Yesterday, I participated in the Day of Digital Humanities for the first time. In previous years, for one reason or another, I’ve been sitting on the sidelines as my collaborators and colleagues blogged, tweeted, and photographed their work as digital humanists. In some cases, I think I may have even been incidentally featured (or perhaps implicated) in some of the blogs, tweets, and photos of said collaborators and colleagues. This time around, though, I took an active part in the day’s activities for two reasons primarily: I had time, and as an independent scholar, I wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to document my work within and engage with a disciplinary community.
My contributions to the conversation were neither attention-grabbing nor particularly profound, but as I tweeted, blogged, and photographed–and perused the artifacts and project descriptions collected in the activity stream–I could glimpse how the work I am doing connects me with a field of scholars. And that connection is something that remains vital to my sense of professional identity, yet has become increasingly elusive since I’ve stepped outside the academy. For the moment, in spite of the ongoing debate about who is in and who is out, I think DH can still be characterized as an inclusive scholarly community (or at least one that is going to great lengths to be inclusive) precisely because it sponsors events like Day of DH, THATCamp, and DHSI where the diversity of our occupations, employment conditions, and opinions can be laid bare. Within such a motley collection, the idiosyncrasy of my particular position appears to my own eyes as less anomalous. I am not so naive as to suppose the diversity of the field renders me less of an anomaly in the eyes of others (others who make hiring and funding decisions, for example). Nonetheless, I found myself reassured by the realization I am still working as part of an academic discipline–even if I am doing so outside of the academy.
So much of graduate school involves learning how to connect one’s work to the discipline(s) within which one is working. What we do and who we are as scholars becomes inextricably bound up in what others have done and are doing. I suppose it’s hardly any wonder then, that reinvigorating my connection to my chosen field of study was for me one of the most important outcomes of the day. Below, I’ve reblogged the three entries I posted to my Day of DH site, which I titled, “Doing Digital Humanities As An Independent Scholar.”
Post 1, “How I Got Here”
So, I suppose I could begin the day by telling you how I fell into the digital humanities, or as it was known when I was in grad school, “humanities computing.” That is a really long story, however. In a nutshell, it involves a good friend who introduced me to the field, a couple of outstanding seminars that provided a foundation in its discourse and methods, and a project.
I’m more interested in talking about how I got here, today, though. I’m sitting at my desk in my home office/guest bedroom, preparing to commence my Day (capital D) of DH, which will probably look quite a bit like my other days (lowercase d) of DH. For the moment, and hopefully only “momentarily,” I’m an independent scholar. And I’m an independent scholar because I have not yet been able to find a job within traditional or “alternative” academia where I can do the DH work I love.
During the 2011-2012 academic year, I was an alt-ac administrator, the Assistant Director of Writing and Communication at Georgia Tech. It was a good job, challenging and rewarding. About this time last year, however, I realized continuing would require me to give up a collaboration of many years on one project, and forgo an exciting opportunity to join another. I was also moving further and further away from the medieval studies work I’d done for my dissertation. As much as I enjoyed the work I was doing as a full-time alt-ac, I discovered (and it really was a discovery) I didn’t enjoy it enough to give up my work as a medievalist and digital humanist. With the support and understanding of my colleagues, I resigned my position in order to take a year, possibly two, to focus on my teaching and research while trying to find another job that would better accommodate them. The fact my family can remain financially solvent (and my husband and I can pay for school and daycare for our two young children) while I take this time is exceptionally fortunate.
After teaching as a part-time instructor at Tech last semester, I am now officially unemployed. Or maybe not unemployed so much as idiosyncratically employed. In the digital humanities, we talk a great deal about the value of “hacking.” Of all the hacking I’ll be doing for my Day of DH, perhaps the most important and most challenging will be continuing to hack away at building a place for myself as a scholar.
And now for coffee and breakfast!
Post 2, “My To Do List for Today”
On any given day, I will usually be working on one of three projects:
- Project management and development for the Marca learning technology (which grew out of the <emma> project at UGA, the first DH project I became involved with),
- Writing, planning, and editorial work for Hybrid Pedagogy, a scholarly collective committed to critical and digital pedagogy, and finding the best social and civil uses for technology and digital media in on-ground and online classrooms, or
- Technology consulting for a grant-funded online learning project
Today, I’ll be working on all three. I have one piece to review and one to write for Hybrid Pedagogy, a technology survey to revise for the online learning project, and a grant proposal to proofread and file for Marca/<emma>. I’ll also be plugging away at drafting terms of service for individual hosting and support of Marca, and hopefully I’ll have time to finish up the last fifty or so pages of Carolyn Dinshaw’s latest book, How Soon is Now?: Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time.
Image Credit: “My to do list is healed and in use!” by robstephaustralia on Flickr.
Post 3, “Why We Should Build Our Own Stuff: The Digital Pedagogy Edition”
In my response to the question, “How do you define DH?” I wrote, “I am reluctant to attempt to define ‘Digital Humanities,’ in large part because the sort of work I do–digital pedagogy–isn’t always included in scholars’ definitions of the field.” Just to be clear, I consider myself a digital humanist, regardless of how others choose to define the field. In making this claim, I don’t really want to back it up with an argument in this post for why digital pedagogy should be included in any definition, big tent or otherwise, of the digital humanities (though clearly I think it should). In part, that’s because Katherine Harris and others have made that argument so eloquently already. In part, it’s because I just don’t have time today for that particular fight. Instead, I’m going to make a simple observation and point out one particularly (for me) frustrating consequence of excluding digital pedagogy from our day to day understanding of the digital humanities.
Humanities departments are generally cottoning on to the idea that building the digital tools of humanities research can be a valuable source of external funding, a fertile training ground for eager graduate students, and a marker of institutional prestige. On the whole, though, most of those same departments have yet to buy into that logical trifecta of funding, training, and prestige as applied to tools that facilitate digital pedagogy and the scholarship that results from experimenting with such tools in on-ground classes. Consequently, while we have this wonderful flowering of a (mostly) open-source ecosystem of digital tools and data sets for humanities research, we have an increasingly walled garden of proprietary tools and data sets for humanities pedagogy. We are arguing we need to build our own tools for research, while sitting on our hands and letting administrators outsource development of the tools we use in our teaching. People, this is not a positive development.
Why should we build our own stuff for humanities pedagogy? For all of the same reasons we use to make the case for building our own stuff for humanities research. Home-grown and open source tools can be customized for the task at hand. The data they collect and organize can become the basis for additional research and tool development. Perhaps most significantly, in building our own things, we become more conscious–and also more mindful–of what it is we are actually doing and what we hope to accomplish with them.