Pitch: Proposal for Building a Digital Humanities Course to be Taught in Prison

Problem and goals:

In view of the devastating effects of mass incarceration in the United States and in an effort to address the needs of incarcerated people as they rebuild their lives, I propose to design and develop a proof of concept for an undergraduate college-level course in digital skills and digital humanities to be taught in prison. The goals of this course are to help students learn technical skills that will be useful for reentry and to develop critical skills that will be useful for intellectual pursuits. Education is a right, the exercise of which is at present denied to over two million people in prison and jail. Only 35% of prisons in the United States offer college courses at the present time.[1] Amongst these, there are very few digital humanities courses. This is partly due to a scarcity of hard and soft infrastructure to support digital work and largely because incarcerated people are generally forbidden access to the internet.

Contribution to the digital humanities:

This gap, or digital divide, presents us with an opportunity to build a much-needed course that does not exist at the present time and to innovate by developing minimal computing software that will allow us to teach specific digital skills without an internet connection. Furthermore, by developing minimal computing software, we will create course materials easily exportable to low-tech environments around the world.

Tentative final product:

We will produce minimal computing software, documentation, a course curriculum, a syllabus, lesson plans, datasets for lessons, open source documentation and a project website. I suspect it will be best to develop only one or two parts of the course (for example, introductory lessons and a unit on data visualization, text mining or coding), as proof of concept.

Long term goals:

We have been invited by Metropolitan Detention Center Brooklyn (MDC Brooklyn) to teach a pilot course there in fall 2019. The director of the John Jay Reentry Institute Prison to College Pipeline (P2CP) program is interested in incorporating our project as an experimental credit-bearing course to be taught at Otisville Correctional Facility in spring 2020.

Possible roles:

  • Project manager
  • Software developer (I think we will need two software developers)
  • Curriculum developer
  • Research
  • Outreach, Design/UX

Here is the full revised proposal: Pringle_Sabina_DH_in_Prison_2019

[1] Bender, Kathleen. “Education Opportunities in Prison Are Key to Reducing Crime.” Center for American Progress, March 2, 2018.

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  1. Posted February 3, 2019 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Would it be possible to work up an initial curriculum that could take advantage of existing software? Has research been done into this? If that is possible I wonder if focusing on the curriculum development and lesson planning could provide a richer final presentation.

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      In my opinion a really important part of the project is developing minimal computing software that could be used in prisons in the U.S. and in prisons and communities in other parts of the world. This one of the contributions to the field of DH that this project proposes to make.

  2. Posted February 5, 2019 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Hello Sabina, I’m personally interested in the problem of mass incarceration and the improvement of the generally poor process of resocialization. I also briefly worked on a project called Bard Prison Initiative (their website and interactive interface). It may be of your interest https://bpi.bard.edu/. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your project and how do you plan on tackling the technical challenges.

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Hello Andrea, I was happy to read your comment and sorry that the project wasn’t chosen. It would have been fantastic to collaborate with you (had you wanted to work on it, of course). I’m continuing to develop this project as my capstone project and invite you to get involved at some point if you like and can, and would love to hear your thoughts about the problems with existing infrastructure that aims to help formerly incarcerated people with reentry and the lack thereof.

  3. Posted February 5, 2019 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Sabina, I think this project is so important! My undergraduate college had a program at Bedford Hills that students in the Psychology/Social Work tracks assisted in teaching and facilitating. My friends who were involved spoke very highly of the program. It may be an interesting reference: https://www.mmm.edu/academics/bedford-hills-college-program.php.

    • Posted February 7, 2019 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      Hey Lucier, thank you for your comments and for the link. I read about the Bedford Hills program when I did my environmental scan. Actually, there is someone on the faculty here who I want to work with. Her name is Michelle Fine and she teaches at Bedford Hills. I’m sad that this project wasn’t chosen. I would have asked you to be on the team. However, I’m continuing to develop it as my capstone project and you are more than welcome to jump on board at any point.

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