The College will offer the first course  in a new interdisciplinary program of study, Digital and Computational Studies, this fall. 

Eric Chown, who currently serves as the chair of the Department of Computer Science, and Associate Professor  of Art History Pamela Fletcher will teach the course, which will be called Gateway to Digital Studies. Though the class will contain some introductory material, it will largely be project-based to allow students to investigate their own specific inquiries.

Discussions surrounding the creation of a digital studies course began last winter. Over the summer, Chown and others took part in a workshop for faculty to examine what the first course in this new field would be.

“We wanted to make sure that we had at least one other faculty member who was anything but a computer scientist to emphasize that this isn’t a computer science initiative,” he said. 

Fletcher seemed to be the perfect match. Her recent work utilizes Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping to analyze the art market in nineteenth-century London. She emphasizes that computational studies can and should work in coordination with the humanities.

 “One of the reasons we decided to start with a humanities-focused version of this computational class was to put the emphasis on the two-way street between computation and what we more traditionally think of as liberal arts skills right from the beginning,” she said.

Both Fletcher and Chown said that the students who take it will heavily shape this and future courses in this field of study. 

“We don’t want to come at this like we know the answers, because we don’t,” said Chown.
 They plan to spend most of the summer planning the syllabus of the course with the help of two student interns. 

Dean of Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd views the new course as an important step in giving Bowdoin students a well-rounded education.

 “How do you think about what Google does for you if you haven’t had the chance to encounter how algorithms work and why they work and why you make certain decisions about algorithms?” she said.

The Digital and Computational Studies Steering Committee includes Professors Chown and Fletcher, as well as mathematics professors Bill Barker and Adam Levy, sociology professor Ingrid Nelson, and biology professor Jack Bateman.

In a statement outlining this new discipline, the Steering Committee wrote, “Computational proficiency, literacy, and fluency requires more than technical expertise; it is built on fundamental critical thinking skills that guide the exploration of data and the choice of appropriate digital and computational techniques.”

Chown and Fletcher both agree that it is unlikely that a Digital and Computational Studies major will be offered in the future. Chown feels that “the department model is probably not the right model.” Instead, they’re hoping to combine digital studies with a wide variety of disciplines.
Both professors stress that a familiarity with this kind of technology will be important in the future as students move into the working world. 

“I think any thinking person who reads the papers and is aware of current events is aware that technology is going to reshape higher education in some pretty fundamental ways,” said Fletcher.