Monthly Archives: October 2008

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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Link of the Day: Visualization Periodic Table

Note: Although I’ve become enamored of the idea of slow blogging, where meditation trumps speed and frequency, I’ve also been feeling guilty about my own absence from blogging.  (I’ve got plenty of excuses–a hurricane, a pile-up of presentations and papers, etc–but I won’t bore you with them.)  In the hopes of becoming a more active blogger, I’ve decided to launch a new feature: link of the day (which may turn out to be more like link of the week or fortnight), a quick discussion of something that has caught my interest.

Today’s link of the day (LOD): A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods. Interest in visualization seems to be growing in digital humanities as scholars look for ways to make sense of large data sets.  This interactive chart lists dozens of different approaches to visualization, including histogram, scatterplot, timeline, square of opposition, infomural, heaven ‘n hell chart, and strategic game board.  The periodic table’s creators, Ralph Lengler & Martin J. Eppler of the Institute of Corporate Communication, are part of a group creating an e-learning course on visual literacy for business, communications and engineering.  They group the visualizations into 6 main categories: data visualization, information visualization, concept visualization, strategy visualization, metaphor visualization, and compound visualization; each column is arranged according from least to most complex.  To see an example of each visualization method, click on the cell to open a pop-up window.  As Lengler and Eppler explain in a recent paper, “Towards A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods for Managemenrt,” the table serves as a “structured toolbox” from which users can select  visualizations suited to different tasks.  Although the table is missing textual visualizations such as tag clouds, I found this to be a useful learning tool.  (And, well, just cool.)  Pair this web page with an exploration of  Many Eyes and you have some great interactive resources for humanities students to learn about visualization.