Preparing for the Future of DH

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This post was written by Christy Pottroff, one of Fordham’s HASTAC Scholars this year and a PhD Candidate in English. The post also appears on the Fordham Graduate Student Digital Humanities Group blog.

♫ Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. ♫
♫ Please put a penny in the old man’s hat. ♫
♫ If you don’t have a penny–

You are probably a graduate student in the humanities.

If you are a graduate student in the humanities, you probably have some level of anxiety about the academic job market. If you’re early on in your program, that anxiety might look something like this:

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or if you’re in the fifth circle–ah, excuse me, fifth year–the job market might make you feel more like this:

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In the spirit of the holiday season, the FGSDH Group aimed to ease this job-market-induced-anxiety by offering a “DH For the Job Market” panel at Lincoln Center on December 7, with Professor Angela R. Bennett Segler (University of Nevada-Reno) and Professor Jean Graham (SUNY Stonybrook). Professors Segler and Graham, recent hires in the digital humanities, offered words of advice for tackling the job-market challenges of the twenty-first century.

If you missed the event, don’t despair, dear graduate student! Here are several helpful tidbits from the panel:

  • Read between the lines of a job-listing: some institutions are happy with a DH-curious candidate, others want a full-fledged DH-wizard.
  • Make friends with techies. Most DH work thrives from interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • If you get an on campus interview, ask who will be there–your answers should be catered to this audience: folks in IT will want a different perspective on your work than people in the humanities.
  • Learn one programming language (even if you won’t use it all the time).
  • Be ready to give an opinion on innovative teaching during your interview.
  • When you are asked about future projects/research/work within a specific university, think about what makes that university stand apart–think outside of your discipline–think about the identity of the university. Give an answer that takes into account the full range of work within the university.
  • DH Positions open up year-round and aren’t always listed in traditional venues. Digital job postings can be found at Digital Humanities Quarterly, Digital Humanities Now, HERC, and University Affairs (if you’re willing/desperate to relocate to Canada).

In the end, Professors Segler and Graham dialed down the hellfire of job market and encouraged a brighter perspective on academic work. After all, as Professor Graham emphasized, the digital humanities is simply the humanities (which is the best answer to the standard DH job question everyone asks). As academics, we can enhance our research with well-selected digital tools. We can help our students think critically about and write effectively in the world around them.

Within this drive toward new literacies and digitization, however, we shouldn’t lose sight of the core of humanistic inquiry. If we are to understand our role as humanists (as we established in a previous workshop with Alex Gil) to be “stewards of human memory,” digital tools can help us arrange, collect, and share this “memory” in new ways. A favorite take-away from this panel is the idea that “understanding James Joyce can teach us more about the Digital Humanities than the Digital Humanities can teach us about James Joyce.” Digital scholarship can work in surprising, multidirectional ways.

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