Three years after the launch of Bowdoin’s Digital and Computational Studies Initiative (DCSI), the program has expanded this semester to offer five courses designed for students from all academic backgrounds.

The College’s DCSI initiative came about as a result of conversations amongst faculty members and a retreat with the Trustees in 2011. It seeks to integrate aspects of digital technologies and computational strategies across all disciplines in the College’s curriculum.

This semester, two DCSI courses are listed as interdisciplinary, including How to Read 1,000,000 Books, taught by Visiting Assistant Professor in the Digital Humanities Crystal Hall, and The Digital Image of the City, taught by Jen Jack Gieseking, new media and data visualization specialist.

The other three courses are Assistant Professor of English Ann Kibbie’s Imagining London in Eighteenth-Century Literature, Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies Allison Cooper’s Film Narrative, and Professor of Mathematics Mary Lou Zeeman’s Biomathematics. They are listed as an English class, a cinema studies class, and a math and biology class, respectively. These three courses are the first DCSI courses taught at Bowdoin to be incorporated into other curricula and not listed as interdisciplinary classes. 

So far, all five DCSI courses have been well received by students.
“I think that the class is run in such a way that if you have comp sci experience, you can apply that, but if you don’t, you won’t be at a disadvantage,” said Roya Moussapour ’17, who is taking Gieseking’s Digital Image of the City course.

English Major Callie Ferguson ’15, who is taking Assistant Professor of English Ann Kibbie’s “Imagining Eighteenth-Century London through Literature” course, feels that DCSI can greatly benefit humanities curricula.

“There’s a lot of potential for [DCSI] to actually enrich our discussion,” Ferguson said. “But since none of us are used to actually using it, I think we are going to have to try to discover the best way for it to figure into the work that we are doing.”

The first DCSI course offered at Bowdoin was Gateway to the Digital Humanities, co-taught last fall by Program Director of Art History and Professor in the Art Department Pamela Fletcher and professor Eric Chown in the computer science department. Last spring, another two DCSI courses were offered: Data Driven Society taught by Director of the Quantitative Reasoning Program Eric Gaze and Gieseking, and The Rhetoric of Big Data taught by Hall.

The initiative is also attractive for recruiting new faculty members to Bowdoin.

“Some recent faculty members are coming out of their graduate schools having been immersed already in digitally and computationally rich approaches to their subject,” said Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd. The initiative says to them, according to Judd, that, “Bowdoin will give you a platform where you can develop that, not only in your own research, but as a part of what you do in teaching.”

The College hired Gieseking during the summer of 2013 as a part of the initiative. Gieseking has a PhD in environmental psychology and has worked on integrating technology into lesbian and queer studies in New York City before coming to Bowdoin. She described the College as unique in its completely interdisciplinary approach to the integration of DCSI components. According to Gieseking, many other schools have begun technology integration initiatives that focus primarily on the sciences, while Bowdoin is seeking to incorporate DCSI in any and all curricular disciplines.

Bowdoin also hired Hall as a part of the initiative, who has a PhD in Italian literature and previously used digital strategies for the organization of large quantities of text during her work studying Galileo’s library while at the University of Kansas.

Both are uniquely equipped to facilitate the integration of DCSI principles in different fields at Bowdoin.

The College is presenting the initiative as an exciting and innovative new curricular pursuit, and President Barry Mills has been keen to incorporate the new initiative in his fundraising efforts. Accordingly, the presidential search committee included information about the initiative in a document drafted for the future president in a part of the section titled “The Academic Core: Bowdoin’s Offer.” The document suggests that Bowdoin foresees “big data” becoming as integral to the liberal arts as writing or math.

Many students believe the DCSI courses will teach skills applicable to the job market. According to Judd, the program was not conceived specifically for the purpose of making liberal arts more marketable to students concerned about the job market and value of college, though she did acknowledge that it is a positive aspect of the initiative. 

The initiative is coordinated by a steering committee comprised of faculty members responsible for determining the progression of the department. The committee focuses on program development, faculty outreach and curricular implementation for the initiative—including the teaching of DCSI courses. Gieseking, Hall, Fletcher, Gaze and Zeeman all sit on the committee, and Zeeman and Fletcher serve as co-directors of the initiative.

In addition to exposing students to digital and computational aspects of scholarship, one of the major goals for DCSI is to prompt questions about how these techniques can and should be used in a classroom setting.

The Digital Humanities course cluster of the initiative focuses on technological integration in classes that have traditionally focused on the humanities. The Digital Humanities course cluster is partially funded by the Mellon Humanities Initiative—a three year grant designed to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration.

Renovations to the third floor of the Visual Arts Center (VAC) were also a part of the initiative, creating new spaces for DCSI classes. These rooms are stocked with laptops preloaded with the programs that may be required for DCSI classes, blu-ray and projector capabilities, and movable tables or desks that are designed to be particularly conducive to group work.

DCSI students have responded positively to the new classrooms. 

Kelsey Scarlett ’17, a student in the Imagining Eighteenth-Century London through Literature course on the third floor of the VAC, said she finds the renovation very conducive to her course. 

“A lot of these digital humanities classes are pretty collaborative, so the space itself facilitates that really easily,” Scarlett said.

Scarlett, who plans to double major in English and government and legal studies, said she took the DCSI class in hopes of being exposed to a new way to look at literature.

Library and Information Technology staff are also available as resources for professors interested in incorporating DCSI components into their classes, and professors are encouraged to work closely with Hall and Gieseking to establish and execute goals for incorporating such components.

According to Hall, the College plans to offer DCSI courses in chemistry, government and legal studies and other social science based departments in the coming years. Polaris will be updated in the coming years so that students may specifically search for DCSI courses.

Social and Economic Networks, taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Digital and Computational Studies Mohammad Irfan is the only new DCSI course planned for next semester. Gaze and Gieseking plan to offer Data Driven Society and Hall plans to teach The Rhetoric of Big Data again in the spring of 2015.