I'm a second-year student in the Univeristy of Michigan's School of Information master's program (M.S.I.), and I've tailored my own specialization around the digital humanities. Im interested in using the Web to promote self-motivated learning and the preservation of and access to humanities artifacts (especially literature). My main focus is on digital texts, and this term I'll be working on a master's thesis exploring student digital text use. I am also continuing to develop my online digital text of James Joyces novel Ulysses. I'm sure I'll be writing about both my thesis and my digital text, but for my first post I'd like to discuss a broader topic: the skills that contribute to a good digital humanist.
As an IMLS Digital Humanities Intern at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities this summer, I talked to a variety of digital humanists about the technical abilities they felt students intending to work in the field should know. While the digital humanities (DH) encompasses so many possible jobs -- preservation, librarianship, teaching -- I focused on the skills required to develop DH sites and software. Because I am already skilled in some areas of web programming and design, some basic techniques (e.g. CSS) are not included on my list; really, the list is best geared toward people who are already interest in HCI and the web, and want to focus their skillset on the DH world.
The list follows -- please feel free to suggest additional abilities!
Five (of Many) Computer Skills for the Aspiring Digital Humanist
1. Know how to work with databases, specifically SQL. Since a non-web-designer programmer might be doing most of the heavy-duty database work at a DH center, you need to be able to understand and design databases rather than able to do a lot of coding with them.
2. Work with TEI and XML. Reading the Text Encoding Initiative's TEI-Lite documentation is a great place to get started (http://www.tei-c.org/Guidelines/Customization/Lite/).
4. Python is repeatedly mentioned as a great tool for text analysis. If you don't know anything except HTML, Python is a great language with which to begin. Simple, clean, works with Google App Engine, and lets you quickly analyze a piece of text.
5. Content Management Systems: know how they work and how to customize a site built on one. Drupal and Joomla! are both frequently used; Drupal seems to have better documentation. Wordpress kind of falls into this category as well.
For all these skills, the importance of having links to functioning examples to give potential employers can't be overemphasized.