Digital Humanities is a Team Sport: Thoughts on #DHTNG 2

In this post, Caro Pinto, Critical Social Inquiry Librarian at Hampshire College, reflects on the March 2013 DH: The Next Generation meeting and the role of teamwork and relationships in DH projects.

If digital humanities is a collaborative venture, a team sport, then community building and networking opportunities are essential. In New England, there is a serious movement afoot to build a community of digital humanities practitioners drawn from faculty, technologists, librarians, and graduate students. March 2013 featured several exciting meetings for digital humanists: Days of DH at Northeastern University, the New England Archivists Spring Meeting at Holy Cross [pdf], and DH: The Next Generation at Simmons College.

I had the pleasure of presenting at and attending the second day of DH: The Next Generation. John Unsworth started the day with a quote from the late, great Simmons Library School professor, Allen Smith, who believed that “the best part of being a librarian is everything counts.” At a time when librarianship’s place in the university is being contested and conversations within the profession coalesce around what the future should look like, it’s important to step back and recognize that librarianship is about working collaboratively to enable access of materials, effective pedagogy, and community.

For digital humanities, successful efforts hinge on collaborative, equitable teams of faculty, resesarchers, graduate students, postdocs, technologists, librarians, and students. [To that end, I presented at DH: The Next Generation with Carla Martin, a Fellow in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University. Together we talked about successful communication strategies that librarians can deploy to engage faculty successfully (and vice versa).] Building successful relationships between faculty and librarians is essential to the success of the full-spectrum of digital projects, whether teams are working in undergraduate classrooms or on sophisticated, multi-year faculty activities.

Institutions and practitioners will have to grapple with how traditional academic hierarchies create structural inequalities within these teams.

In their DH: The Next Generation presentation on “Emerging Practices in Digital Humanities Teaching,” Tim Lindgren and Lindsay Whitacre from Boston College reiterated the importance of teamwork and relationship-building with a slide that read: “DH is not just a set of tools and methods; it’s a new set of relationships.” But what do those new relationships look like? What can they produce? Participants saw tangible evidence of what teams of librarians, faculty, and alt-ac practitioners can build in a session led by Matthew Battles and Yanni Alexander Loukissas of Harvard. We played with tools developed by Metalab, using data from the Digital Public Library of America to explore data artifacts. Efforts from the session are visualized in the Library Observatory Tumblr. In another session, “Code as Cultural Artifact,” led by Nick Montfort and Patsy Baudoin of MIT, we did hands-on exercises with a Commodore 64 that allowed participants play with yesterday’s code to understand how old media and programs functioned. Montfort and Baudoin’s collaborations evolved into a book, published in 2012: 10 PRINT CHR$ (205.5+RND (1) ) ; : GOTO 10.

As the digital humanities continues to think about assessment and sustainability, institutions and practitioners will have to grapple with how traditional academic hierarchies create structural inequalities within these teams. Librarians, library paraprofessionals, and technologists are generally staff members and often excluded from college and university governance. University leadership must also consider new benchmarks that promote and reward digital projects, experimentation, and innovation in place of or in addition to traditional scholarly communication. In all cases, colleges and universities need to empower their faculties and staffs to make the time to nurture teams. In our own presentation, Carla and I shared steps that both faculty and librarians can take to build and sustain these relationships.

In the humanities, teamwork is a new frontier that continues to be negotiated by college and university leadership, staff, faculty, and students alike.

In all cases, we need to advocate to librarians, technologists, and faculty about the importance of speaking to administrators about their work, to educate decision makers and other stakeholders about the importance of these relationships. Alex Gil referenced this during his visit to my Introduction to Digital Humanities class at Hampshire College earlier this term: digital humanities must translate its work and value to the administration in order to sustain it. In the humanities, teamwork is a new frontier that continues to be negotiated by college and university leadership, staff, faculty, and students alike.

The DH: TNG conference was not simply a two-day event to allow digital humanities practitioners to self-promote, rather it was an opportunity to facilitate relationships and take steps towards sustaining a community of practice in New England. With flipped sessions, hands-on exercises, generous breaks, and flexible furniture arrangements, participants were able to interact with each other, new ideas, and old media. As much fun as it was to ‘hack’ with some of the tools and exercises facilitated by presenters, it was equally valuable to ‘yack’ with graduate students, librarians, faculty, and technologists to build the next generation of digital humanities.

Caro Pinto

Caro Pinto

Librarian & Instructional Technology Liaison
Mount Holyoke College

2 thoughts on “Digital Humanities is a Team Sport: Thoughts on #DHTNG

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