Digital Humanities

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Understanding Careers in Digital Humanities: a session of Expanded Career Opportunities for PhDs, Feb. 22, 2012
Speaker: Mitch Fraas, PhD, Judith and William Bollinger Fellow in Library Innovation, University of Pennsylvania, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center

Speaker background
Mitch Fraas has been at Penn since July 2011. He earned his PhD in History in 2011 at Duke University with his research area being legal culture of India up to the 1770s. Additional interests are the history of printing and the book, cartography and the future of scholarly publishing. He has work experience as a reference intern at Duke's rare books library helping others with their research. He has additional experience in the Rights and Permissions department at Duke University Press and as a proofreader with the Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle project.

Some of Mitch's projects include blogging about maps and geocoding, mapping an African-American community in Durham that has since disappeared and working at the Haiti Humanities Lab at Duke when Duke had gotten a large grant to start mapping labs in humanities departments. He liked that the work is interdisciplinary and that academic engagement was great and decided to not go on the academic job market.

As a doctoral student, Mitch put all his work online and about 50 people a week look at it. Part of his work is digitized court cases in India during a period of British colonial rule. From this he was asked for advice on a case that was to come before the Indian Supreme Court.

Speaker's current work
The CLIR (Council on Libraries and Information Resources) Fellowship has been placing PhDs in libraries since the early 2000's as a way to make the library central as a hub for humanities research. This is an annual opportunity for Penn graduate students to apply for an appointment. In Penn's library system, Mitch is working on Digital Penn assessing faculty-generated digital projects in order to establish relevant services for faculty needs. He is also working with faculty to gain a better understanding of their use of courseware and other educational technologies and how the library can help implement and support those technologies. He works with digital objects and on interface, and interacts with faculty in humanities disciplines, graduate students and librarians.

Digital Humanities

There is no one definition of digital humanities, although it is a topic of great interest. In 2012, the American Historical Association had 24 programs and the Modern Language Association had 49 on digital humanities at their annual conferences.

What is it? We should think expressively and emphasize humanities over digital. People want solid connection between the technology and the teaching and research. Some of the questions that are being grappled with include:

  • The challenges related to moving from a world of print journals to online
  • Developing solid peer-reviewed online publishing in the humanities soon
  • Finding public engagement projects and increasing opportunities in teaching
  • Text mining: there is a surge of interest in words/phrases

Examples of digital humanities projects:

  • Berkeley has a corpus of slave narratives that have been digitized and on which word analysis is being performed.
  • Digital Harlem: 1915-1930 is a project out of University of Sydney of legal records, police records, newspaper articles, arrests and other sources layered on maps of Harlem.
  • Digital musicology projects at SALAMI: Structural Analysis of Large Amounts of Music Information
  • Mapping the Republic of Letters: A project at Stanford tracking networks over time - letters during the Enlightenment.
  • Investigate the lived experience of Old St Paul's based on work by John Donne
  • PhilaPlace, on the Historical Society of Philadelphia website chronicles Philadelphia neighborhoods was developed by Joan Saverino, a Penn Folklore grad. It received Museums and the Web Honorable Mention Exhibitions category for 2010.
  • George Mason University's Center for History and New Mediais one of the first and key digital humanities training grounds. Many of their important initiatives are also linked here:
  • Mapping DuBois, a project of Penn professor, Amy Hillier, recreates the survey that W.E.B. Du Bois conducted of Philadelphia's Seventh Ward for his 1899 classic book, The Philadelphia Negro.
  • CityLore in NYC was founded by Steve Zeitlan, a Penn folklore grad, and consists of two main sites: City of Memory and Place Matters
  • The Digital Ethnography lab site at University of Central Florida has specific innovative projects. Underberg's book on Digital Ethnography is due to be published soon by U. Texas Press.
  • The Games and Learning Conference, hosted by the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is very interdisciplinary and brings together a diverse group of people doing all kinds of interesting work.


  • #alt-academy: a Media Commons Project is a resource on alternative academics, including careers for humanities scholars. Look at collaboration, digital humanities
  • Toward a Third Way: Rethinking Academic Employment
    The humanities are less collaborative than the sciences and the social sciences as articles for tenure are sole-authorship.
  • Getting Your Digital Work to Count, article in the Chronicle of Higher Education
  • Digital Humanities Now has a running jobs aggregator
  • Digital Innovation Lab at UNC, a project-focused hub for collaborative, interdisciplinary discovery, experimentation, implementation, and assessment in the use of digital technologies to advance the work of the University in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Pam Lach, PhD in History and earning an MSLS is Manager.
  • Digital Humanities is an incredible European phenomenon, with the US behind Europe. Kings College London has a PhD program in Digital Humanities
  • Information about job ads in the digital humanities:
    • Most DH jobs involve advising on or contributing to a collaborative research team, you will need to be interested in facilitating the research agenda of others, in addition to your own. Broadcast your skills and/or project needs on the DHCommons.
    • Most positions are grant-funded or funded on a temporary term basis, as opposed to jobs for which there is a continuing budget line
    • Most of these jobs have a vague set of criteria or qualifications to demonstrate knowledge and skills related to DH.
    • Some jobs are in libraries or academic information technology departments
    • There is a proliferation of labs, institutes and centers, as evident from the growing number of DH entities affiliated with Centernet.
  • Association for Computers and the Humanities, Digital Humanities Questions and Answers

Other interesting projects and programs

This is by no means an exhaustive list of resources, as this is a burgeoning field.