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Faculty approves DCS major and urban studies minor

October 18, 2019

Reid Brawer ’21 took his first Digital and Computational Studies (DCS) Course—Intro to DCS—on a whim.

“I was looking for classes [my first year] and I needed one more. And I was like, hey, DCS,” he said.

Two years since taking his first DCS course, Brawer will be one of the first DCS coordinate majors after proposals for the DCS coordinate major and minor, an Urban Studies minor and a new Biology concentration were approved at the October faculty meeting.

Clara Booker ’20, a potential urban studies minor, noted these curricular additions emphasize Bowdoin’s commitment to interdisciplinary studies.

“It’s an affirmation of a lot of the other kinds of commitments that we’ve made on campus interdisciplinary [studies],” Booker said. “The coordinate majors of DCS, education and environmental studies are one example that Bowdoin has made this commitment to interdisciplinary work. At the heart of a liberal arts education is interdisciplinary education.”

The new major and minors are composed of courses already offered.

“We think there’s real value in providing an intentional framework, both in terms of the kind of core course that [we] will provide and in terms of having students more consciously think about the connections among the specific classes that they’re taking,” said Rachel Sturman, associate professor of history and Asian studies and one of the professors involved in the creation of the urban studies minor.

The new additions to the curriculum align with a working group’s September 2018 report that answered President Clayton Rose’s question: “What Knowledge, Skills and Creative Dispositions (KSCD) should every student who graduates from Bowdoin ten years from now possess?”

Crystal Hall, director of DCS and associate professor of digital humanities, said the DCS major and minor were being developed before the KSCD report was released last fall.

Dean for Academic Affairs Elizabeth McCormack said talks of expanding the DCS initiative to a major and minor “dovetailed” with the KCSD report.

The major, minors and concentrations will be available for students in the fall of 2020; students who plan to pursue the new major, minors and concentrations can receive advisory assistance beginning this semester.

When Hall arrived at Bowdoin during the summer of 2013, faculty were having conversations—instigated by then-President Barry Mills ’72—about how technology is shaping society and academia.

“[Mills] asked a group of faculty to discuss his idea that computers were changing the world and that was going to seep into academia and Bowdoin could either be a leader in thinking about how that will change academia or it could wait and be a follower, and his feeling was we had an opportunity to lead,” Eric Chown, professor of digital and computational studies, said.

Since the first class in 2013, DCS has expanded to an interdisciplinary initiative that includes courses taught by over 40 professors.

“If you look around the country, really nobody does what we’re doing,” Chown said. “There are lots of schools that have digital humanities programs. There’s lots of schools that have computational social sciences, but nobody is doing a program that really is integrated across the curriculum.”

Bates is the only other NESCAC school that offers a DCS program. However, Hall explained that Bates does not have a Computer Science (CS) department so their program incorporates more coding.

As for the transition from an idea into actuality, Hall believes the shift will be seamless because the College already has the requisite resources, classes and faculty.

The department is comprised of two full-time, tenured DCS professors, one professor who will be a part of DCS and CS and two visiting assistant professors.

Students interested in the major must fulfill five department requirements totaling seven DCS courses. The minor includes one introductory course and four elective courses.

The urban studies minor was proposed in 2018 by a group of professors who taught courses relating to urban studies after noticing an increase in student interest.

In the last decade, there have been more than a dozen self-designed majors involving urban studies.

Jill Pearlman, senior lecturer in Environmental Studies, and one of the faculty members involved in the proposal, said there is general interest in urban planning and studies. She estimates that at least one student a year pursues an urban studies graduate programs.

There are currently 17 faculty members from 10 departments and programs including environmental studies, history, government and legal studies and digital computational studies teaching courses relating to the field.

“Urban studies by its very nature is interdisciplinary. It has emerged as a field through the intersection of history and architecture, literature and archaeology,” Sturman said.

Previously, students interested in urban studies took courses in different departments that often taught similar concepts.

“There’s been an overlap in what we teach that we can now address,” Pearlman said.

Emilia Majersik ’22 knew she was interested in urban studies before she came to Bowdoin and reached out to Pearlman. Although there was not a program established, Majersik has taken three courses that will contribute towards the minor; she said she has been choosing classes based on her interests, not based on the potential for the minor.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how many classes there’s been about cities, considering Brunswick is not [one],” she said.

Trinity is the only other NESCAC college to offer urban studies courses.

The minor includes five courses. There are four major requirements including one of the four introductory survey courses, one humanities course and social science course, one non-U.S. based course and two elective courses.

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