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June 21, 2012

DHSI and Digital Scholarship

June 21, 2012 | By | No Comments

At the start of June, I attended the Digital Humanities Summer Institute. I was asked a number of interesting questions from other participants that I thought I would share:

What did I attend DHSI? A focused classroom setting with a proven record of leaving students with new skills. I was interested in GIS software as a way to build maps and analyze quantitative and spatial data in my dissertation, but had limited success in exploring the software on my own because of the steep learning curve. The GIS course has delivered on its promise of combining examples of the utility of GIS in helping answer questions in humanities research while also providing excellent guided tutorials and one-on-one help from the instructor. DHSI also came highly recommended by colleagues as a place not only to learn new skills, but to network with a large and engaging group of people producing digital scholarship.

Why am I investing time in digital scholarship? The tools and techniques digital scholars employ will prove an invaluable asset in the production and goals of my dissertation. As a CHI fellow I have gained access to training, mentorship, and the opportunity to develop project management skills as I develop a digital dissertation and repository for my sources. GIS software, online repositories, and presenting historical arguments in an online setting are helping me answer my research questions and share my analysis with an academic and popular audience. In a self-interested sense, these experiences are providing me with tools and opportunities to develop a scholarly identity and online presence, but I also want to contribute to and help shape digital scholarship as a movement that holds the promise of questioning disciplinary boundaries and the production/dissemination of knowledge.

How are graduate studies viewing digital scholarship? I think many graduate students view the field as a boon in a worsening job market. This is a positive development with some definite success stories, particularly in ‘alt-ac’ employment, that is spurring many students to push for changes or improvements in their own program curricula. Myself and others are also realistic about digital scholarship providing a golden ticket out of dismal employment opportunities and the efficacy of pushing for long-term changes in our training when we need to focus on our own immediate professional development, but I don’t think the relationship ought to be a dichotomy. I think graduate students should push for change in their programs, continue to build a collaborative community clustered around the digital humanities, and be strategic about doing ‘double work’ as a digital and traditional practitioner. Thankfully, I do see many of my colleagues pursuing these strategies.

Isn’t this ‘digital humanities’ thing a fad? Hasn’t it crested already? I think people feel the digital humanities, or DH, is a ‘fad’ or that it has a cresting point partly because of the success of its advocates in marketing it and partly in the fact that not every tool or approach has been revelatory – and that’s ok. Part of the promise of DH is more space to fail and experiment as we embrace digital tools and continue to shake up disciplinary boundaries. Many are working very hard to give DH a coherence so that we can get grants, jobs, and credit for what we are doing, but those efforts sometimes hide the unstable existence of DH as a discipline. Anthrohistory is one non-DH space that has been questioning methodology and ethical knowledge production for some time. Some are justifiably concerned that in an era of ‘strategic reallocation’ the funding of DH endeavors may come at the cost of departments usually found on the chopping block first. I think over the next few years people will be working to shape a movement that embraces technology and the web to move us towards more transparent, interdisciplinary, and publicly engaged scholarship.

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