For 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.
Once 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 (Academia.edu, 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 Academia.edu 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 Academia.edu 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