In 2010 when the current Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Morehouse College, Clarissa Myrick-Harris, was the Director of The UNCF Institute for Capacity Building Curriculum and Faculty Enhancement Programs, she created a one day symposium called “To Be Young, Digital, and Black,” which sought to begin a conversation about the way HBCUs were addressing our students who were “digital natives.” Indeed, this was the first of a series of public forums dedicated to “UNCF Digital Media and Learning in Multicultural Contexts.” In the intervening years, not only are we still grappling with the pedagogical questions of how to teach students in a digital age, but also how to fashion ourselves as scholars in a time where the academic disciplines, themselves, have changed fundamentally. For example, no longer is English simply the study of literature, but it is also textual studies where academics can reconstruct and examine lost texts and/or visualize texts through the use of technology. Moreover, with things like data mining and mapping, no longer are words one dimensional, but they are in 3-D and kinetic. Changing the scope of words has in effect changed the scope of academy. As many of our small private liberal arts colleges do not have access to digital scholars labs and other teaching and learning centers devoted to helping humanities faculty with technical aspects of digital scholarship, the question becomes exactly when and where do faculty at the small HBCUs enter into the larger national and international conversations about the digital humanities.
Moreover, the ostensible truth is that we should be center of these conversations because of the myriad opportunities for archiving, constructing, and engaging with material in African American religion, philosophy, literature, music, history and the visual arts that our schools provide. Indeed, many of our historically black colleges are rich repositories of history in African American life and culture. While the questions about digital scholarship and learning seem to always come back to resources, the focus at UNCF institutions should be on the way in which these colleges can start where they are to build community and pool information and best practices in order to allow our faculty and their work to emerge in this new academy. This UNCF/Mellon Teaching and Learning Institute: “Mapping a New Future by Mining the Past: HBCUS and the Digital Humanities” was a workshop where 16 faculty members from Paine, Claflin, Spelman, Clark, Morehouse, and Dillard convened on Morehouse’s campus and at The Robert W. Woodruff Library July 24-27, 2014 to look at the intersections of African American Studies and digital scholarship. Each invited scholar will brought an individual research or class project and constructed a strategy for completing that digital humanities project given the resources that they have on their campuses and an iPad mini, which was provided provided by the seminar. By offering faculty the space and time to engage with technology, this workshop sought to fulfill the mission set forth by UNCF in 2010, which was to “investigate current and future opportunities for research, careers and civic engagement that are informed by innovative uses of digital media.”
One of the excellent facilitators Howard Rambsy wrote more about the importance of this institute on his blog Cultural Front here