Trends at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the University of Victoria in beautiful British Columbia holds an annual summer training institute. For five consecutive days over the last ten years, Ray Siemens and digital humanities colleagues and students from around the globe have gathered to learn new skills and network with one another. With 17 classes, a colloquium, and an unconference as well as informal social and professional gatherings, this year’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) was a particularly rich encounter for the 432 attendees.

Along with the Digital.Humanities@Oxford Summer School 2012 (UK), the European “Culture and Technology” School at the University of Leipzeig (Germany), and colleagues at the University of Tokyo, I was priveledged to attend DHSI not just as a student but also as a collaborator exploring the potential of networked Digital Humanities Institutes across the globe. Here at MITH, we recently announced that we will serve as the first (but hopefully not only) U.S. iteration of DHSI. The Digital Humanities Winter Institute (DHWI) will be held in College Park from January 7 to 11th, 2013 and will feature seven courses, a hack-a-thon, and other Institute events.

During the long plane back from Victoria, BC, I caught up on the tremendous number of tweets (over 25,000) and posts from attendees and organizers at this year’s DHSI. A few trends and discussions that deserve special mention and some ruminations on where these issues could go:

For all the statistics that programming is a male dominated environment (see the term “brogrammer” for the various incarnations) and that DH is dominated by men, what was quite remarkable at DHSI was the tremendous showing by the female instructors and organizers. These women are highly trained in so many fields (literature, business, computer science, history, new media studies, and librarianship to name a few) and their continued engagement with training the next generation of scholars deserves special mention. I’d love to see more explicit discussion by and about women in DH: who are we? what sort of theoretical/pedagogical/methodological and personal interventions are we making? and how do we create an academic environment that supports and advises the existing and next generation of female scholars?

From presenters soliciting for job opportunities to panels about the alt-ac track, an underlying thread of DHSI for many junior scholars was the job market and its future. Professional organizations and news media have made much of digital humanities and its position as the “savior” or future of humanities scholarship. Yet for all the celebration about the growing number of digital humanities job opportunities, the number of opportunities remains minimal compared to the large number of students seeking employment. It would be quite useful to consider panels at events like these from scholars who’ve recently secured employment speaking about the market and their successful navigation of such. It’d also be great to see the digital humanities community begin to provide feedback on the job advertisements that are being put out by academic departments and research centers. Why? A number of scholars noted that digital jobs seems to suffer from a bit of imbalance: they pay lower than traditional academic positions of the same rank but assume more experience with administrative and fundraising matters—something that usually takes years to develop in any scholar’s portfolio much less young digital humanists who have recently completed their degrees.

One other discussion/trend that echoed broadly across the various attendees was concern for their individual project and the resources available to take their project to the next level. Again and again, scholars from institutions lamented that they lacked the resources (technical, personnel, or financial) to move their project along. These scholars spanned the various types of academic institutions—from community colleges to liberal arts to research one universities and everything in between—and experience. Here at MITH, we spend a significant amount of time advising individuals on their projects. I wonder what it would look like if we began to feature a volunteer group of centers/institutions/commons who could provide this service to digital humanities. Would anyone be interested? Could we run a mini-institute that was less about training individuals and more of a matching service/hack-a-thon.I could imagine a project (or projects) being chosen for special development through the week of the Institute. This “promising” scholarship could potentially have an army of hundreds focused exclusively on its project. It’s be a novel experiment in project development. What exactly could be achieved if dozens or even hundreds worked on a project live?

Jen Guiliano is Assistant Director at MITHLook for more posts from MITH staff who attended DHSI later this week!

[originally published June 12, 2012 at]

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