Tag Archives: graduate education

THATCamp Switzerland (5a)

This post is a response to several of the graduate students in attendance who, during the lunch break, asked me what I would have discussed in my session on “graduate students and new media” had I not been “occupied.”

My answer is that I think we are in a generation of transition in the historical profession and in the humanities in general. By that I mean that while things digital are rapidly gaining prominence in our field(s), digital humanities remains an activity of a devoted minority. But, and I think this is a big but, I also think that 20 years from now, i.e., one full generation, digital work will be as central to what we do as non-digital work is. That is to say, I don’t expect that 20 years from now no books will be published. But I do think that 20 years from now digital forms of scholarship will be just as important as analog forms.

Note — I think it could take a full 20 years. As I wrote three years ago now, historians are a conservative tribe when it comes to the methods of our scholarship, and so I really do think that it will take 20 years before digital work is considered the same as analog work. There is certainly a degree of ageism in what I’m arguing, because I do think that some of the objection to digital work is that it is new and so suspect among those who have become very comfortable doing history the way we’ve done it for a long time. But there are also not unreasonable objections based in a view that the old forms have worked quite well for a very long time so why should we abandon them for something potentially faddish?

Nevertheless, I think the technological wave washing over us isn’t going to recede and so those studying history now need to take account of that and plan accordingly. What, then, does that mean? Here is what I would have mentioned in my session:

1. Some level of skill with digital technology is going to be essential to the historians who will take over from my generation (my anticipated retirement date, May 15, 2025 in case you were wondering). This “level of skill” could be anything from working comfortably with forms of digital writing (blogs, tweets at present), to building or working with databases, to the design of digital content, to making use of collaborative and mobile tools to further their work;

2. Writing is changing in this digital age. Those studying history today need to be able to work in these new forms, if only at a minimal level, because I’m certain that, 20 years from now, they will need to be able to write digitally as well as in the analog world;

3. Those studying history today need to manage their digital identities very carefully, because who you are online is already who you are as a historian–in fact, it might be more of who you are, because it is the you encountered by others. Now is already too late to begin thinking about that digital identity. I do not mean to suggest that they should conform those digital identities to some set of accepted norms–far from it! Instead, I am arguing that they need to think those online identities through.

Those were the points I was going to raise for sure. If there were time, I also would have mentioned that I think they should be advocating for courses–formal or informal–in the digital skills they need.

THATCamp Switzerland (5)

My session on graduate students in digital humanities was Occupied!

Because it became clear to many at the conference that although 40% of the attendees at THATCamp Switzerland were female, only one of the proposals was by a woman. So, two of the women here at Camp staged a pirate attack on my session and “occupied” it to hold a session instead on women in social media.

One of the central topics discussed was how social media respond to (or don’t) women’s career trajectory in digital humanities? Another was how women (and men) manage their identities online.  So, for instance, are men more likely to use social media in a non-professional way, i.e., tweet about what they are doing today, while women in the academic life are perhaps more likely to confine themselves to more professional uses. So much of the discussion revolved around questions of power–to what degree is the power in academia tilted toward men or not, and whether digital media might be flattening the hierarchical relationships because all have equal access.

One of the points I thought was especially interesting was whether men in digital humanities (who seemed a bit older to the commentor–I hope she didn’t mean me!) were “digital immigrants” while the women seemed younger and so were more l likely to be “digital natives.” That comment certainly bears on the experience in the U.S., in that women are taking over graduate education in general, with certain fields excepted (finance, engineering).

A good bit of the discussion centered on the editing of Wikipedia and what that could tell us about gender? Wikipedia’s own survey — 58,000 self-selected respondents out of 15.6 million account holders — says that 87% are male. So, even if we assume that men are more likely to respond to such a survey than women (which I don’t know if it’s true or not) we still have to say that writing/editing for Wikipedia is an overwhelmingly masculine activity. Why that is the case, it seems to me, is a question well worth pursuing.

According to the Pew Internet Project, in the U.S., women are somewhat more likely (69% vs 60%) to use social media than men. I’d have to examine the underlying data to see if this difference is wider in younger age cohorts, but if that’s true, then it could validate the comment about digital immigrants/digital natives.

All in all, a very lively discussion that needs to be had over and over and over.