Following the launch of UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities in 2010, the modular MA/MSc program was developed in 2011 as a way to provide a robust education in the digital humanities while accommodating the differing inflections from which it can be approached.
By drawing together a wide range of disciplines, the program aims to produce applications and models that make possible new kinds of research, both in the humanities disciplines and in computer science and its cognate disciplines. Students enter with degrees either in the humanities or in a computing discipline, and through the Master’s program, they have the opportunity to round out their education by taking courses outside their main discipline, while also deepening their core focus.
The flexibility of the program means that high-achieving students from a wide range of backgrounds can construct useful and stimulating courses of study that deepen their knowledge and skills in areas of strength, while also giving them introductory-level courses in new areas. To date, most students have entered with a background in humanities study; however, as the program matures, it may attract a larger number of students from computing and technical backgrounds. The current cohort size is about twenty students.
The MA/MSc program is directed by Simon Mahony, Senior Teaching Fellow in Digital Humanities at UCL. His research interests are in the application of new technologies to the study of the ancient world, using new web based mechanisms and digital resources to build and sustain learning communities, collaborative and innovative working. He is an Associate Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies (School of Advanced Study, University of London), one of the founding editors of Digital Classicist, and editor at the Stoa Consortium.
Reporting to both the Faculty of Art and the Faculty of Engineering at UCL, the Centre for Digital Humanities is directed by Melissa Terras, Professor of Digital Humanities; and Vice-Dean for Research for the Faculty of Arts and Humanities; general editor of Digital Humanities Quarterly; Trustee of the National Library of Scotland.
The three-term modular program allows students to build a customized pathway suited to their needs and interests while also gaining a number of core competencies. The modules are taught across a number of different departments and faculties, including Arts and Humanities, Social and Historical Sciences, Engineering, and the Built Environment, and also partners with UCL’s special collections, museums, and libraries for a rich interdisciplinary experience.
The first two terms comprise a number of required core modules that focus on key areas such as digital resources in the humanities, internet technologies, programming and database querying, XML, and server programming. Students take another three optional modules from a wide range of electives. Following two terms of coursework, students have a final term of synthesis and application. The focus during the third term is twofold: students start to write an original thesis, and they also undertake a work placement at a related institution where they can apply the skills learned in the first two terms while also gaining new and deeper understanding beyond the classroom walls.
Because of its modular nature, students in the MA/MSc program do not typically complete large or complex digital products during their terms of study. The final project is a written thesis designed to encourage students to synthesize the varied courses that they have completed; it is complemented by a work experience that allows students to apply those skills and methods in real-world settings.
At the same time, doctoral students, faculty, and staff at the Centre for Digital Humanities constantly engage in innovative, public-facing work, which contributes to the learning environment of the Master’s students. Past projects have focused on topics such as human-computer interaction, longitudinal research, social interpretation, text analysis, and more; they have involved working with a wide range of materials, including manuscripts, archeological artifacts, census data, and ultrasound imagery.
The program’s initial development was supported by internal funding from University College London; however, as the management team anticipated, the program is now self-sustaining through research grants and student fees. As a fully integrated Master’s program in the UCL system, the MA/MSc in Digital Humanities is a fee-based program, with separate cost structures for UK and international students. The advantage of this structure is that the program can plan for longevity in ways that would be difficult without a long-term stream of support.
The MA/MSc program benefits from robust institutional involvement throughout the College system, and the management team anticipate the program expanding in coming years. They plan to do this by continuing to build strong relationships with departments across the UCL system, with cultural heritage institutions, and with individual faculty members that are willing to open their courses to interdisciplinary students. Because the program is supported by student fees, from a financial standpoint it should be possible to scale up the program—though additional staff may be required to keep the program running smoothly; postdoctoral and research positions are planned for the future.
Some of the most significant challenges of administering the program are also the strongest draws for many students, so working to find satisfying outcomes has helped to strengthen the program in many ways. Consider the following if you’re considering establishing a similar program:
- One of the most important factors for success in this model is the collaboration of many different departments and faculty members, so it is crucial to build relationships with potential partners across the university.
- Ceding classroom spaces to students from other programs may not be appealing in some instances, so it is crucial to set clear expectations and to understand the motivations and consequences of all involved.
- With successful employment being a major goal following graduation, the partnerships with cultural heritage institutions and other potential employers have been incredibly valuable. Consider what connections your institution might foster.