Laying New Lines for Digital Humanities Scholars


1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The emergence of digital humanities centers over the last twenty years has generated a new set of career possibilities for scholars working within the field. Many digital humanists with both an advanced degree in the humanities and strong technical expertise are now finding jobs in centers–often accepting lower salaries than they could receive in for-profit industries because they value the space these institutions provide for working at the intersection of humanistic and technical modes of inquiry.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Digital humanities centers are eager to hire such individuals as they bring not only expertise in multiple domains, but an ability to communicate technical concepts to their humanist colleagues. Unfortunately, though, once hired these hybrid scholars are often considered service professionals rather than academics with active research agendas. They are often classified as staff rather than faculty and are seen by the administration and tenured faculty not as fellow scholars, but as skilled laborers like accountants and lawyers–valuable but separate from the scholarly enterprise.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Digital humanities centers support forms of humanistic research that are rapidly changing, and that require a new infrastructure for knowledge production. Competent decision-making and implementation at such centers (at all levels) requires expertise and knowledge in topics as various as

  • 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1
  • algorithmic thinking
  • architecture / database development
  • data analysis
  • design
  • digital communication or publishing platforms
  • encoding
  • Library and Information studies
  • procedural literacy
  • programming
  • Public History and Museum studies
  • social media networks
  • visualization

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Often, career paths that serve the above needs in digital humanities centers are carved out differently in centers that are served by and serve different institutional contexts. Given these new kinds of work, defining jobs and responsibilities is essential so that workload decisions and paths for promotion and advancement are clear.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Consequently, this report begins a discussion concerning the nature of employment in digital humanities centers and to sketch a few possibilities for career paths for these invaluable though sometimes undervalued scholars. If digital humanities centers are to be sustainable enterprises, they must be able to retain and advance the communities that operate them. Of course, digital humanities centers (hereafter DH centers) take many different forms. Although there are as many models as there are centers, most models are situated between two poles: primarily service centers and primarily research units. Service centers, in their own publicity and web identity, tend to talk about the way in which they support the research of others. In contrast, research centers highlight the work of the center staff and their relationship with other universities and cultural institutions.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 We focus, in this study, on the scholarly staff of research centers. Unfortunately, due to their employment classification, upper administrators at their own institutions sometimes understand these scholars as “service employees.” As a result, the scholars are often ineligible for local, national, and international funding and fellowship opportunities. At some institutions they are unable to submit or officially lead grant projects. Inconsistencies in position titles across centers are in part to blame; centers must often use existing titles created earlier by their host universities. DH Centers frequently employ, for instance, a number of Assistant and Associate Directors. Elsewhere in the university those in these positions may be essentially service employees responsible for scheduling meetings, managing human resources, and creating budgets for the unit. Even among digital humanities centers the titles mean very different things from institution to institution. As a result, though we considered creating a list of uniform titles for this report, we chose instead to create a “snapshot” of current titles that readers can find in the second part of this report, “Position Descriptions at Established and Emerging Digital Humanities Centers.”

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 While these recommendations are not primarily concerned with digital humanities scholars who are situated in departments, we do believe these scholars face some similar issues and hope that these recommendations can be of use. For instance, it can be difficult for academic departments to evaluate digital humanities work since committees traditionally focus on the print-based scholarship a faculty member has produced. Examined in isolation, this work may not be representative of the influence or quality of the candidate’s scholarly output. As well, the collaborative nature of digital humanities work represents a paradigm that is often misunderstood by committees accustomed to reviewing monographs written by a solitary scholar. Similarly, scholars in digital humanities centers may go unrewarded for scholarship that is interdisciplinary, collaborative, multi-media, and otherwise unconventional.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Concerned with the issues surrounding professional development in digital humanities centers, twenty leaders in digital humanities centers (see http://mith.umd.edu/offthetracks/participants/) met at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) in January of 2011 to discuss how best to approach this situation. After a day of surveying the structures and institutional contexts of the centers represented (summaries of these reports are included in Part Two of this report), the participants spent a second day in four groups: they were charged with discussing models for collaboration, career paths, acquiring institutional support, and transformation in digital humanities centers. Part one summarizes and expands upon these recommendations.

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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/offthetracks/introduction/