Digital Humanities Jobs

A professor who has been gently mocking my interest in digital humanities now thinks there may be something to it, since a number of job postings that mention digital humanities appear on this year’s MLA job list.  Yes indeed, it does seem that some exciting DH job postings have been popping up over the past few months, including:

Some job ads mention digital humanities as a desired area of specialty or suggest that the successful applicant could participate in the digital humanities program, e.g.

So is digital humanities emerging as a hot new field?   Well, maybe–but whereas a search for “digital humanities” at the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s careers site brings up 5 results (clearly not every open job in DH), a search for “transnational” yields 40 results, and “cultural studies” 28.  Still, it seems that there are a wider range of opportunities in the digital humanities.  Most of the jobs in, say, transnational studies are faculty posts, whereas we see digital humanities jobs in libraries, humanities centers, and academic computing departments as well as in academic departments. (Tom Scheinfeldt recently wrote a great post about the need to establish employment models for non-tenure-track researchers and developers working on digital humanities projects at universities.)

Perhaps one indicator of DH’s increasing visibility is the push-back against it.  In his jeremiad about the “trendism” of MLA job list as a sign of the decline of literary studies, William Deresiewicz declares,  “There are postings here for positions in science fiction, in fantasy literature, in children’s literature, even in something called ‘digital humanities.’”  In a recent online forum hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, a contributor noted that several colleagues work on digital humanities and that “I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of us in the department have absolutely no idea what they do or what they’re talking about when they try to explain it. In fact, we are not sure they understand what they do. However, it seems to be very sexy and attracts a lot of grant funding. I can’t help wondering if it’s just a fad and will die out soon.” But maybe not understanding what you do is a sign of emergence.  Anyway, when I asked a group of “traditional” humanities professors recently if they thought digital humanities was just a fad, they responded emphatically that it was not, arguing that information increasingly is in a digital format and that scholars need to understand how to work in the digital environment. I agree.

So what skills should an aspiring digital humanist cultivate?  When I started working at Virginia’s Electronic Text Center way back in the 1990s, David Seaman, the director, told me that he viewed an understanding of the humanities as being most important, since most people can pick up the technical skills much more easily than they can the disciplinary knowledge.  That makes sense to me, although technical skills are also important.  Of course, the requirements for each position differ, particularly when you’re comparing library or IT positions to faculty positions.  However, many employers seem to emphasize a similar set of skills:

  • strong humanities background
  • understanding of the research process and emerging technologies for humanities research (data mining, visualization, mashups, social networking, etc)
  • strong written and oral communication skills
  • knowledge of XML (e.g. TEI), XSLT, and related technologies
  • ability to work well on a team
  • database design and development skills
  • web development skills (PHP, CSS, etc)
  • programming & scripting skills
  • project management experience
  • experience with user-centered design
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11 responses to “Digital Humanities Jobs

  1. One thing that I think hurts the field’s visibility is our still unsettled nomenclature. While “digital humanities” is definitely the front runner, only a few years ago it was good old “humanities computing.” And anyone remember humanistic informatics? Today’s job searcher would be well advised to search for variations on “digital,” “electronic,” and “media” at the very least, as well as “cyber” (as in cyberculture or -infrastructure) and games (for ludology).

  2. Good point, Matt! Terminology seems to depend in part on place–witness the popularity of e-research, e-humanities, etc in Europe & Australia…

  3. Pingback: academhack » Blog Archive » Digital Humanities Jobs

  4. It’s a very interesting field to say the least. While some may argue that in every field as digital technology begins to take over globally that an individual should have some ability with computers and information systems. However, within the fields of Digital Humanities and New Media Communications (the flip side of the same coin where the process instead of the content is refined), the study of technology as a means is imperative. I know it sounds obvious, but I have encountered many educational scenarios where I was quite simply informed that someone else would have the skills necessary to put content out “There”. As far as jobs in the fields go, because the current job hunting system relies on traditional roles it becomes very difficult for DH and NMC students and professionals to find a job that takes advantage of the full range of skills they have. But I believe that this shouldn’t dishearten the job searcher. Rather the professionals and students should get creative. Ultimately as Matt K. pointed out names change but the field will stay the same. It might grow or change slightly, but it will still attract the same types of people just like every other profession out there.

  5. I was delighted to stumbled across this post (via AcademHack) and to see digital humanities emerging. Though slightly dated now, I highly recommend Martha Brogan’s extensive report on digital American Literature–relevant to the humanities at large (http://www.diglib.org/pubs/dlf104/). You might also be interested in my blog series about changes in humanities publishing, which is very relevant to the emerging identity of digital humanities (http://tinyurl.com/9vldeo).

  6. Would anybody have any recommendations for the best course/qualification in the digital humanities? I’ve just finished my PhD and would like to blend my interest in history and computers and digital humanities seems like something that could do this. Thanks!

    • Hmm, depends what you want to do. A lot of digital humanities folks in my generation (those who did graduate work in the 1990s) got started by working on digital humanities projects at places like IATH, MITH, etc. Depending on the direction you want to go, you might consider coursework in cultural studies, textual studies, information/library science, or computer science. You could also consider attending a summer institute, such as the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (http://www.dhsi.org/) or one of the NEH Summer Institutes (http://www.neh.gov/news/awards/IAT_DH_May2008.html). Good luck!

  7. Thanks very much, Lisa. I wasn’t aware of those differences so that’s a start. Indeed, I’m not quite sure what the difference is between well-designed websites with a humanities theme, and the digital humanities. At the risk of sounding foolish, what are the principal differences between both? I would like to learn how to design really cool websites that would allow me to bring primary sources/scholarship from centuries ago to a wider audience. My area is early modern history so I’d like to have the technical know-how to be able to re-imagine and perhaps even re-enact (a bit advanced at the moment!) that period through building really cutting edge websites. The problem is I do not know what course would be best to develop these skills; what skills, for instance, should I be looking for in courses? Indeed, I’m not sure if what I’m seeking fits under the definition of ‘digital humanities’ in the first place. Thanks a million.

  8. Great piece. I think if the search for DH or “DH-inflected” jobs were wider than MLA – exclusively linguistic/literary fields of study, to include, for instance, CAA (College Art Association), or many of the other professional associations, it would uncover even more DH jobs. DH needn’t continue to be tethered to MLA, English, or Literature.

  9. I would absolutely second that, Ronald. I’d say one of the key characteristics of DH is the expansion of connections between traditional disciplines and the ability to augment our ever-present text with the generally more accessible material in other formats (images and sounds). And a note here to plug Diane Zorich’s recent study on art history, “Transitioning to a Digital World: Art History, Its Research Centers, and Digital Scholarship”

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