DH Collaboration: Oxy Meets with Whittier, UCLA, USC, and Claremont

AJ Strout

Having decided that collaboration will be the focus of their 2nd Mellon grant in the Digital Humanities, the DH team at Occidental College called a meeting with surrounding institutions in early December. The meeting was held in their very impressive Varelas Lab, a multi-use space whose walls are made of glass. The space opens completely on one side by way of a collapsable wall which acts as a kind of signal. When the wall is open, the room becomes a study space that students are encouraged to use. Closed, the space acts as a meeting room, a classroom, or a project presentation space.

In attendance at the meeting were members of Whittier College, UCLA, USC, and the Claremont Colleges. Together we discussed the possibility of cooperation and sharing resources, similarities between existing and developing programs, and Oxy’s plans to work regionally through their most recent grant. Following our comparative discussion about plans and work in progress amongst representatives from each attending college, a generous lunch was provided. As lunch wrapped up we had a brief discussion about next steps which include connecting with DH So Cal, and thinking generally about a follow up meeting for the day’s discussion.

This very productive day was brought to a conclusion with a tour of Occidental’s impressive DH spaces. In looking at these spaces, it’s easy to see how fruitful Oxy’s program has been. In the center of Johnson Hall is a fantastic multi-media art installation complete with a colorful LED light display. The unique installation, which adorns an entire wall, features several television screens. Through an easily accessed web program these screens are programmed to display a rotation of media which includes student projects, world news, and upcoming departmental events.


Regarding our conversation’s specifics, below is a series of summaries highlighting the main discussion which covered DH program objectives, future plans, and similarities between the DH programs at each of the attending Universities.


The DH project at the Claremont Colleges is focused on pedagogy. The goal is to build a strong portfolio of digital course offerings through a decentralized program that reaches across the consortium. There are also plans in place to develop a DH space within the library; a collaborative studio space which can be used for teaching, studying, meetings, and developing DH projects. Current concerns regarding a DH program at the 5Cs includes sustainability for technologies acquired through the Mellon grant, communicating across five colleges, and questions regarding what kind of events should take place at the DH Spring Symposium. Building DH at the Claremont Colleges will take place through four main activities:

  • The Spring Symposium is meant to facilitate communication, encourage collaboration and inspiration, and offer learning opportunities for faculty and students.
  • For the Summer Institute 10 faculty members will be selected over two summers to receive grant money for skill building and method development in using DH tools.
  • Digital Course Development: Beginning in summer of 2015, selected faculty members will be paid to develop DH related courses with the assistance of undergrad and/or grad students. Their classes will be taught twice over the course of 5 years. At the conclusion of the grant, the result will be a portfolio of 32 classes that investigate the uses of technology through a humanist lens and/or improve existing courses with technology.
  • In years 3-5, faculty will apply for project grants that will be supported by teams of undergrad and grad researchers in the Collaborative Digital Research Studio led by a Project Manager. There is also a budget for technology and tools to be housed in the studio. Conversations regarding how to spend the technology budget will take place in 2015.

Occidental College: Center for Digital Learning and Research

A year ago Oxy applied for a second Mellon grant which would focus on extending faculty development through their Faculty Fellows Program. This program enables instructors to delve deeper into DH work alongside a team of post-doc fellows. Instructors re-think their courses and, if they wish, develop them beyond the traditional classroom into a lab setting. This facilitates a kind of hybrid DH experience where some courses are lecture or discussion based, and some have lab components. Courses in digital learning and research focus on a range of topics from theory to technology to digital scholarship.

Digital Course development at Oxy has resulted in a series of beta courses which are team taught by faculty and post docs. Through the digital arts labs, students are integrating their every day work into digital modes. In one of their courses, which is a 5 unit course with lecture and lab components, students developed a virtual walking tour and a digital mapping program.

Oxy DH courses are quite creative and engaging. Some of the courses are organized into themes. For example, next semester they’ll host a “music semester.” A couple of different courses will be held, one which explores Chicana music in LA, and another which explores the history of Hip Hop. Through the second course, a digital archive of Hip Hop ephemera is expected to be developed. Fall of 2015 will be focused on GIS, and the spring semester following that will highlight a queer mapping of LA.

Currently, Oxy is also developing a DH lab through the second part of their grant. They plan to renovate the library into an undergraduate research center. As with many Mellon liberal arts college DH grant recipients, Oxy’s DH program is closely tied to the library.

Amongst some of their developing issues, Oxy faculty report that there has been some confusion regarding their roles in relation to critical pedagogy and tech support. Issues like this are expected to be at the foreground of conversation in coming months.

Like the Claremont Colleges, Oxy has a set of major activities:

  • Summer Institutes: A series of summer workshops designed to build capacity and community amongst faculty.
  • Faculty Learning Community: Faculty are engaged throughout the semester in conversation and collaboration.
  • Digital Arts Lab/Center for Digital Arts: Students integrate their every day work into digital modes.


UCLA, which seems to be the patron of DH, centralized their DH program in the library. Their program is focused on learning and collaborates with the institution’s Center for Digital Humanities which offers support for departments across the humanities. The DH program at UCLA features options for undergrads who can earn a DH minor through a series of requirements and electives:

  • An introduction class: DH 101
  • Three upper-division electives
  • One lower division elective
  • One Capstone Class
  • Additional interdisciplinary classes that intersect with DH

Grad students at UCLA have the option of earning a graduate certificate.

Since having wrapped up much of their work with Mellon, their focus is now centered on sustainability, time management, faculty, and sharing their findings with the community. Time and cash are, at times, an issue and have been at the center of recent discussions.

There are many ways to engage with the DH program at UCLA. There are experts across the campus, including a GIS specialist who works in text analysis.


USC’s Mellon-funded DH program acts as a training program for humanist scholarship through the College for Liberal Arts and Sciences. The Mellon grant at USC provides funding for post docs and graduate students who engage in rigorous scholarship.

DH Space at USC is shared with the Media Arts and Practice department. This provides students with access to experts and faculty as they work through projects. Students also collaborate with the Digital Repository at the library where materials are digitized and then made available to the public. As a part of the DH program, students are required to be affiliated with an institute that will guide them in job finding. Their chosen institute also facilitates better research and more fruitful projects.

Like most of the Mellon DH programs mentioned, USC has allocated funds for an annual symposium which will begin next year. The symposium will focus on a single research based issue or project. Funds have also been dedicated to what they are calling a “Best Practices Workshop,” which will function much like our meeting with Oxy. It is a meeting/workshop meant to help faculty and administrators and staff working in DH to determine what is working, what future plans look like, and what does not work as well.

Whittier College

Present from Whittier College were Andrea Rehn, Professor of English and PI of the grant at Whittier, Laurel Crump who is head librarian, and Sonia Chaidez, Instructional Media designer and co-coordinator of DigLibArts. The DH program at Whittier College is one year into their Mellon grant and is also focused on pedagogy. Members of the college have established, however, that they are first in need of digital classrooms. Following this need, the plan is to support faculty in developing new skills and interests. Like with the Claremont Colleges, stipends have been dedicated to enable faculty exploration of the DH landscape, or meet with other interested parties to engage in discussion and possibly collaborate. Speakers have been brought to campus to build awareness and knowledge two or three times each year. So far these events have been successful and well attended.

To meet the needs of the DH grant at Whittier College, new staff have been hired. They have opted out of a post doc initiative and instead designed a permanent position. The person in this position acts as a liaison between the library and the faculty. This position is held by Anne Cong-Huyen, who also teaches a class every year. Another component of Anne’s position is to help faculty think critically about technology use in their teaching.

Because there is a digital divide on their small, intimate campus, they are interested in teaching students new skills, but not without careful consideration. DH at Whittier is determined to use technology in a critical and thoughtful way.

DH members at Whittier College are also focused on resources. They’ve acquired technologies and a space in the library but are interested in de-centering their program. They feel that, if they put all their resources in one place, faculty won’t have access. Other topics under discussion include how they’ve been working with faculty. Seed grants have been distributed in a relatively open fashion. Moving forward, they want to bring more focus to the program and develop a solid process for doing so.

Whittier is also thinking about adding a DH related major or minor, perhaps in film or media. They currently have an on-campus interdisciplinary design-your-own-program titled the Whittier Scholars Program, which may be expanded to link with their DH program. This will move the project beyond reaching faculty alone and facilitate direct contact with students.


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