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The University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts announced the formation of the Digital Studies Institute Monday. The Institute will expand the current minor degree program and provide students and faculty with greater resources, in addition to a new location on campus.
“LSA created the Digital Studies Institute to bring a humanities-centered approach to the power and problems of the digital worlds billions of people visit and inhabit each day,” the press release reads. “The compelling, integrated coursework allows students to attain a degree with a more holistic and tech-savvy viewpoint on social and cultural issues.”
The Department of American Culture created the Digital Studies minor program in 2014. With only 20 students in its first year, the curriculum focused on the digital world and its history, as well as human interaction with technology. The program grew to more than 100 students by its second year and expanded to include a graduate program in 2016. The minor in Digital Studies is available to all students, and, according to DSI Coordinator Lisa Nakamura, a professor of American culture, many students in the past have used the minor as a complement to their studies.
“A lot of our minors were in communications or film, but we also had minors in the School of Engineering, or minors in the Information School,” Nakamura said. “(Students) said, ‘In my engineering classes, I learn how to make technology, but in my digital studies classes, I learn why I make technology.’”
LSA sophomore Ellie Metni is majoring in history and political science and pursuing the minor in digital studies. Metni was interested in the program because of its integrative nature that bridges politics and technology with aspects of communications and social media. Metni believes even more students would be interested in the program if they expanded the curriculum to form a major.
“It seems like a really good intersection of things like communications and (sociology), and film and American culture,” Metni said. “If they made it a major, and it would be super appealing to students who are into multiple topics.”
The Digital Studies Institute will be the first of its kind in the United States, as mentioned on its website. The institute will provide students and faculty with opportunities for research, primarily focused on the intersections of technology and human identity, but also focused on digital culture and art.
The requirements for the digital studies minor remain the same, and many faculty members from the American Culture Department and across the University are joining the effort to bring various resources to one central location. The ultimate goal of the DSI is to make students more aware of the minor by giving the program a name and location on campus. According to Nakamura, some students didn’t know the program existed and wished they knew about it while they were undergraduates.
“There may have been students who were really interested in this,” Nakamura said. “I’ve had a student who graduated say, ‘I want to come back and get this degree.’”
Ann Arbor has continued to gain momentum as a top location to study technology in the country, earning itself a reputation as a hub for start-up companies. The Google Ads program has a secondary office in Ann Arbor, and successful technology companies like Duo Security were started in the city. This adds to the appeal of the new Digital Studies Institute, because resources are available both on and off campus to connect with leaders in the tech industry in ways unparalleled to the rest of the nation.
Plans for the Digital Studies Institute are underway, with hopes to incorporate research regarding both the positive and negative effects of technology into their overall mission. Anne Curzan, associate dean for the humanities in LSA, is looking forward to connecting the University with experts around the world through the growing resources the DSI will provide.
“There are important ethical questions in play as new technologies emerge,” Curzan said in an email interview with The Daily. “We are excited that the researchers at the Digital Studies Institute will be positioned to respond quickly and be part of national and global conversations about the design and impact of these technologies.”