoryMap JS to create a story of the series of the events with a slide and a short narrative describing the following:

  • Process/summary
  • Effects/outcomes

The key events to be explored would be given and some resources supplied for students to utilize in their presentations. The rest of the resources would be sourced through their research efforts.

The goal of the assignment would be to create an activity that students would, not only learn about their history, but also put into a format that they could be easily accessed by others. It would be suitable for use by high school seniors.

The Timeline created would be made accessible through a LibGuide for HIST013 which would be created for the class projects and course resources.

The assignment would also allow students to interface with the technology for capturing information digitally. They would learn how to research, document, and make information available to the wider community.  

I enjoyed this workshop as it highlighted that in many cases, there was no need for sophisticated equipment to capture items digitally.  As a librarian, I had worked on digital projects before, but this Institute really brought home the concept of minimal computing in terms of doing work with the University community and the wider community. It also, highlighted resources that were either free or at minimal cost and with minimal training that could be used to capture digital data and make it accessible to users. If this institute is offered, I would definitely participate again. This is especially so, as I am now teaching a course that I can explore the realm of the digital humanities.

Blog Posts Reflection

Reflection: Takkara Brunson

Dr. Takkara Brunson (Assistant Professor of Africana Studies, California State University, Fresno) describes how her institute experience provided her with digital mapping skills which she has since incorporated into her university courses.

The Caribbean Studies Digital Humanities Institute provided a rigorous introduction to the various digital platforms available for studying the region. Since the institute, I have incorporated map building into my African cultural perspectives course at California State University, Fresno. The course focuses broadly on the histories and cultures of the African Diaspora. We devote substantial attention to examining the Caribbean as part of the diaspora–notably, through units on slavery, cultural formations, and global political movements. During the fall 2019 semester, I incorporated a new assignment in which students were required to build a digital map on a topic of their choice. Students enthusiastically created maps that examined the spread of the Garvey Movement, Black Power in the Caribbean, and reggaeton music, among other topics. Having discussed what such an assignment might look like with other attendees during the institute, I integrated mapping assignments into class exercises throughout the semester; I made sure to allocate class time to building the maps. This resulted in one of the most rewarding experiences that I have had in leading students through research projects.

In addition to meeting scholars from across the U.S. and Caribbean, I appreciated the opportunity to learn about existing projects that demonstrated the potential of the digital humanities for connecting with public audiences. I spent years imagining ways to present my research on Black women in pre-revolutionary Cuba through a publicly accessible digital map. I now have the tools to do so.

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Reflection: Margo Groenewoud

Dr. Margo Groenewoud (University of Curaçao) shares how her experience helped increase her impact as an educator and develop a collaborative oral history project.

At the start of my involvement with the NEH Institute, I observed that the project could not have come at a better moment for my island and my institute, the University of Curaçao. I wrote:

“As one of the leading institutes for higher education in the Dutch Caribbean, it has been a key challenge to balance our target to educate global citizens with specific local and regional educational needs and ambitions. Small scale, limited resources and historical ties to the Netherlands make it hard to decolonize learning material and to optimize the impact of education and research for the future of our communities. With our digital library and our network, we are ready to achieve much more in this area than we had ever envisioned, but we need collaborative action and support in capacity building.”

By participating in the NEH Institute my ambition was to boost my impact as an agent, collaborator and teacher. In particular I expected to further the use of oral history and Caribbean tales, songs and rhythms in education, and to collaborate on innovative ways to involve students in the validation, enrichment and valorization of local data in open spaces.

Three experiences in particular have had a major positive impact on my development in these areas. First and foremost, the in-person session had great added value as a pressure cooker, where tools and insights were not just presented, but practiced and shared in teams of colleagues with similar backgrounds. Second, because the NEH institute made an exceptionally successful effort in bringing together this group of teachers and scholars, every second was worthwhile, and I am still in contact with many of them. Thirdly, being introduced to the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program has been, and will be, of great value to my work as scholar. I have introduced the work of the institute in my research for Traveling Caribbean Heritage, a Dutch NWO-funded  research program, and hope to work together with the institute on capacity building and history projects in the future.

In 2019-2020, as part of my learning and teaching agenda for the Institute, I have developed the “Introducing Digital Humanities in creole language teacher education on Curaçao” project in our university. This project is based on an assessment of staff of the Faculty of Humanities, in which we discussed various opportunities and challenges relative to the introduction of Digital Humanities tools in our specific setting. One of the major observations was a ‘fear of the unknown’ in the current generation of Papiamentu teachers & researchers. This challenge could be met by introducing the use of an important Oral History collection, Zikinza, and the user-friendly tools learned at the Institute, to the youngest generation of Papiamentu teachers.

Together with a young Papiamentu language teacher, Rendel Rosalia, I have set up an assignment within the ‘Listening and Speaking’ course for first year Bachelor students training to become Papiamentu teachers. We introduced various DH tools and sources that teachers can work with in the classroom, leaving choices open for them to apply and adjust to their needs. Also, we gave the students a responsibility to share project outcome, such as transcriptions of oral history data, to the university repository. Our overall project goal was to observe and analyse readiness of the students to innovate their education by offering a semi-guided approach leaving choices for selection of tools with students. Unfortunately, given the partial lockdown because of the Covid-pandemic, only a few students could finalize and present their work in a physical setting with full interaction and reflection. Nevertheless, rich material has been collected by the teacher that can be used for further analysis and planning of follow-up.  A general observation is that using the digital material seemed to be embraced primarily as something of added value for our students in the role of (future) teachers. Though this is a valid starting point, follow-up needs to be given to building awareness of added value for our language student’s pupils.

Blog Posts Reflection

Reflection: Molly Hamm-Rodríguez

PhD candidate in Equity, Bilinguialism and Biliteracy Molly Hamm-Rodríguez (School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder) discusses how the Caribbean Digital Humanities Institute has helped her think about how to integrate digital tools and Caribbean intellectual thought throughout her teaching, research, and professional development work with schools and educators.

My initial application to CDHI was motivated by a desire to integrate digital tools into a collaborative storytelling project with Central Florida high school teachers and Puerto Rican students who had been displaced by Hurricane María. As a graduate student, I have found that culturally and linguistically responsive teaching for bilingual students is often promoted at a level of abstraction that does not support educators in deeply engaging with the transnational intellectual traditions, social movements, and texts that could provide a more critical and compelling learning experience. For this reason, I was excited to learn about the work of dLOC in producing and sharing teaching guides and K-12 lesson plans as well as delivering teacher training to ensure that Caribbean studies would become a more prominent part of classrooms. These materials have inspired the work that I have been planning as a result of my participation in CDHI.

I will use the CDHI experience to begin developing a university-level syllabus that engages with the Caribbean to investigate key issues of language, culture, and identity in the tradition of linguistic anthropology. The course would include the exploration and application of select digital tools, such as StoryMap JS, learned through CDHI. In addition, I plan to develop an outline for a K-12 teacher professional development workshop that would center the needs of emergent bilingual students from the Caribbean. This workshop would enable teachers focusing on language and literacy development to ground their lesson planning and instruction in historically responsive content that centers a range of socio-cultural and linguistic identities connected to the Caribbean.

During the in-person institute, I was inspired by the broad range of digital humanities work (teaching, research, and service) shared by other scholars. Seeing concrete examples of digital tools in action—applied across a variety of contexts—made it more feasible for me to consider implementing the tools in my own teaching and research. During the institute, I appreciated the opportunity to think expansively about digital tools, while also learning technical details so that I walked away with both new ideas and technological skills. I have found myself paying more attention to projects that engage these digital tools in creative ways, and I am especially interested in seeking out (and creating!) examples from my fields of education, anthropology, and linguistics.

Of course, when I participated in CDHI I could not have anticipated how the covid-19 pandemic would bring me face-to-face with an exponential increase in the need to use digital tools in my teaching and research. Not only am I teaching two courses per semester online, but I am also supporting K-12 teachers who are desperate for digital resources to facilitate a positive learning experience for students of all ages and levels of technology literacy. Indeed, my own dissertation research may need to incorporate digital ethnographic methods due to travel restrictions that have significantly delayed my work in the Dominican Republic. I am grateful for the network of support in CDHI participants and facilitators, and know that I have a place to turn to help me think creatively about the role of digital tools in times of great uncertainty and ongoing precarity.

Blog Posts Reflection

Reflection: Rachel Denney

Rachel Denney (Ph.D. candidate in Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, University of Kansas) shares how the institute supported peer networking.

The Migration, Mobility & Sustainability: Caribbean Studies & Digital Humanities Institute gave me the unique opportunity to connect with scholars from across the U.S. and the Caribbean while gaining hands-on experience with the latest technology in digital humanities. As a researcher of the Caribbean in the Midwestern U.S., it’s rare that I have the chance to interact in person with other scholars in my field. The Digital Humanities Institute brought in some of top scholars in Caribbean Studies and I was able to establish invaluable connections in a welcoming small group setting, as opposed to the intensity of
a large international conference. These connections have extended beyond the in-person institute with the regular virtual meetings (which were great preparation for the all-virtual experience of the spring semester). Many of these connections have resulted in professional collaborations on new and exciting research.  

Aside from the personal and professional connections, one of the greatest benefits of the Digital Humanities Institute was the hands-on experience with the latest digital humanities resources. Instead of trying to learn these tools on my own, experts took the time to walk us through each aspect of the new technologies. Large blocks of time were devoted to each resource and we were able to see what kind of projects were best suited for each one (as well as learning from some failed projects of the past). All the participants had the chance to ask questions and experiment with the tools in real time. We bounced ideas off each other and learned tips and tricks to make the resources work for our own research and teaching. I left the in-person Institute completely inspired to incorporate these resources into my research in Caribbean Studies and utilize these digital humanities tools in the classroom.

Blog Posts Reflection

Reflection: Nathan Dize

Nathan Dize (PhD Candidate in French and Italian, Vanderbilt University) discusses how participation in the Caribbean Digital Humanities Institute expanded his understanding of how digital scholarship and tools can be applied in the classroom. Combining his background in Haitian literature and history with a new knowledge of digital humanities tools, Nathan applied his experience with the institute by designing several new courses.

My experience with the Caribbean Digital Humanities Institute was a formative experience in that it enabled me to acquire new skills, to build community and network, and it expanded my ideas for where my digital scholarship and teaching could go next.

Nathan Dize sitting at table and speaking during session

The focus on both TimeLineJS and StoryMapsJS during the institute was helpful because these were ‘tools’ that I had seen before, but never had the chance to actually experiment with or use in a learning environment. I appreciated the slow time that the Institute created where we could walk around the room and talk about how others were using these tools and others, to get a broad sense of what individuals can bring to digital modes of expression.

The CDHI completely expanded my understanding of what was possible when it came to oral histories and the affordances of community archiving. Since I am grounded in a discipline that does not always look favorably on these methodologies (they are considered non-canonical), I found that the CDHI provided me with the necessary means to challenge disciplinary assumptions made about oral histories in language and literature contexts. I’m not sure where else I would have gotten this initial training and it has left me longing to learn even more.

For me, I felt like the Institute could have gone on for another two weeks and I’m not sure that I would have tired of the group of people that were brought together a year ago. Not only was it a pleasure to learn with and from the other scholars, but the selection of folks in terms of career level and path brought in perspectives made the experience for me as a graduate student quite formative. In this way, I felt like the learning environment was reciprocal.

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Reflection: Jose Vazquez

Jose Vazquez (Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Interior Design, Miami Dade College) shares how the institute helped him incorporate digital humanities tools into his courses on history of architecture, as well as supported the completion of several grants which will allow him to continue engaging digital methods through fieldwork in the Miami area.

“In applying for the ODH NEH institute Caribbean Studies and Digital Humanities I was looking to strengthen my curriculum by learning about the Digital Humanities and its pedagogical applications in a Higher Education classroom. Indeed, the experience gained through the institute’s lectures, lessons, and my interactions with institute’s colleagues was transformational as it subsequently helped me fashioning a series of grants and teaching proposals after the conclusion of the institute.

The first entailed the development of a Fulbright Scholar teaching proposal entitled American Architecture and its Silenced stories (see attached syllabus). The course is intended to examine the history of American architecture to foster an understanding of United States contemporary cultural landscapes. Accordingly, United States’ built heritage will serve as a lens to analyze an assortment of landscapes, ranging from domestic to capitalist environments, and reflect on their impact in fashioning American identity. I am pleased to report that I was awarded the 2020-21 Fulbright Garcia Robles U.S. Studies Chair grant to teach this course at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico during the spring 2021.

My second project, Building Stories Documenting Miami’s Vernacular Architecture and Cultural Landscapes also incorporated DH as a central pedagogical component and was the recipient of this year M.D.C. President’s Innovation Fund award. This fieldwork project aims to document through digital media, oral histories, and building surveys, the historic community of West Village, a pioneering Bahamian immigrant settlement in Coconut Grove. The project will include the development of various community activities and an online exhibition in partnership with the Theodore R. Gibson Memorial Fund. The TRGMF is interested in preserving historic documents belonging to aging community members to help preserve an historical record that otherwise could be lost. Among the main priorities of the Building Stories project will be training our students to conduct oral interviews and digitalize material that can be used by local community members and historians. This project is intended to familiarize my students with action-based research and to provide training in Virtual Reality (VR) technology as a documentation strategy.

I am deeply indebted to the institute directors and its faculty for a learning experience that allowed me to reimagine my pedagogy and in doing so redefined the boundaries of my classroom.”

Blog Posts Reflection

Reflection: Keja Valens

Institute participant Dr. Keja Valens (Professor of English, Salem State University) looks back on her experience at the 2019 in-person Caribbean Digital Humanities Institute, and shares how she has incorporated digital humanities tools into her course “Roots of the Commonwealth: Caribbean Provisions from the British Empire to the 21st Century.”

When I proposed my project for the NEH Seminar, I could only hope that what I planned would be possible, that I would indeed learn the tools, make the connections, and develop the concepts that I needed to create and deliver a course on ground provisions that would culminate in the creation of a digital project. Overall, it worked!

I want to take this space to reflect on how it worked, what worked best, and what I think could be improved.

The selection of material, while a lot and for the first several weeks overwhelming to the students, succeeded in opening the colonial digital archive to the students.

The pairing of work with primary texts in digital archives and the reading of Roopika Risam’s Postcolonial Digital Humanities was fantastic. Risam’s text provided the overview of the field and the academic language to talk about it while the primary texts and archives allowed the students hands on experience with the materials and concepts that Risam discusses.

My ability to share with students that I had attended the seminar and the ways that the theoretical and conceptual discussions that I engaged in during the seminar could be brought into my class discussions were fantastic not only in deepening the what we did in class but also, and I think most importantly, in helping my students to understand themselves as part of a community of scholars.

The selection of assignments and activities that I designed worked relatively well: the activities and reflective writing assignments were fully successful; the blogging assignments were less successful.

The activities worked well in large part thanks to the NEH seminar both in person and online: I saw, in person, some of the courses and assignments that had been posted to DLoC from courses working with the digital Caribbean archive, especially the courses on the Panama canal. As I designed my course, I asked Leah Rosenberg for access to the assignments and after she quickly granted it, I was able to draw heavily on the work she and others had done, borrowing and adapting their assignments for my course. This success is a direct result of the
NEH seminar.

The “reflective writing on resistance,” which I designed as a regular assignment, allowed students a space to make their frustrations a part of what they were “supposed to be” doing and thus both let them move through those and also allowed me to see technical and conceptual sticking points.

The blogging on Risam’s book was less successful because of the blog format, which made conversation awkward. I’m not sure if the blog format is essentially awkward for that purpose or if I just don’t know how to use it well. Could the NEH seminar have been more helpful with this? Yes. I got excited about the WordPress format during the seminar, seeing some fantastic examples of courses and projects that used it. I think that folks even said that it’s possible to embed an Omeka project in a WordPress site. I had maintained a WordPress blog many years ago and I heard folks at the seminar say that WordPress, with some prior familiarity, was relatively simple to manipulate. For me, it was not, and I didn’t find a good way to follow up well with the introductory information I’d received or the people I’d seen use WordPress well. Of course, I could have figured all of that out on my own, but in the middle of a busy semester, I didn’t have time.

I think that the most important outcome of my participation in the NEH seminar was the possibility of sharing the work that came out of it through DLoC. I was able to present to my students a real community that they could understand as their interlocutors and where they could see their work being published. This meant that when they searched for material and reviewed other projects through DLoC, they did so with a profound interest and engagement, and as they completed their exhibits, they did so with a specific venue and audience in mind, and it was one in which they already felt invested and engaged and also one that they felt it was urgent to participate in with care and integrity. The greatest achievement, then, of the seminar, for me, is that it has helped me to open a path to engaging more students in the Digital Caribbean.