MLA: Alternative Paths, Pitfalls, and Jobs in the Digital Humanities

In live blogging this conference, I am following the conventions for conference blogging.

Presiding: Sara Steger, Univ. of Georgia

Speakers: Brian Croxall, Emory Univ.; Julia H. Flanders, Brown Univ.; Matthew Jockers, Stanford Univ.; Shana Kimball, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Bethany Nowviskie, Univ. of Virginia; Lisa Spiro, National Inst. for Tech. in Liberal Education

Session Description:

This roundtable brings together various perspectives on alternative academic careers from professionals in digital humanities centers, libraries, publishing, and humanities labs. Speakers will discuss how and whether digital humanities is especially suited to fostering non-tenure-track positions and how that translates to the role of alt-ac in digital humanities and the academy.

And the computer goes down. Okay, projector on the fritz…

5 Qs and 3 As about Alt-Ac
Brian Croxall, Emory University

received rejection notice: “We received more than 900 applications for the positions…”

Taught a class in Digital Humanities.

What’s the relationship between digital humanities and alt-ac?
Stanley Fish wrote for NYT responded on December 27, 2011
isn’t actually “the next thing in literary studies”

Is alt-ac the future of digital humanities?
No. Not really. There are tt positions for DH.
pursuit of tenure will not be the same, will be alt, even when on tt

Alt-ac is most likely track for Digital Humanities.
Cannot be shorthand for contract labor, casualized labor. We need to be looking to other portions of the university for helping us think about these career paths.

Is digital humanities the future of alt-ac?
Many ways to get your alt on that don’t require university…

Key lesson: Intellectual labor in getting things done. In accomplishing real work of university.

How should the MLA deal with the rise of alt-ac?

Can the MLA shift its purpose from representing those who teach and research modern languages to those who study or studied the modern languages?

The digital is something that is happening to the humanities.
The alt-ac is something that is happening to the university.
Talk is live at his website.

Julia H. Flanders, Brown University
Funding sources

grant-based funding model means strategic hiring

Conceptualizing staff as oriented around and created for some projects works for the DH funding, but not so well for the security of the staff.

Necessity of framing as “projects” with outcomes that must be framed as separate units.
Makes the background research harder to fund.
Early investment in expertise is much harder to fund as project.

Distinctive about my job at Women Writers’ Project. Externally funded for two decades. Unusual length of funding. But jobs are more likely to be funded by grants.

Is alt-ac future of DH?
To some extent it is, from an institutional aspect. University likes it.
“Affordable” is code for young.

Is DH particularly suited to alt-ac careers?
Yes. Dovetails with other work that is hospitable in these ways: library, museum, etc. Jobs reinforced by collaborative work between universities and para-academic organizations.

Is this a good thing?
Good for institutions– cheap, flexible labor force.
Not so good for that labor force all the time.
Where the value of alt-ac lies and for whom is worth unpacking in more detail.

Matthew Jockers, Stanford University
“My name is Matt and I’ve been in Digital Humanities for 14 years.” (AA joke)

not one of the more senior member of our community
macro-scale observations, though

evolving role of alt-ac DH specialist

As a grad student, I did not aspire to a position as an alt-ac. Trained as a lit scholar. There was not an obvious alternative career path–except barista. Graduation: 1 tt job for every 3 applicants.

Because of my technical skills, I found a job that meant teaching a few classes and heading a group to help students. Along the way I was given the opportunity for professional development, paid for by my university. Had a decent salary.

Moved to a far more exciting alt-ac position, after 3 years. Allowed me to continue teaching, do research. Best part was I could introduce the rest of the faculty to Digital Humanities. An exciting thing to be part of this evolution.

alt-ac role as agent of change. Straddle lines between faculty and staff. Often bilingual translators. In unique position to advocate for institution change.

As the English department’s DH guy, I had a unique position. In early part of the century, I was doing a lot of teaching. … Workshops for our faculty.
Text analysis, HTML, etc.

Fruits of this labor can be found most prominently in the Literary Lab I co-direct. My job was to bring DH to the Stanford English Department.

Foundation of the lab is not an end point. Inundated with requests to get involved. Work of the lab has come to dominate my alt-ac position.

Eleven years of alt-ac’ing at Stanford, I have never once gotten up dreading going to work.

What is exciting right now is the abundance of opportunities.

This is a good time to be involved in humanities computing. Dark days of marginalization are over. Seeds bloomed into “thousand flowers of our DH conference last year, where we had a flower theme.”

Shana Kimball
working in the publishing division of the University of Michigan library
Now MPublishing.
intended to build mode of digital publishing
4-person shop in early 2000s but now includes UMPress and copy center.
Work involves digital humanities

Academic book publisher, preserver of scholarly works, convener of campus communications about scholarly communication…
co-director of MPublishing
Days when I am more engaged:
recruiting scholars
nurturing collaborations
raising awareness of MPublishing on campus
planning outreach programs
developing new publishing initiatives
writing proposals for funding

How fortunate I feel to be involved in this job.
Work with people committed to re-creating meaning of scholarly publishing.

We have degrees in library science, law, foreign languages, etc…
Many of us are not PhDs. Think of alternative academic career paths as well.

Had you asked me six years ago, I would not have thought of this job.
Stumbled off the tt after graduate school experience; quit grad school before graduation.

HS prof suggested “feminist literary theorist”

“Can only see as far as your headlights, but can make the whole trip that way.” –Doctorow

Read CHE “Beyond the Ivory Tower.”
Thought about publishing more and more.

Started setting up informational interviews with folks in scholarly publishing.

Landed a ft position in the library’s publishing division.
Filling in for a colleague who got a Fullbright. Kind of an internship.

Boss let me take classes and go to conferences and learn a new field. All these experiences that were helping me make my way. My exp as a PhD grad student, I was uniquely situated to translate from one side (faculty) to the other (publishing).

This is not how one does alt-ac. It’s just how I did it.

Can we imagine how these skills can be nurtured in graduate studies?
How can we better prepare grad students?

Incentives for grad students to learn digital making or doing
Have them run grad journals
Requiring education about contemporary scholarly communication

Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence should be required reading.

Want to see more internships and professional mentoring.

Due to human difficulties, I was not able to finish blogging this session.

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