Month: October 2016

Who’s my Audience? Defining Readerships and Joining Conversations

On October 24th, about 25 people gathered for the first DHMS Meet & Greet at the Humanities Institute’s new library location. Representing different campus groups, including librarians, professors, graduate students and one undergraduate, the group discussed how to build our fledgling community, how to obtain training in digital tools, and how to translate familiar methods of scholarly inquiry and venues of publication into digital formats. Brendan Kane gave a superb and inspiring presentation of his “Project in Process”: “Reading Early Modern Irish” with the help of interactive texts in the original and in translation, complete with grammatical and lexical references built by an international network of scholars. While political issues surrounding the use of social media, for example, were on many peoples’ minds – what happens to privacy? – one particular question stuck with me: who is my potential audience outside of print formats? Indeed: how DO you determine, find, and even secure an audience for your scholarly blog, your tweets, your online exhibition or your video?

twitter-wants-youIn print venues, the path from author to readership is pretty much set in stone or paved in concrete: you present your research paper to small audiences at various conferences, in addition to soliciting responses from your peer reading networks or teaching some of the content in your classes. Following feedback and rewrites, you submit your article to an established, peer-reviewed journal, and, upon some more revision, the journal publishes your work. Voilà, your print article is available to those who subscribe to the journal or who search specific databases for your topic. Unless your publisher presents your article – or your book – to a larger public via open access platforms, your audience is limited to closed infrastructures. At the same time, you can rely on thorough quality control and on tapping into an established brand within your field. You know scholars in your field read the journal. There are slight deviations of this path, but this is essentially it. Ah yes, and then there are copyright issues and monetary transactions. But that’s not for this blog post…

media190139enDigital venues, in contrast, offer a MUCH bigger audience – a website or blog with, potentially, a global audience, and your social media accounts can invariably be found on the internet. So how do you reach those you seek to speak to or with whom you would like to engage in conversation? The Chronicle’s ProfHacker is a solid source for these sorts of questions, with Ryan Cordell addressing the benefits of tweeting, and Lee Skallerup Bessete reflecting on how twitter usage has changed over the years. For starting your academic or scholarly blog, InsideHigherEd published Liana Silva’s recommendations, while Pat Thomson’s recent article in the Times Higher Ed points to more selfish reasons to start your own blog: improving your writing. Of course, there is a top-10 list for this new enterprise as well, in this case assembled by Tom Crick and Alan Winfield. And it is always instructive to study some of the best, as curated and presented by Alexis Madrigal in 2013.

Most of these authors point to one important element of establishing an audience, no matter what part of your research you make available or which venue or medium you choose: you should not engage one without the other. If you are blogging, let others know on twitter or other social media that you just published a new post. Read others’ posts. Follow others on twitter. Mention your just-out print bobuild-audienceok on your blog or add the link to your twitter account on your website. You don’t just seek an audience – you also become one. You don’t just build networks within your research community and audiences “out there” that may find your work interesting – you also network within audiences yourself. So, it’s really not that different from print, it’s just much bigger and much more public. As Bianca Elena Ivanof and Caspar Addyman argue: it’s how to be an academic in the 21st century. Thank you, everyone, for coming on Monday!

Can’t Find Your Way to Victoria? Here’s a “How To” for Home Use Blog Double Feature

In last week’s guest blog Marc Reyes enthusiastically reported back from the DH Summer Institute in Victoria. It is by all accounts a terrific first step towards all things Digital Humanities, if one can swing it, time wise or money wise. For those who will have to wait or who just want to try another route, there are plenty of opportunities to find one’s very own answers to: How do I get started with Digital Humanities??? It all depends on what you want to explore: the theoretical, the practical, the experimental or the just plain playful? Because there are so many ways to go, this blog is extra-long and therefore a double feature.

Part I: Retracing Steps and Missteps

When I think back to my own “humanities + digital” beginnings, I recall

  • visiting my very first web page in 1993. The always up-to-date Lab Director pointed at the screen and said: “This could change a whole lot in language learning!” No kidding. Will this become part of my teaching?
  • getting involved in what used to be CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) and teaching myself HTML (remember Netscape?).  But I was also writing my dissertation, so I had no time. The motto was, expressly, “publish or perish”: how could I possibly squeeze in this new digital stuff?
  • receiving a grant in my first job that allowed me to buy two SMART boards, revolutionary technology at the time and quite a mystifying wall of multimodality to all who dared start teach with it. Not everyone was gung-ho, though. That experience begged the question: is all new tech fundamentally good?
  • co-founding an online peer-reviewed open access journal, against my peers’ and mentors’ advice. It would either not count for tenure or cast doubt on my scholarly integrity. To me, it was all about matching form with content, or, in this case, the other way around: a media philosopher’s work should also be presented and discussed digitally, no? Yet, would digital publishing be recognized in merit reports?netscape-navigator

Let’s face it, these are recurring questions for most of us, no matter whether we are at the beginning of our Digital Humanities explorations or well traveled. Often, engaging with DH is a start and stop process, testing our patience, our capacity for the new, and our skill sets. No one can deny that the humanities have long entered the digital realm. But can you define your own involvement with it?


Of course! You don’t have to pull all-nighters or pursue perfection to learn how to

  • build webpages for teaching or research. A profile of your own making matters today, and it is often the first thing you learn at DH workshops. But no rush: take days, take months, take a whole year – practice makes playful. My own webpage changes frequently, whenever I have a moment to try out a new widget or add a piece of media.
  • blog. It’s like writing a scholarly journal or reflecting publicly on any aspect of your work. Yes, it’s public. Yes, most of us are share our process only with a select few. Yet, most of the time, I am surprised about how learning to blog (or using digital tools in general) also helps me reflect on how I think. I started various blog writing enterprises on different topics, sometimes with colleagues. I found out that I am not that good at collaborating in the blog venue for practical reasons and just do better composing by myself.
  • participate in social media. Even if you have no interest in building a profile or tweeting to announce your latest article publication to the world, do set up an account and try it out. You can always delete your profile if it’s not your channel – but you move on and find out what is.
  • take your visualization skills to the next level. You like taking photos? You have made videos on your digital camera? You want to create images from your data? My own latest exploration is with digital storytelling and video essays: writing the script, assembling the imagery, recording my own voiceover, and producing. This took a number of missteps and misadventures, but the results are passable. That’s good enough. And it will get better with time. I was also thrilled to find that there was an audience – vimeo has scored the work at over 12,000 views.

Try and fail, and enjoy the process. You have no interest in coding? Don’t. You want to hold off on writing a blog, it’s just too personal or too public? No problem, a tweet only has 140 characters. No interest in data mining? Certainly – perhaps text editing is your thing! Entirely your choice, in your own time and your own place. Your medium at your leisure.

I continue to try numerous tools, depending on what’s new, what interests me, and what is of relevance for my research and teaching. Does that make me a Digital Humanist? I don’t know. I think of myself as working in media studies with DH proficiency or a DH intermediate with a strong background in media studies. I do not code. Ditto for mapping. I do not mine data; so far I’ve just had no purposeful interest in it, but that could change. I do not (yet) work in a large collaborative team on a big multi-level, multi-year project, with substantial grant support promising a formidable outcome. But I’d like to. That’s next – at least I will try.


Part II: Building your own map

So how can you start on your own way into the Digital Humanities? I remember looking at Lisa Spiro’s recommendations several years ago. Although her thoughts date back to 2011 – five years is a long time in DH – and some of the initiatives and/or links are out of date (thatcamps don’t seem to happen as frequently as they used to), I still agree with many of her pointers. Most everyone just insists: start somewhere! That “somewhere” can be anywhere, really. Ideally, it connects with your ongoing research or teaching, unless you just want to take a break from that very research or teaching and occupy a different part of your brain (as in, PLEASE give me a break so I can reboot!).

There are a great many “how to” pages that provide you with lists, similar to the one Spiro set up. She remains the most cited, with the Modern Language Association and the NEH still linking her site. Duke’s DH Initiative has put together a plethora of tips and resources that get you going. Our colleague Tom Scheinfeldt created his own list, making it exceedingly easy to get your feet wet. An excellent mélange of links and lessons comes from the College of Charleston, complete with videos and tutorials. Then there is the ACH’s Digital Humanities Questions & Answers section that connects your pressing issue with someone who can assist. In fact, most libraries or DH centers and initiatives now offer some sort of “How to Get Started” page or workshops that generate ideas. Just choose what appeals to you. And most everything gets explained on youtube these days anyway. Take a look at a series on Humanities + Digital Tools available from Stanford or search for the presentation of a particular tool.

A decided favorite (DH sleuthing!) still is Miriam Posner’s “How did they make that?” She presents the finished project (what is it?), traces it back to its origins (what you’d need to know), and then gives tips on how to do it yourself (get started). This reverse-engineering perspective is great for analyzing process because once your project is done you are most likely on to the next thing. And your failures and missteps cannot inform your succeeding projects or generate new ideas and approaches. Posner also produced a video about these steps – yet another way to show her own process.staedtereise_urlaub_leipzig_innenstadt_11

Well, here we are. Understood if this load of suggestions on how to get started is exhausting. You have not finished that article. Your students’ exams remain untouched. You haven’t read the report for the meeting that starts in 20 minutes…. And it’s time to get some fresh coffee! Then don’t start today, start tomorrow. Sleep on it. Or come to the “DHMS Meet & Greet” on October 24th from 12:30-2pm at the new UCHI location on the 4th floor in the library (209).


Meet colleagues who are thinking about DH, have started or are well on their way. Enjoy lunch together. Discuss the DHSI in Victoria with other participants. And if Victoria does not appeal to you consider a DH summer in Leipzig or Oxford.

Interested in Digital Humanities? Then Find Your Way to Victoria, by Marc Reyes

dhsi-1For students interested in the digital humanities (DH), it can be difficult to know how to jump into such a wide and varied field. Sure, there are books and blogs, but for those ready to get to work, there is a dearth of formal training or established DH institutions. To those budding digital humanists, my advice is to find your way to Victoria, British Columbia.

Amid the beauty of Canada’s Pacific coast and the harsh Brutalist architecture of the University of Victoria (UVic), Victoria is home to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI), the largest North American gathering of digital humanists. Since 2001, hundreds of scholars, from a variety of humanities disciplines and academic backgrounds, converge every June on UVic for weeklong courses that combine the best elements of a technology conference, an accelerated seminar, and a DIY-workshop. And this past June, I was among many like-minded scholars ready to take my digital humanities enthusiasm to the next level.

I first heard about DHSI from Twitter (follow them @DHInstitute) in spring 2015 and contacted Digital Media & Design Professor Tom Scheinfeldt to ask what he knew about the program. Tom informed me of DHSI’s sterling reputation as a structured, yet relaxed environment for digital humanists to meet, collaborate on projects, and learn the latest in digital pedagogy. Besides course offerings, there are also dozens of presentations, lectures, workshops, and roundtables on numerous DH-related subjects. One reason I was attracted to DHSI was that I was tired of reading about DH or imagining the projects I could build; I was ready to find a place that would teach me the skills necessary to function as a digital humanist. And because DHSI happens in the summer, I could devote a full week to my DH education without conflicts from coursework or my teaching assignment.

dhsi-1Once I decided to attend DHSI, I applied via their website and selected my course preferences. There is no guarantee you will be assigned to a course you request. The program’s foundational courses – on coding, digitization, and text encoding, etc. – fill up fast so I advise you to submit your application as soon as you can. I submitted mine in early fall 2015 and was fortunate to be enrolled in one of my requested courses: “Building a Professional Identity and Skillset in the Digital Humanities.” I chose a professionalization course because it can be difficult for graduate students to keep track of all the different online career platforms that exist (, ResearchGate, Google Scholar, LinkedIn, etc.) and how to make the most of them. Today students regularly hear that they need an effective online presence or multiple presences, but what does that mean, which platform is the most effective for humanities students, and how do students know they are producing quality online representations of themselves and their work? With these questions in mind, I selected this course believing it would provide guidance on improving my online presence and assist my long-term professional goals of teaching at a university or working at a presidential library.

Depending on the course, your class size could be anywhere from five to twenty people. The 2016 professional identity and DH skillset course was on the small side with eight students enrolled in the class. For my first time at DHSI, I appreciated working in a smaller seminar where I could have more one-on-one time with the course instructors. And my course colleagues could not have been more friendly or enjoyable. Most of them were History or English graduate students, and all of them were excited about transforming their respective projects – whether it was a dissertation, a writing program, or archival work – into a layered piece with digital dimensions or a wholly work of digital scholarship. My colleagues spoke of building websites that would serve as interactive versions of their CVs where potential collaborators and employers could experience the type of writing, research, and teaching they can produce. The course also benefitted from the involvement of the librarians, game studies researchers, and returning students enrolled in the course who could speak to the ways their institutions and businesses were changing because of the latest developments in digital technology.

Over five days, our course covered plenty of ground. On day one, we examined how we are currently viewed online (whether its through a department website, institutional affiliations, and social media) and how our work can become more searchable. I came away seeing my online presence as another version of an “elevator pitch” where I convince someone unfamiliar with my work of its significance in a short period of time.   Like a honed presentation, your online profiles should give interested parties an engaging yet concise overview of what you offer as a scholar.

On day two, we set up accounts, created or refined LinkedIn profiles, and learned how to deploy Twitter for both personal and professional uses. Twitter is usually my preferred social media account, a space where I share random thoughts or my latest attempt at a joke. During the course, I challenged myself to see how my Twitter account could also be a space for sharing articles connected to my research, ideas about how future history departments might run, and how contemporary issues relate to my area of study (U.S.-India foreign relations). Day three discussed how scholars are increasingly using podcasts as a way to reach humanities audiences and how blogging should be an integral part of a student’s writing portfolio. Whether it is through a personal site or collaborative blog calling for submissions, blogging in the academy is a great way to sharpen your writing chops, gain publication experience, and ruminate on topics in and outside your research.

The fourth, and last full day examined the type of grants and fellowships that await digital humanists, both before and after the PhD. In countries such as Canada, Great Britain, and Germany, U.S. and other international scholars are eligible for numerous prizes designed to promote DH scholarship. During this session, our class examined grant writing and fellowship application opportunities and how perspective committees might view our research topics. Working from Dr. Karen Kelsey’s (author of The Professor Is In) grant writing template, each class member put their own research topic and questions to the test to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of our projects and hear constructive feedback.

By Friday, our class concluded with presentations of what we accomplished. In just a week, some of my colleagues created personal websites through Squarespace, Wix, and A Small Orange to showcase their skills as writers, researchers, and archivists. Others left with new ideas about developing half-written/half-digital dissertations or creating app versions of their thesis. As for me, I overhauled my LinkedIn profile, created an account, built an About.Me page, fashioned a Wiki about books I am reading for my comprehensive exams, and started blogging again through WordPress. Because of my time at DHSI, I have a better online presence that demonstrates my abilities to a variety of audiences and a stronger sense of the skills necessary to thrive in the digital humanities.

I can attest that my professional growth happened because of what is possible at DHSI. Having the time and space to learn and adopt the latest digital skills, in a relaxed but structured environment, is an opportunity more graduate students should experience. Since returning from DHSI, I have told anyone and everyone who would listen about the benefits of attending the program. And I hope, that with each passing summer, the University of Connecticut sends a growing contingent of digital humanists to Victoria and their experiences are as rewarding as mine.

Marc Reyes is a doctoral student in the Department of History at the University of Connecticut. He received his B.A. in History from the University of Missouri and his M.A., also in History, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His research investigates the United States and its interactions – diplomatically, economically, and culturally – with India. Marc is a Multicultural Scholars Program Fellow and has presented his work at local, regional, and national history conferences. This semester he is assisting Professor Tom Scheinfeldt’s DMD course, History of Digital Culture. You can follow Marc on Twitter @Marcus5F9.

*DHSI/Uvic/Victoria, BC photos courtesy of Matthew Reeves, doctoral student, University of Missouri-Kansas City