A New Era in the Field of Humanities

New academic program modernizes skills across nine humanities and STEM disciplines

Sisters of the Holy Cross view archival textsSaint Mary’s College will soon launch a new academic program that integrates technology fields with the humanities. With the support of a Humanities Connections grant ($149,001) from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the new Digital and Public Humanities (DPH) minor combines coursework from the humanities, art, computer science, business, communication studies, environmental science, and others. The 15-credit program will begin in the fall 2022.

“This new minor prepares students to thrive in a world increasingly shaped by technology,” said Sharon Meagher, interim provost and senior vice president. “It will integrate project-based, experiential learning opportunities within nine academic specialties, providing students with a hands-on model of how humanities research engages with and influences the world.”

As of 2019, only 42 undergraduate digital humanities minor programs existed at institutions across the United States; half of which were located at high-level research (R1) institutions. Saint Mary’s newly launched program will become one of just a handful of programs in the country that explicitly pairs the digital with the public humanities.

Laura Williamson Ambrose, center, with studentsAccording to Laura Williamson Ambrose, associate professor and department chair of Humanistic Studies, the DPH minor highlights the utility of and need for humanities disciplines in fields that are driven by technology, mathematics, and business. By integrating humanistic perspectives in these areas of study, “our graduates become more employable to a wider cross-section of industries,” she said. “Humanities students will gain practical experience in  digital technologies, data collection and curation, public humanities methodologies, and project  management, all skills that are in-demand for numerous careers.” She added that students studying science, math, and business, the DPH minor will help them to further develop their skills in rhetoric and written analysis, while applying their analytical abilities to new content areas.

Sarah Noonan, associate professor of English, will serve as the project lead, with Wiliamson Ambrose and Chris Wedrychowicz, associate professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, serving as project co-leads.

“Getting a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities is a tremendous honor, and it will enable us to create the best program possible,” Noonan said.  “We are one of only four institutions in Indiana that received an NEH grant in their latest funding round, and we are looking forward to launching this program that will speak to students’ desire for marketable employment skills while also tangibly demonstrating how humanities scholarship can contribute to the betterment of ourselves, our community, and our society."

Williamson Ambrose noted the College has been exploring the possibility of a new academic program of this kind since 2017. Testing the waters, Williamson Ambrose, Noonan, and their colleague Jessalynn Bird, led several stand-alone digital humanities projects in the past few years. In one recent initiative, the Displacement Project, students and faculty conducted research in the archives of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Bertrand Hall to recover the history of the sisters’ work with displaced individuals around the world.  

Recent project work has also helped faculty develop relationships with local community partners. Several existing and new partners will participate in the planning of project work that will contribute to the new DPH minor, including the Civil Rights Heritage Center, IU South Bend, South Bend Civic Theatre; St. Joseph County Public Library; Elkhart County Historical Museum; and the Michiana Jewish Historical Society. 

About the National Endowment for the Humanities
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at neh.gov