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Digital Pedagogy is about Breaking Stuff: Toward a Critical Digital Humanities Pedagogy
Digital Pedagogy is about Breaking Stuff:
Toward a Critical Digital Humanities Pedagogy
Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer)
Photo by Jacson Querubin
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Pedagogy is not just a delivery device for the digital humanities. It should
be at the core of what the digital humanities is as an academic discipline.
Pedagogy is the place where philosophy and practice meet.
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“I am hopeful, not out of mere stubbornness, but out of an existential,
~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Hope
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The “critical” in critical pedagogy functions in several registers:
1. Critical, as in mission-critical, essential;
2. Critical, as in literary criticism and critique, providing deﬁnitions and
3. Critical, as in a reﬂective and nuanced approach to a thing;
4. Critical, as in criticizing institutional or corporate impediments to learning;
5. Critical Pedagogy, as a disciplinary approach, which inﬂects (and is inﬂected
by) each of these other meanings.
“Unless the mass of workers are to be blind cogs and pinions in the
apparatus they employ, they must have some understanding of the
physical and social facts behind and ahead of the material and
appliances with which they are dealing.”
John Dewey, Schools ofTo-Morrow
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We need to handle our technologies roughly -- to think critically about
our tools, how we use them, and who has access to them.
The best digital tools inspire us, often to use them in ways the designer
couldn’t anticipate.The worst digital tools attempt to dictate our
pedagogies, determining what we can do with them and for whom.The
digital pedagogue teaches her tools, doesn’t let them teach her.
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“Digital pedagogy is the use of electronic elements to
enhance or to change the experience of education.”
~ Brian Croxall and Adeline Koh
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“collaboration, playfulness/tinkering, focus on
process, and building (very broadly deﬁned).”
~ Katherine D. Harris
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“The new learning is ancient.”
~ Kathi Inman Berens
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“It doesn’t matter to me if my classroom is a little rectangle in a
building or a little rectangle above my keyboard. Doors are
rectangles; rectangles are portals.We walk through.”
~ Kathi Inman Berens,“The New Learning is Ancient”
“A course today is an act of composition.”
~ Sean Michael Morris,“Courses, Composition, Hybridity”
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The keenest analysis in the digital humanities is born of distraction and
revels in tangents.The holy grail of this work is not the thesis but the
ﬁssure.The digital humanities is about breaking stuff.
Photo by EmreAyar
“What is broken and twisted is also beautiful, and a bearer of knowledge.The
Deformed Humanities is an origami crane — a piece of paper contorted into
an object of startling insight and beauty.”
~ Mark Sample,“Notes towards a Deformed Humanities”
There's a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.
Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can ﬁnd no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.
None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial afﬂiction
Sent us of the air.
When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 't is like the distance
On the look of death.
~ Emily Dickinson
The digital humanities course I
teach for undergraduates has as
its ﬁrst assignment the breaking
of something as an act of literary
criticism. [slide] Speciﬁcally, I ask
students to take the words of a
poem by Emily Dickinson,
“There’s a certain slant of light,”
and rearrange them into
something else.They use any or
all of the words that appear in
the poem as many or as few
times as they want.What they
build takes any shape: text, image,
video, a poem, a pile, sense-
making or otherwise.
Breaking Stuff as an Act of Literary Criticism
“Deconstructing Digital Literature” by Timothy Merritt
Shadows the landscape like death
Tis heavenly when it goes
Haiku by Rachel Blume
"A Certain Slant of Light,Typographically Speaking" by Lans Paciﬁco
Photo by ﬂickr user Holger H.
“The world is vast.Art is long.What else can we do but survey the ﬁeld,
introduce a topic, plant a seed.”
~ Stephen Ramsay,“The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or WhatYou Do with a Million Books”
A critical digital pedagogy must be less about knowing and more about
a voracious not knowing.
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Critical Digital Pedagogy:
1. centers its practice on community and collaboration;
2. must remain open to diverse, international voices, and thus requires
invention to reimagine the ways that communication and collaboration
happen across cultural and political boundaries;
3. will not, cannot, be deﬁned by a single voice but must gather together a
cacophony of voices;
4. must have use and application outside traditional institutions of education.
Jesse Stommel,“Toward a Zombie Pedagogy” in Zombies in the Academy: Living
Death in Higher Education
Jesse Stommel,“Decoding Digital Pedagogy, pt. 2: (Un)Mapping the Terrain”
Jesse Stommel,“The Digital Humanities is about Breaking Stuff”
Jesse Stommel,“The Decay of the Digital Human”
Leeann Hunter, Pete Rorabaugh, Jesse Stommel, Robin Wharton, and Roger Whitson,
“Digital Humanities Made Me a Better Pedagogue: a Crowdsourced Article”
Mark Sample,“Notes towards a Deformed Humanities”
Sean Michael Morris,“Courses, Composition, Hybridity”
Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel,“CFP: Critical Digital Pedagogy”
Kathi Inman Berens,“The New Learning is Ancient”