Blog Posts in the Graduate Classroom: Part 2, Pragmatic Considerations

Part 1 of this blog entry presented the rationale behind using the Medieval Studies Research Blog (MSRB) as a pedagogical tool. Part 2 dives into the practical side of graduate-level blog post assignments specifically tailored to the MSRB’s interdisciplinary mission.

Precedent has already been set for bringing the MSRB into the graduate classroom. In fact, the MSRB originally emerged out of Kathryn Kerby-Fulton’s manuscript studies course, and her students continue to contribute exceptional work. During the fall 2017 semester, for instance, Kerby-Fulton’s class, “Introduction to Medieval English Manuscript Studies,” worked on the following assignment, for which I recently gave a guest lecture on “How to Write a Successful Blog Post:”

Workshop Assignment: The Workshop Assignment will be the creation of a blog post of about 500 words. Dr. Karrie Fuller (Medieval Institute’s Medieval Studies Research Blog webmaster and Lecturer, St. Mary’s College) will explain the format for this, and both she and I will be happy to help as well to advise on content. It should be delivered on the workshop day; note that your oral presentation of your post should not exceed 5 - 10 minutes, not counting questions afterwards). This assignment is an excellent preparation for conference roundtables and panels.

When constructing a blog assignment for this site, the only restrictions are that the subject matter should somehow relate to the medieval period, and contributions should be written in a style appropriate to the academic blog. Otherwise, the possibilities remain wide open. As in the example just provided, many traditional forms of academic writing and oral presentation can be adapted to fit the blog format, whether as one component of a larger project, or on its own. There is also plenty of room for experimentation with multimedia, tone, creative responses to or reflection on course content. Furthermore, because the site’s interdisciplinary coverage reflects the full range of scholarly activity performed at Notre Dame, instructors from all disciplines should feel welcome to participate.

For additional support with these assignments, the Medieval Institute has recently approved a new classroom visit program. These visits are by no means required for instructors assigning blog posts for this site, but are available for anyone wanting a little extra help preparing students for the task. Visits consist of a twenty-minute guest lecture about how to put together a successful blog post and set it up on WordPress. The graduate students in attendance for my first class visit earlier this semester responded positively to the experience, and will know exactly what to expect when it comes time to prepare their work for publication. Anyone interested in scheduling a class visit can contact me directly (email address listed below).

Moreover, helping graduate students at an early stage of their training to see the benefits of contributing posts will, ideally, encourage them to continue submitting their work as they advance beyond coursework. Becoming a regular, or even an occasional contributor will be even more effective than publishing a single entry as it will demonstrate a more sustained involvement with a large-scale digital project. Because curating an online presence is now a necessity for scholars, this form of professionalization can help graduate students manage their online profiles, making them more memorable, as Battershill suggests, “It is a good idea, in other words, for each grad student to take the time to craft an online presence that is what they want it to be—that is, intentional, professional, and memorable. Students should know what comes up when search committees or journal editors Google their names, and ideally they should try to make sure that the search results on the first few pages include some indication of their academic work.”[1] This site’s university affiliation means that it will show up first in Google searches, and its short article format means that it will add new content to the CVs and publication lists already present on their and LinkedIn pages. Contributions are also circulated via Twitter and Facebook to expand their online visibility.

Ultimately, using this site as the basis for course assignments benefits everybody involved. Students and instructors gain DH experience, the Medieval Institute continues to build a strong online research profile, and audiences outside the academy gain greater access to knowledge they would otherwise never receive.

For questions, posting schedules, or class visit sign-ups, feel free to contact me at

Karrie Fuller, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame/St. Mary’s College


Select Bibliography of Introductions to DH and DH Pedagogy

Battershill, Claire and Shawna Ross. Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.

Burdick, Anne, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp. Digital_Humanities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Gardner, Eileen and Ronald G. Musto. The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Gold, Matt K., and Lauren Klein, eds. Debates in Digital Humanities 2016. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.

Hirsch, Brett D., ed. Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2012.

Schreibman, Susan, Ray Siemans, and John Unsworth, eds. A New Companion to Digital Humanities. Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture. Chicester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016.


[1] Claire Battershill and Shawna Ross, Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017): 158-159.

Blog Posts in the Graduate Classroom: Part 1, The Rationale

A few weeks ago I wrote a post introducing the Medieval Institute’s new Medieval Undergraduate Research website and encouraging instructors to use it for course assignments that will boost their students’ Digital Humanities (DH) experience. Because DH experience has been crucial to the success of recent medievalist PhDs on the job market, this two-part follow-up post will focus on the value of DH work for them so that they can collaborate with faculty mentors to expand their online presence using this site, the Medieval Institute’s Medieval Studies Research Blog (MSRB). Whereas part 1 makes the case that more faculty should take advantage of this site’s pedagogical potential, part 2 offers specific ideas for incorporating this already active scholarly platform into graduate-level pedagogy.

For many reasons, involvement in DH is no longer optional for rising scholars specializing in the Middle Ages. Tenure-track job ads these days regularly mention DH as a desired subspecialty if not a major component of candidates’ professional profiles. As students increasingly pursue other career options, DH skills become even more important. Publishers, libraries, museums, non-profits, and university administrations rely heavily on technology, necessitating, to extend Geoffrey Rockwell and Stéfan Sinclair’s point about DH degree programs, a newer, broader approach to professional acculturation.[1] There is, in fact, a legitimate sense of urgency behind many graduate students’ desires to pursue DH work matched by an equal level of responsibility demanded of humanities programs to support their efforts. While not all graduate students seeking DH experience intend to (or even need to) specialize in the field, they nevertheless could benefit profoundly from at least some exposure to and hands-on experience with projects that merge technology and humanities research.[2] This site offers one step in that direction, providing a digital platform backed by a major research institution that graduate students can integrate into their training from early on in their program, even at the coursework stage.

The pressures coming from the academic and non-academic job markets stem, in large part, from a growing demand for humanistic work to become more public and more accessible. Nicole Eddy, this site’s original administrator and the new Managing Editor of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series, points out that “academics are called on more and more to be not just scholars but Public Humanists, making a case for the significance of their work outside the academy and in new and creative ways. It is no longer sufficient to confine scholarly activity to the classroom or the academic journal, but to instead show the ability to engage with a diverse audience in creative ways.”[3] She also notes that because dissertations tend to be written for specialist audiences, contributing to projects such as this site can expand the reach and impact of our work.

In a broader sense, then, the digital humanities matter because they can deliver our work to a public audience in order to serve a wider community beyond the walls of the academy. Indeed, multiple DH practitioners have commented on the field’s ability to return us to the original spirit of humanism: “the digital humanities might yet again be set to embrace the methods and outlooks that the very first Renaissance humanists took up: to use modern communication skills–digital iterations of rhetoric and grammar–supplemented by the creative arts of the imagination and the reflective wisdom of the historical outlook to reach contemporary audiences with interpretations of what it is to be human and what it is to be a responsible citizen.”[4] With its ability to reach readers both within and without the academy, this site treats public writing as a core function of humanities work, making the relevance and value of our research more transparent.

But, what, exactly, is the Medieval Studies Research Blog (MSRB)? As our “About Us” page suggests, it is an active scholarly platform for scholars at any stage of their careers. What this means is that graduate students who write posts for a course assignment contribute to a DH project that will attract immediate readers. Rather than performing a practice, or exploratory exercise, this particular professional development experience leaves students with an online publication they can list on their CV and a greater confidence in their capacity to bring research to life.

Students posting to this site share company with advanced scholars, such as Maidie Hilmo, whose groundbreaking work on the Pearl-Gawain manuscript is documented here. To our benefit, many of our visiting scholars have contributed their voices, including Richard Cole and Katherine Oswald, with even more scheduled for the coming months. Most of our posts relate to the authors’ current or recent research, written to stake a claim on a certain topic, gain a wider audience for recent publications, or develop an idea they could not fit into their last article. Others write on original topics better suited to the blog format than the academic journal, such as Andrea Castonguay’s contribution on interdisciplinarity, or to take advantage of the genre’s multimedia possibilities as in Richard Fahey’s post on South Bend. Still others write with the goal of creating supplementary background readings that undergraduates could read in their courses. Thus far, we have also created two special series– one on “Working in the Archives” and another on the “North Seas”–as well as a growing and evolving translation and recitation project. Graduate students contributing posts (or translations) to the MSRB, therefore, participate in the project as and alongside other scholars.

Depending on how instructors frame their assignments, thoughtful implementation of the MSRB in the classroom could meet multiple learning outcomes at once. The MSRB could be used to naturally integrate digital genres into our graduate students’ training in a way that helps them to craft a public as well as academic voice. By giving them the opportunity to maintain their digital presence and write for new audiences, this project can enhance their work as researchers, as instructors, as collaborators, and as public servants.[5]

For questions, posting schedules, or class visit sign-ups, feel free to contact me at Also, follow us on Twitter: @MedievalNDblog.

Part 2 of this post can be found here.

Karrie Fuller, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame/St. Mary’s College

[1] Geoffrey Rockwell and Stéfan Sinclair, “Acculturation and the Digital Humanities Community,” Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles, Politics, ed. by Brett Hirsch (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2012): 177-211.

[2] Claire Battershill and Shawna Ross, Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017): see esp. 147-48.

[3] Private correspondence. Quoted with permission.

[4] Eileen Gardner and Ronald G. Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015): 13. For a similar statement, see Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, et al., Digital_Humanities (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012): 25-26.

[5] Many thanks to Erica Machulak for her detailed feedback on this post.

The World is not Flat; It Is Interdisciplinary

This past week, I and a number of my Fulbright colleagues here in Morocco traveled to Amman, Jordan in order to participate in a regional Fulbright conference.

Over three days, Fulbright researchers from Israel and Palestine, Jordan, and Morocco presented a snapshot of our current in-country research, discussed the various issues and challenges we faced along the way with the regional, cultural, and linguistic differences between our respective host countries, and got to know one another over numerous cups of coffee.  We not only came from all across the United States, but we also came from just about all the different academic and professional disciplines:  social work, medicine, sociology, art history, literature, economics, political science, education, and medieval history.  In short, we were living up to the stated mission of the Fulbright Program: to foster international exchange in order to increase mutual understanding and diminish the threat of conflict based upon an inability to see the world as interconnected.

While the architects of the Fulbright Program imagined this exchange happening at an international level in order to lessen conflict and promote peace, it also works on a domestic level.  By offering the grant to those in the sciences and in the humanities, Fulbright illustrates the fundamentally interdisciplinary nature of our world and how much we rely upon the expertise of each other in their respective fields order to proceed with our own research.  The following sketches are but a few examples of the ways in which each of us Fulbrighters depend upon one another and our various subjects of expertise in order to complete our own projects.

  • One of the Jordan-based grantees is looking at the various hurdles faced by entrepreneurs and small-business owners in Jordan and in Palestine, including the time it takes to register a business, the types of documentation required, the amount of capital needed at the start, and the laws governing ownership.  It turns out that for Palestine, one needs an expert in the Ottoman legal code, the Mecelle, in order to start a business in 2017.  Not only does this mean that potential entrepreneurs need translations of the Mecelle from Ottoman Turkish to modern Turkish (which also involves a shift from an Arabic alphabet to a Latin one), Modern Standard Arabic, or English for consultation, but they also need historians and legal scholars to explain how the code functions, what its restrictions are, and its various historical precedents.  This particular Fulbright researcher needs articles summarizing all of this in order to gain a deeper understanding of the various hurdles their colleagues face and proceed with their own research.  In short: to study current business practices in Palestine, someone with a financial or business background has to rely upon the work of historians, lawyers and legal scholars, and translators.
  • On a similar note, one of the Morocco-based grantees who is studying divorce proceedings in Morocco needs to rely upon the work of theologians in addition to historians, lawyers and legal scholars in to order to understand divorce proceedings in Morocco and conduct their research.  Although much of Moroccan law is based on French civil law —which in turn requires them to depend upon the work of experts in French legal history— the family code is based upon Islamic religious law (Shari’a law).  However, the foundation for Morocco’s family code (as well as its name) comes from the Mudawwana, a 9th century book of juridical opinion based upon the legal writings of 8th and 9th century scholars and written in Classical Arabic.  It is also a code that is unique to the Maliki school of Sunni Islam, a school that has its origins in the Arabian peninsula rather than North Africa. Like all legal codes and religious texts, the Mudawwana also has numerous compendiums and guides for its interpretation and implementation. Thus, this particular Fulbrighter needs medieval historians (such as myself) to explain how the code came to Morocco and gained favor among the jurists during the Middle Ages, modern historians to explain the creation of a mixed civil and religious code during the Protectorate and post-colonial periods, linguists to help translate and explain Classical Arabic terms in Modern Standard Arabic and in French (the language of civil law in Morocco), and legal scholars to interpret the laws themselves and explain how they influence current rulings on divorce.

Such an illumination of intellectual interdependence needed to answer contemporary questions could not come at a more dire and drastic time.  The release of the the 2018 Fiscal Budget, with its draconian cuts to both the Sciences and the Humanities along with programs and initiatives designed for the public good such as the State Department (which runs Fulbright), is predicated on the idea that grants such as Fulbright and fostering intellectual and geographical exchange among grantees is not a priority.  The proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities is a sign from the US Government — the same institution that created the Fulbright Program in 1946—that the government (and by extension, its citizens) have no role in funding the study of humanity itself. Wrapped up in all of this is the idea that “academics,” especially those in the Humanities, are not “useful” for anyone outside of their narrow specialty, and that funds should be allocated to those fields which promote business and long-term employment.

Yet these ideas did not begin at the federal level, nor did they begin with this Administration.  The shift away from fostering intellectual exploration, research, and an interdisciplinary framework began at the state and local level as a way to resolve budget crises (often not brought about by education spending), and it has been pushed by many in higher-ed including College and University boards and deans.  As colleges and universities continue to push the idea that their graduates are “successful” and that such success is only measured by the imagined direct causation of undergraduate degree and major to one’s income across their lifetime, they re-write their curriculum requirements to discourage interdisciplinary study among the majority of their students.  Cutting or eliminating requirements to take a number of classes outside of one’s concentration while allowing SATII or AP courses to “count” for college credit means that our students will not be prepared to engage in intellectual exchange, much less have the tools necessary to turn to other fields and experts in order to answer their own questions.

Toting the equation of “undergraduate specialty = personal wealth” and “interdisciplinary study ≠ “gainful employment” (an argument that does not hold much water) undercuts the very support needed to answer legal and economic questions posed by these two Fulbright researchers.  If there are no specialists in Ottoman law, medieval history, legal codes, and Islam — to say nothing of language teachers and translators required to make these documents available to your average Anglophone who does not speak or read Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, or French—then it is impossible for these projects to move forward.  Yet in order to have specialists, you must have an education system that allows them to study the materials they need without telling them directly or indirectly that their choices are “economically precarious”  and hold “little to no weight in ‘the real world.’” You also need a civil society that promotes intellectual exchange, that underwrites programs dedicated to interdisciplinary study, and says that spending a (very very very small ) portion of taxes on such programs is necessary in order to create forums of intellectual exchange that lead to international understanding and peace.

The skeptic always asks “What’s the worst that could happen?” when faced with a narrative.  The answer in this case, I believe, lies within Jordan.  As part of the conference, we were treated to presentations by development experts about the various challenges within the kingdom today.  One of the most acute revolves around education and the lack of a robust civil society.  In Jordan, any degree other than one in engineering, medicine, or law is viewed as socially and economically worthless, because there are no jobs other than laborer or service work and because jobs themselves are not determined by aptitude or interest but by your high school exit exam scores, which then determine your university education and subsequent career path.  As a result, Jordanians themselves must depend upon the knowledge, insight, and vast amounts of money and trained foreigners in order to run their own country, understand their past, and answer basic questions.

Unlike Jordan, there is no other country who can underwrite the educational failings of the United States.

The world is interdisciplinary by default. Trying to understand our present relies upon the study of the past and the necessary experts to guide and shape that study.  Institutions such as liberal arts colleges dedicated to a broad education for all of their students (not just humanities majors), intellectual centers such as the Medieval Institute, and government programs like Fulbright not only recognize this inherent interdependence but point to it as the avenue in which additional interdependence can be and needs to be fostered in order to increase mutual understanding.  To insist upon the opposite against all evidence to the contrary and to do so by forcing our students into strict, narrow categories would raise generations against the very grain of their human nature and their environment and leave us utterly unprepared to see the world as it truly is.