Laying New Lines for Digital Humanities Scholars

Center for Digital Scholarship and Women Writers Project, Brown University

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Founded CDS 2009; WWP 1990
Julia Flanders, Director, Women Writers Project within the Center for Digital Scholarship

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The philosophy of training and professional development at CDS and the WWP is founded on several premises:

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 1. It is easier to develop technical expertise on the job in someone with no technical expertise (but aptitude for learning) than it is to develop humanities expertise on the job in someone with no humanities background

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 2. Digital centers can’t predict (more than a few years in advance) what kinds of technical skills/expertise their staff will need, but they can predict that those skills/expertise will be different from whatever it is today. Hence digital centers have to assume that their staff will be learning and developing their expertise over time, and as a result they need above all to hire people who have the aptitude for learning new skills and expertise on the job, more or less on their own.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 3. Digital centers typically can’t pay competitive wages in sheer monetary terms, but they can (and should) pay extremely well in terms of the opportunity to learn.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Based on those premises, our staff development strategy is to create a culture in which it is assumed that people will be learning and experimenting as part of the work process. This culture is familiar within the digital humanities but less so within IT and library organizations, where evaluation practices may place greater emphasis on productivity and good performance of routine tasks than on taking intellectual risks or learning new skills. In the CDS and the WWP, as in many digital humanities centers, the philosophy of evaluation is oriented around the expectation that we are a research and experimentation group, rather than primarily a production group.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 It is worth taking a brief aside on what we mean here by “research and experimentation group”, especially since this aspect of our work is somewhat contested or at least oddly situated institutionally. Taken as a whole, the purpose of CDS (including the WWP) is to support and enhance digitally inflected research by faculty at Brown: to ensure that faculty have the infrastructure, staff collaborators, skills, and methodological knowledge necessary to do high-quality digital research and publication in their field. Our primary responsibility is thus to provide these things, but in support of that responsibility we need to maintain ourselves in a state to do so, and in a fast-changing field like the digital humanities, this means undertaking constant research and experimentation on systems, methods, and technologies that may be of service to faculty. In addition, since the WWP is externally funded (and has a somewhat different emphasis from the rest of the group, more outward-facing), the WWP staff have an additional requirement of research and experimentation in support of our publication of Women Writers Online and in pursuit of the various research goals stipulated by our current grant profile.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Our success as a center is thus being assessed both on our productivity (how many projects completed, how many faculty served) and also on how many new things we try and how much progress we make in developing or testing experimental systems.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Interestingly, this increase in expertise does not necessarily map onto changing staff roles or professional growth in the sense of advancement. Because of the organizational structure of CDS (which is very flat) and its institutional situation (in a library without much other digital humanities activity), there is no significant job hierarchy within which to progress professionally. Most CDS/WWP staff stay in the same job for a long time, simply because there are no other, higher-level jobs to move into. Because it is fairly difficult to change job descriptions, our job roles do not evolve formally, either: instead, we shift the nature of our work as required by whatever new demands may emerge from specific projects or research initiatives. Over time, what changes most is the kinds of projects we’re working on, the kinds of tools and approaches we’re using, and our overall expertise. Thus in an odd way, intellectual growth stands in for professional advancement: we mature as professionals even though an external observer might not notice any change in job descriptions or titles. For this reason, the kinds of personal development and self-guided growth mentioned above are particularly important for us to support.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Both CDS and the WWP are situated within Brown University Libraries, but the WWP was until recently situated within Computing and Information Services.

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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/offthetracks/part-two-position-descriptions-at-established-and-emerging-digital-humanities-centers/center-for-digital-scholarship-and-women-writers-project-brown-university/