Blog Post

Digital Humanities at Stanford

I'm settling into my new position as a Digital Humanities Specialist here at Stanford University (This is day two) and I can already tell that I've moved from a very small puddle to a very large pond.  Even during the interview process this was clear, what with folks from the Spatial History Project taking turns with various Academic Technology specialists to find out how, exactly, one maps medieval political change in China, and whether the lessons learned from such an endeavor are useful to mapping the personalities of London or the communications of early modern scholars.  I suppose, given that they offered me the job, that the answer was a "yes", though to be fair to everyone involved, I'm sure that answer is really "yes*" with an emphasis on the asterisk.  I've done digital spatial political history, and digital spatial environmental history, but the concern must always be whether the tools and methods I've grown familiar with will prove useful to a wider range of humanities scholars, as my new position has been designed.

I think yes (or perhaps, to carry the theme, yes*) or otherwise I wouldn't be trying.  Still, I expect to grow out from my area of expertise, working first with projects that are primarily spatio-temporal in nature, slowing integrating more nuanced varieties of knowledge formation and transmission (such as text analysis and modeling) with the generous help of the overstock of talent found in this small left coast university.  While some of my core competencies are going to be limited to certain fields--ArcGIS, for instance, is not going to be very useful outside of spatial analysis--much of it is universalizable.  Data modeling and database design, even in situations where a robust database is unnecessary, is always useful in conceptualizing the translation of humanities knowledge into digitally recognizable content.  Coding, whether with a strong visual component or as a post-processing activity, is as useful to the digital literary theorist as it is to the digital historian (Which could mean equally un-useful, with a poorly thought-out project).  And visualization, whether with dynamic animation or static black-and-white images, will always be one of the great benefits of the digital age, whether it is used to promote expert analysis of scholarly content or transmission to a variety of audiences.

I'll try to keep the HASTAC community in the loop about the various projects coming out of Stanford, with an emphasis on where they fit into our growing conception of digital scholarship.  It's all very different from the small but fertile life at five-year old UC Merced (a puddle, no doubt, and not disparagingly so, for puddles have numerous positive traits, not least of which is that it didn't suffer from the structural issues of large, entrenched universities).  And not just academically, either, I mean did anybody ever notice that everything here has a red roof?


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