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

DH Internationally: Dispatches from Hamburg

Digital Humanists from across the globe gathered last week at our annual conference, DH2012, hosted in the lovely city of Hamburg, Germany. While the weather felt tremendously cold to those of us who’ve spent the last few weeks in the US with 100 plus degree temps, the conference itself could not have had a warmer reception. From keynotes that explored the intersections of cultural studies, internationality, and digitality to the variety of conference presentations and events, DH2012 lived up to its efforts to capture digital culture and the current state of the field. And Hamburg itself was welcoming to a large number of us who spoke no German beyond simple phrases.

Continuing our efforts to capture trends, innovative research agendas, and just plain DH fun for those who can’t always attend every event they want, here are a few quick thoughts on the conference.

From an U.S. centered-perspective, the week was a celebration of the funding efforts of the Office of Digital Humanities and the tremendous work they have done to increase the disciplinary, methodological, and humanistic questions being funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. From the work of the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture’s Scalar (still in beta) to Scholar’s Labs recently released Neatline through our own Topic Modeling Workshop, the ODH proved that even small amount of federal funding can have transformative powers in Humanities research. I only wish that NEH administrators and our Congress could have been in the room for these presentations: the question of the value of the NEH and the impact of ODH more specifically was soundly recognized by the international audience and proved that there is a value in humanities within the globally-engaged world.

More internationally-speaking, the conference was a continuing salvo in the rapid spread of digital humanities, both to individuals but also to entirely new professional and institutional organizations. The Japanese Digital Humanities Organization joined the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, our national umbrella organization (with our own Neil Fraistat as its incoming Chair of the Steering Committee), while the Germans celebrated the solidification of their own national organization.

For all of these trumpets and well-deserved fanfare, DH2012 continued its existing efforts to grapple with diversity. While the gender balance visually appears to be improving, the event itself continues to struggle with garnering the attention and attendance of digital humanists in Latin America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Africa (to name just a few). The Mexican Network of Digital Humanists (Red de Humanistas Digitales, RedHD) held the First Meeting (or Conference) of Digital Humanists at the Vasconcelos Library, Mexico City earlier this year and presented a bit on their efforts but, by and large, the conference was dominated by attendees from the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe. There are digital humanities efforts in other nations. How can we do better to support their attendance at our international event?

Related to, but divergent from, the issue of national diversity is the issue of diversity in Digital Humanities more generally. Brought to attention in a number of presentations but especially that of Amy Earhart (see the video), I was troubled by the definition of what constituted/constitutes diversity and where those methodologies, pedagogies, and theories seemed to have disappeared to. With clear exception of Earhart and a handful of others, it seemed diversity beyond nationality was a gesture in name only (read: I’ve included women within my data, or women are part of the project, or this project concerns nationality X). There was extraordinarily little attention to diversity as construction, where race, class, ability, sexuality, and on modify, constrain, construct, and influence the data, methodology, pedagogy, theory, and research practices within digital humanities. I am reminded of a friend who, in a discussion of metholodogical developments in my own dissertation work on early 20th century white middle-class male production of Native American masculinity through halftime mascotry/performance, once remarked to me about a thesis I’d written: “all of the work you’ve done is great, but you’ve missed the obvious point: until you address the white, the middle-class, the male, the production, the masculinity, the identity politics, AND the performance aspects that exclude others from those categories and sources/data, you haven’t done a responsible analysis.” Put more simply, a responsible humanistic analysis recognizes divergent data, theory, methodology, pedagogy and practice. As a historian, I’m not permitted to gesture at subaltern theorists, outlying sources, or isolationist research practice just because I am focused on achieving a methodological goal. I must instead confront, rectify, and engage with these things or else leave myself open to critique. Just because we discuss the technical methodologies more blantently and frequently within our gathering and focus on our products, does not mean we should discard our obligations as humanists: to produce sound scholarly inquiries that answer humanities questions.

I don’t mean to suggest that there are not shining examples of projects, individuals, and institutions that are confronting these issues…but until exchange between digital humanists addresses not just the digital methodological questions but also the humanistic methodological questions, I fear we will continue to suffer from stymied efforts to address diversity in meaningful ways. I find myself wanting to shout: Where my Cultural Theorists At?

I lay no blame for this on the program committee, nor the professional organization as a whole, but instead suggest that it is our obligation as individual scholars to recruit the attendance and presentation of promising scholars from fields that offer potential to transform digital humanities. In my conference-addled brain, I hope for a digital humanities future where we see the emergence of scholars who can easily merge method, theory, and practice in meaningful ways that truly interrogate our assumptions, dependencies, and conclusions.

[originally posted: July 24th at