New faculty ushers in digital humanities

Calvin’s history department recently hired archeology professor Darrell Rohl for his expertise in integrating the archeological, geographical and digital realms, and also in anticipation for a digital humanities program. Rohl will help construct a gateway course that will provide humanities students with skills to flourish in the digital age.

Classes such as linguistics and geography have already started incorporating tools such as corpus linguistics and geographic information systems (GIS) to prepare students for the age of digital humanities.

In his previous work as an archaeology professor at Canterbury Christ Church University, Rohl taught a course on archaeological computing, which focused on GIS, databases and statistics. In this class, he incorporated industry-standard commercial software packages, such as MS Access and ArcGIS, as well as alternatives like MySQL, PostGIS and QGIS.

Jack Du Mez, assistant professor and academic counselor at the Center for Student Success, has been pivotal in the progress of this program. He is currently working with Calvin Information Technology to figure out ways to incorporate more technology in the classroom.

According to history department chair Katherine van Liere, when the history department began to look for a replacement for Bert De Vries, the current director of the archaeology program, they wanted to make sure that the replacement brought relevant digital experience in addition to their archaeology experience.

“To a lot of people who don’t know that program firsthand, archaeology sounds old-fashioned,” said van Lier. “We wanted to make the case that archaeology is a discipline that isn’t just about digging up old bones, but that it also trains students in skills that are up-to-date and applicable to other fields.”

Rohl expressed his personal excitement in helping spearhead the digital humanities initiative at Calvin.

He expressed his wish to “encourage everyone to explore how such technologies can answer questions within the humanities subjects themselves … and break new ground in how we envision and define these subject areas.”

As Rohl plans the future digital humanities gateway course, he listed managing data for analysis, corpus linguistics and mapping and spatial analysis tools as key factors for the class.

He does not want to overshadow the humanities with technology, but to enhance the humanities with new tools and technology. In order for the program to succeed, “this will need to be a collaborative effort involving various academic and support areas within the college,” Rohl said.

Rohl will start his first year at Calvin this fall, in 2018, and the program is scheduled to begin around 2019.