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How Digital Humanities Can Help Save the Planet

RELS 581.401
also offered as: ANTH 581
W 2-5:00


Building Digital Exhibits to Save a Planet:


Digital and Environmental Humanities for the 21st Century




Students will be taught each phase of designing a sophisticated digital exhibit of museum quality.  This includes choosing a platform, designing a compelling exhibit, writing metadata, learning about grant writing to support and sustain digital exhibits, and theorizing how digital technology can be used to educate the general public about the importance of preserving forests in the Anthropocene (Age of Climate Change).  A significant part of the course will be dedicated to learning about Environmental Humanities including: 1) Scientific studies of Climate Change in the Arctic, the Amazon, and the forests of North America; 2) Contemporary politics effecting the Environmental Protection Agency; 3) Why Native Americans were successful at the first standoff at Standing Rock; and 4) the Data Rescue project that Penn is participating in to save Environmental data being removed from the web by the present administration.  We will also study state-of-the-art digital exhibits like the What is Missing?: Creating a Global Memorial to the Planet site by Maya Lin, who designed the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington D.C.






The students will receive hands-on training as they work on a digital exhibit that will be used as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination to preserve 33,000 sq. kms. of boreal forest and the cultural landscape of four Indigenous First Nations in Canada.  This ongoing project, with which I have been involved for the last seven years, will create an interactive map that includes environmental data, digitized Indigenous oral histories, and digitized photographs taken by anthropologists of this remote area in the 1930s and 1990s.  It is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site ever nominated by the Canadian government of behalf of Indigenous Communities.  UNESCO originally declined the nomination because they could not evaluate what the cultural landscape meant to the Ojibwe because it included stories of thunderbirds, windigo, and drums so powerful they can bring patients back from the dead (a story recounted by the man who visited the spirit world and then was called back by his grandfather, a powerful Medicine Man).  Remarkably, UNESCO revised their criteria to recognize Indigenous cultures’ perception of the landscape and its stewardship.  UNESCO has encouraged the four First Nations, the Manitoba and Quebec provinces, and the Canada government to reapply.  This interactive map will be used in the re-nomination and will be preserved as a digital exhibit on the new Educational Partnerships with Indigenous Communities (EPIC) website supported by the Price Lab for the Digital Humanities at Penn.




Required Texts:




















Week 1                        Overview of “The Land that Gives Life” UNESCO World Heritage Site






Week 2                        Introduction to Environmental Humanities


·      Environmental Humanities: Voices from the Anthropocene, eds. Serpil Oppermann and Serenella Iovino




Week 3                        Introduction to Digital Humanities


·      Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew Gold




Week 4                        Learning to Evaluate Digital Exhibits


·      What is Missing?: Creating a Global Memorial to the Planet


·      Skeptical Science


·      Rossetti Archive


·      Nines: Nineteenth-Century Scholarship Online


·      Pimachiowing Aki: The Land that Gives Life


Week 5                        Theorizing Environmental Humanities


·      Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses”


·      Bruno Latour, “Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene”


·      Tim Ingold, “Rethinking the Animate, Re-animating Thought”


Week 6                        A Multispecies Approach to Understanding Climate Change


·      S. Eban Kirksey and Stefan Helmreich, “The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography”


·      Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology beyond the Human (excerpts)


·      Niki Caro, Whale Rider [film]


Week 7                        Choosing a Platform and Writing Metadata for Digital Objects


·      Scalar, The Alliance for Networking Digital Culture


·      Mukurtu (an open source platform built with indigenous communities to manage and share digital cultural heritage)


·      Omeka: Serious Web Publishing




Week 8            What is a Cultural Landscape and Why UNESCO did not Understand It?


·      “The Land that Gives Life” UNESCO nomination bid


·      Review of Photos and Oral Histories for “The Land that Gives Life”


·      Learning to Create Metadata


Week 9                        Digital Storytelling


·      Carneiro, “Ethnic Past and Ethnic Now: The Representation of Memory in Ethnic Museum Websites”


·      Johnson, “Communicating Visual Identities on Ethnic Museum Websites”


·      Melissa Nelson, “The Hydromythology of the Anishinaabeg”




Week 10          Building Digital Exhibits


·      Maureen Matthews, “Fair Wind’s Dream: Naamiwan Obawaajigewin”


·      Maureen Matthews, recording: “Fair Wind’s Drum,” parts 1 & 2


·      Maureen Matthews, transcript, “Fair Wind’s Drum”




Week 11          Building Digital Exhibits


·      Hallowell, “Spirits of the Dead in Saulteaux Life and Thought”


·      Keith Basso, “Quoting the Ancestors” and “Wisdom Sits in Places,” Wisdom Sits in Places


·      Maureen Matthews’ radio show, “Thunderbirds,” produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Company


·      Transcript to “Thunderbirds” radio documentary




Week 12          Interactive Mapping Projects


·      Amy Becker, “The Stz’uminus Storied Places Project: A Community-Based Digital Mapping Project to Mobilize Indigenous Place Names and Place-based Stories”


·      Bodenhamer, Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives (excerpts)


·      “Lewis and Clark: the National Bicentennial Exhibition” by Terra Incognita




Week 13          Work on Project


·      Students will work with Scalar specialists from Price DH Lab to design exhibit




Week 14          Work on Project


·      Students will work with Scalar specialists from Price DH Lab to design exhibit


fulfills requirements