DH centers can help to cultivate a culture of grant-funded work in the humanities
True interdisciplinary work will attract and require funding, whether it be research funding or tuition. Although many universities have small internal grant programs for humanities research, these programs may actually discourage external fund-seeking, even when small grants are cast as seed grants. The kind of work that can be done with small grants ordinarily includes travel and hires for an hourly student, etc. In addition, there are different models for developing this funding: (a) funds can be skimmed off the top by the provost and turned over to the project, a practice that mitigates departments funding what could look to them like a parasitic enterprise, or (b) smaller stakes from individual departments and colleges represent votes of confidence for eventual funding from the provost. It should be noted that some universities’ fiscal policies discourage grant funding by repossessing any salary money that is offset by grant funds. This means that unless the fundee can get enough funding to bring in an entire new person, it’s very difficult to use grant funding. DH centers may be able to negotiate special status to avoid this problem.
Beyond the obvious benefits of a productive project, the payoff for doing the extra work involved in getting larger external grants is increased visibility as well as an ability to build a group of graduate students who can learn on the job while amplifying local research projects. Ultimately, externally-funded projects produce more experienced faculty and students, more work, more results, and more publications. The idea is not that humanities scholarship ought to be self-supporting, but that DH centers can help facilitate various modes of support both within and beyond the university.
DH centers can provide an interdisciplinary meeting place for researchers
As more and more cultural heritage resources are digitized, the standards of evidence and argument will change, and it will be increasingly impossible to do meaningful research as a lone scholar. The role of many DH centers, whether they be service or research oriented, is collaboration. In the process of collaboration, DH centers often play the role of broker, bringing arts and humanities faculty together with scientists and technologists. For DH centers situated in libraries, the library is an important affordance in this respect: it reports directly to the provost, it cuts across the campus, and it is generally regarded as an asset and a friend, not a competitor.
DH centers can help to retain senior faculty and rising stars who get involved in center projects
As evidenced in a variety of news sources (namely The Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times), digital humanities work can seem like “the new frontier” in academic scholarship; it can be exciting and compelling. As a result, DH centers represent an opportunity for senior faculty to reinvent their work or to pursue previously inconceivable multidisciplinary collaborations. As well, senior and junior faculty can get grant-writing support and training from DH centers. Taking scholars out of the practice of grant-writing often leaves them out of the scholarly work being done on a technical level. Involving them deeply in proposal-writing proffers an opportunity for both junior and senior scholars to make connections between what could seem like “mere” technical details and the humanities scholarship with which they are profoundly familiar. In addition, DH centers can provide experience for scholars interested in becoming involved in upper-level administration. Participating in the administration of a DH center requires that scholars manage budgets, manage people, craft a mission, generate revenue, analyze market outcomes, and deal with faculty in many different disciplines. Finally, DH centers provide for possibilities in new curriculum development, redesign, and assessment (not only with respect to learning outcomes, but also with respect to student projects: interface design, nature of use, etc.).
DH centers help fund and train humanities graduate students
Though DH centers do have very real challenges when it comes to professional development for their own employees, we should not overlook the resource they constitute for the professional development of graduate students and faculty—and, in many cases, for staff working elsewhere in the university. In particular, for scholars who are looking for non-tenure track, alternative academic careers, there are many opportunities for professional development. For example, work at DH centers can include experience in librarianship and publishing. Working with humanities data often includes work with digitization, database design, metadata, interface design, and preservation. As well, libraries are increasingly becoming publishers at the same time that university presses are publishing less and less in the humanities. If the DH center is the incubator, and the library is the publisher, then it is also likely that the library will produce the final product in a way that is friendly to library collection and preservation. Further, DH centers often hire web programmers, designers, and metadata specialists with whom graduate students and staff work on projects and from whom they can learn not only library standards, but industry standards as well, and how those standards affect their work in the humanities.