High School Students Discover Digital Humanities
During one week this November, two high school students stepped into the shoes of researchers at EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, and discovered the universe of Digital Humanities, and what it means to do research at the intersection of computer science and humanities.
This study week initiative was organized by Swiss Youth in Science (SYiS; in German: Schweizer Jugend forscht) and gives students aged 16 to 20 years an opportunity to gain insight into scientific research in Digital Humanities, mentored by experts of one of their partner institutions, EPFL, the Universities of Basel, Lucerne and Zurich.
In its collaboration with SYiS, EPFL, through its Education Outreach Department, hosts every year study weeks on various topics such as biology and medicine, digital humanities and for the first time in 2020 chemistry and materials science with the objective to bring engineering, science and technology closer to the youth. For this edition, EPFL hosted Jacopo, a high school graduate from Lugano in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, and Kai from a high school in Zurich, in the German speaking part of the country.
Jacopo and Kai, you spent a week at EPFL, discovering the Digital Humanities (DH) Program and the work of a researcher. Where did your journey start?
Jacopo: I participated in a national research contest organized by SYiS and I liked to discover science this way. Looking for other opportunities I came across the study week in Digital Humanities. Based on my preferred choice, I was assigned to the topic EPFL offered, which was to analyze the Montreux JazzFestival through the lenses of music metadata and Swiss newspaper archives. I have an affinity to music – I play the guitar and piano. I did not know much about Digital Humanities, but I was excited to discover a new field of science – and EPFL, since I am in a gap year and trying to find out what I would like to study.
Kai: Similar to Jacopo, I knew SYiS from a previous very good experience. My teacher at school encouraged me to participate, which motivated me to apply to this study week. I actually did not considered EPFL, since I had not known w the institution. I focused on the choice of the study week topic and that is how I got to know EPFL. I was pleasantly surprised by this discovery; so far, it has been a great experience.
What experiences have you made this week here at EPFL?
Kai: I learned basic concepts of coding then how to apply them to a social or humanities related topic. It is impressive, what you can do with programming such as to decode or transcribe old texts using algorithms. I always was intrigued by the effect science and technology have on humanity and I think this has given me an insight.
Jacopo:I agree, I mean it is brilliant – how do you read something that’s centuries old by using an algorithm?
The different backgrounds and skillsets that researchers bring to the table impressed me. At school, we are taught what to do, whilst here we see a real problem-solving approach. We have seen some of the amazing master projects at the labs. Their work seems so unreachable for us, when in reality obtaining the master could be five years away for me. It has inspired me; if I did something like that, I would be proud of myself.
What are you taking back home?
Jacopo: I got to see how it is to work in a very specialized field. We start as generalists learning the basics – then through higher education we specialize. Being side by side with the engineers and PhDs we saw the peak of this ‘educational iceberg’. To see all the dedication the researchers have opened my eyes to what one could be capable of doing with such studies.
Kai: It’s cool to see a program that merges humanities and data science. My focus area at school is in science (biology and chemistry). We don’t have focus areas that allow you to dive into social sciences such as history or philosophy, so I enjoyed discovering the intersection of those two fields during this week.
This is the start of a chapter that will allow these two young students to discover - for instance through the SYiS study week or the education programs that we offer - the width and depth of science and engineering. Whether at the intersection between computer science and humanities such as in Digital Humanities, whether in engineering, basic- or life sciences, architecture or civil engineering: Their doors stand wide open, their spirit filled with motivation and curiosity which is the best starting point to start their journey of lifelong learning.