At the Digivangelism session at Great Lakes THATCamp, campers provided some great advice about converting our colleagues to the digital humanities. However, graduate students often must justify their own forays into the world of digital humanities before they even begin to evangelize. Furthermore, it can be a daunting prospect to articulate the role of DH in your project when you are still getting your own head around the debates over what being a digital humanist means. I pointed to the importance of being able to ‘sell’ the digital humanities to a committee while one is still finding their way. By ‘selling’, I mean explaining the time we spend developing programming and design skills, building Omeka archives and Zotero libraries, using TEI, and making our work openly accessible.
In my own work, I have the good fortune of having a committee that encourages my work in the digital humanities. I work very closely with one adviser in growing the Football Scholars Forum, a network of soccer scholars that communicates over Skype and collaborates via a Zotero group library. At THATCamp Prime, I was intrigued by the idea of borrowing from journalism to break my research into smaller consumable bits for sharing online. Some of these concepts have taken more concrete form than others, but they trend towards transparency and collaboration in my project. So, how does one justify these activities to apprehensive committee members?
- Have a concrete idea. Find a few successful project models of what you want to do in order to demonstrate feasibility. Dorothea Salo has suggested two models for digital dissertations: Exploring the Hype(r). and this music master’s thesis (bias disclaimer: she archived that one). You should look for examples both inside and outside of your discipline. Matthew Kirschenbaum has an article “What is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in English Departments?” for English folks. If you only have a vague sense of an idea that excites you, let it simmer until you can learn more and become prepared to answer tough questions.
- Get the facts. If some of your ideas come under attack, you should be prepared to defend them if you are committed to, say, sharing your work online with open-access. Steve Hitchcock maintains a webliography on the open-access question that addresses both sides of the debate (though many trend towards showing greater citation under open-access).
- Do it. Moving from planning to learning and doing can be the greatest challenge, but if you get something rolling and make a commitment you must follow through. Everything might not make it into your final dissertation, but your efforts will provide valuable experience. There is also something to be said about asking for forgiveness rather than permission. If some committee members are look upon DH dubiously, and you have addressed their concerns, just go ahead and start your work.
I would also check out the recent crowdsourced book, hacktheacademy.org, for its organization and content. I had many ideas reading some of the pieces in the Scholarship and Scholarly Communication subheadings. Matt Kirschenbaum also gave me some excellent advice in direct response to generating ideas for this post over at theDHanswers forum:
Think of DH less as a “thing,” that is a bill of goods to be sold, and more as a kind of ethos, or commitment to the way your want to do your work, long-term, in whatever venue or circumstances you find yourself. Otherwise the risk is one of the “digital” becoming a kind of add-on, something that you can reward yourself with once you’ve done the “foundational” work of the dissertation.
[Image by Flickr user o5com and used under the Creative Commons License]
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