20.248 we are healthy

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2006 07:00:09 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 248.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Stephen Ramsay <sramsay_at_unlserve.unl.edu> (64)
         Subject: Re: 20.246 are we healthy?

   [2] From: Melissa Terras <m.terras_at_ucl.ac.uk> (64)
         Subject: Re: 20.246 are we healthy?

   [3] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (64)
         Subject: state of health from here

         Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2006 06:30:10 +0100
         From: Stephen Ramsay <sramsay_at_unlserve.unl.edu>
         Subject: Re: 20.246 are we healthy?

On Tue, Oct 10, 2006 at 06:40:02AM +0100, Humanist Discussion Group
(by way of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:
> The view from here (in the heart of the Silicon Valley) is, well,
> foggy. We recently began offering Stanford undergraduates enrolled in
> our Interdisciplinary Studies program the opportunity to get an
> "emphasis" in Digital Humanities. Similar "emphases" options have
> been proposed in several humanities departments across campus and
> though things are moving along, I think that even in 2006 there is
> still a great deal of confusion about how computing and, say literary
> studies, can coexist.

This is an excellent question, Matt.

I've had the good fortune to work at three different institutions with
investments in digital humanities, and I've had the opportunity to
visit many other institutions that were either starting out or well
underway. I think all of the institutions I've come in contact with
are embedded somewhere in a trajectory that I've come to regard as
typical (at least in the US and Canada).

First, there's a groundswell of research interest. It might only be a
single investigator, but more often there are several people doing
digital work in the humanities and they manage to find one another,
get together on grants, and so forth. The next stage tends to be the
creation of some kind of organized research activity (a center, say)
requiring some nontrivial amount of institutional support. If that
activity flourishes and institutional support continues, it can lead
to hires in the area. When those hires reach a quorum, talk turns
inevitably to the creation of a program of some sort. At any stage,
one will typically see course offerings in the area starting to appear
and a growing body of students (graduate and undergraduate) clustering
around the activity.

All of these stages can present difficulties. Even a single
investigator can find that their work is hampered by incomprehension
from colleagues, tenure and promotion committees (real or imagined),
and lack of funds. Centers are very difficult to build and require
tremendous political skills, but they can become jewels in the crown
for Deans and other administrators trying to show off work in the
humanities. Programs -- which some regard as the surest path to
longevity -- are the hardest of all.

If we look at the institutions that are furthest along in this
process, we see that most of them are teetering on the edge of the
program stage, which I think explains why we aren't yet seeing many MAs and
Ph.Ds just yet. On the other hand, these institutions are mostly
well beyond the stage of having to justify their coexistence with
traditional humanities departments. I have the great honor of having
been hired (twice) into English departments that were explicitly
trying to hire a specialist in this area. That bodes well, I think,
for the idea of programs in this area, and while I wouldn't want to
underestimate the difficulties involved, I think most of the big
institutions will get there over the next ten years or so.

I'm not sure that asking "Where are the Ph.Ds?" is a good way to
determine the health of the discipline, though. I think it's perhaps
more useful to ask how many institutions have encountered insuperable
barriers along the way and therefore watched the groundswell of
support for DH dwindle away. In my experience, digital humanities is
continuing along its upward course at most institutions. It perhaps
doesn't have the white hot jet stream that it did during the dot com
bubble, but then again, the bubble might be a useful analogy for the
perils of irrational exuberance and unsustainable growth when it comes
to institutionalizing DH.


Stephen Ramsay
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Nebraska at Lincoln
PGP Public Key ID: 0xA38D7B11
         Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2006 06:30:46 +0100
         From: Melissa Terras <m.terras_at_ucl.ac.uk>
         Subject: Re: 20.246 are we healthy?
Dear  Matt, Willard et al,
An interesting question about the focus, identity and scope of the
"Digital Humanities" community.
Firstly, can I point you to my article in LLC published last year
(which was a paper given in
Victoria) regarding the numbers and membership and scope of the
field. In it, I present all
available numbers I could get my hands on, and also analyse the
attendees at the conference - what
does that say about our "field"?  I then relate these stats to the
literature on what does it mean to be a field or a discipline.
Terras, M. (2006). "Disciplined: Using Educational Studies to Analyse
Humanities Computing'." Literary and Linguistic Computing, Volume 21.
229 - 246.
Secondly - as the person on both the ALLC and ACH executives who is
dealing with membership issues, I can say that
- membership is stable
-but there is more we can do to increase membership
- and it would be desirable to increase membership of the journal.
Increased membership of the journal would mean more income for the
constituent bodies, which means more funds to give in bursaries,
awards, for workshop training and other teaching initiatives, and for
funding for other projects. Things that either/or/both committees
support include the Digital Humanities summer school in Victoria;
workshops, such as the forthcoming training workshop in Kolkata,
India, and initiatives: such as in internationalisation project by the TEI.
The journal is in stable health - but we would encourage more
members, and the involvement of more members in making suggestions on
how we can best serve the community with these initiatives.
Over the past two or three months since I've been dealing with
membership issues, I've been working with our new rep at OUP to see
how we can increase membership. We're about to launch new promotional
materials, start to chase up lapsed members, make promo material
available for those who want to encourage people at a grass roots
level, and publicise more widely the benefits of being a member.
We've also set the differential fee at conferences between members
and non-members to be much higher: its cheaper now to join and attend
the conference, than to attend as a non-member. If there are any
other suggestions people would like to make regarding how we can
encourage more individuals and institutions to join, please send them on!
I'm aware that only 10% of those "reading" (ie subscribed to)
Humanist are members of the associations and subscribe to the
journal. Membership now includes online access to the full back
catalogue of LLC (so you can read the article, above!), and much
cheaper rates at the Digital Humanities conference from now on, as
well as the ongoing benefits of being able to apply for bursaries and
grants from the organisations, and a voice in how the discipline
proceeds. Its not prohibitively expensive to join (and there are much
reduced rates for students). Details can be found here:
best wishes,
Melissa M. Terras MA MSc DPhil CLTHE
Lecturer in Electronic Communication
School of Library, Archive and Information Studies
Henry Morley Building
University College London
Gower Street
Tel: 020-7679-7206 (direct), 020-7679-7204 (dept), 020-7383-0557 (fax)
Email: m.terras_at_ucl.ac.uk
Web: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/slais/melissa-terras/
Digital Humanities Quarterly: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/
         Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2006 06:55:10 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: state of health from here
Matt Jockers' question, apparently provoked by notice of the PhD
programme here at King's College London, is a welcome shift from "do
we exist?", the asking of which always seemed silly to me. But
querying our health is worth doing.
In the year and a half that the PhD programme has existed here, we
have had no problem whatever attracting serious interest. The only
annoying problem has been funding -- an esp acute problem in the UK
for postgraduate work. Interested persons have on several occasions
faded away, despite very strong topics and much encouragement, once
they have realised the financial consequences. Currently we have
three PhD students, one of which we have been able to fund thanks to
a studentship we were given by the College. Some others are in the
wings. But it is quite clear that interest in the degree is strong.
As it is evolving, the PhD in Digital Humanities is likely to involve
collaborative supervision with someone representing the candidate's
discipline of origin. As long as it is "in Digital Humanities", the
major work needs to be in humanities computing, but any dissertation
involving significant work in an established discipline has to pass
muster there as well. This makes it a challenging degree both to
supervise and to pursue, but intellectually it is wonderful.
Our MA programmes here are healthy -- more about them in a few days.
Undergraduate programmes are perhaps the most challenging of all to
run, at least in the UK, because students in secondary school would
appear not to understand what they are for. They seem to confuse IT
training (e.g. how to use Excel) with the digital humanities. Our
approach here is to strengthen and broaden the programme so as to
make its nature as obvious as possible.
Our institutional health at King's is due to at least three factors:
the lack of tenure in the UK, which makes creation of programmes and
academic hires much less of a hurdle than in N America; the
astonishing collegial support across all the departments of the
humanities at King's and by the School of Humanities itself; and the
administrative imagination and intellectual vision of the founding
head of my department, Harold Short, without whom not. Many of us by
our natures want to settle down and do our individual work. Like the
late and much missed Antonio Zampolli, a man of similar vision,
Harold has dedicated his career to seeing that others may thus settle
down. I suspect that such a person (if one may say such a thing in
reference to unique individuals) is sine quo/qua non.
My colleagues and I have been hired into positions in humanities
computing directly. It seems to me that hires of this kind are best,
for obvious reasons, but what's absolutely essential is people whose
self-conception is directly and intimately bound up with our field,
whose survival (institutional, moral, intellectual) depends on it.
It's comforting to speak in terms of an autonomous evolutionary
pattern, but we're still small enough in numbers that individual
strokes of administrative genius play a highly significant role. So I
wonder if what is needed in N America is for institutions such as
Stanford to leap out of the box, however expanding it may be, and
simply create positions and programmes. Such institutions are rich
enough. Were this to happen, with the right people a quite small
department would be successful. How could it not be? Having done
that, a prominent institution such as Stanford would provide an
example few could ignore. A state/province-funded institution, I'd
guess, has to please its state or provincial legislature; a private
institution pleases itself (including its trustees, of course).
In any case, humanities computing needs trained people to replace all
of us who trained ourselves and who are getting close to vanishing
from the day-to-day.
Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7
Arundel Street | London WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax:
-2980 || willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/
Received on Wed Oct 11 2006 - 02:23:24 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Wed Oct 11 2006 - 02:23:26 EDT