Blog Post

An Introduction From an Accidental DH Enthusiast

            After a considerable period of hemming and hawing about what to say, I’m finally buckling down and introducing myself here. So, hello! My name is Emily and I am a first year doctoral student in Modern European History at Northwestern University. I am excited to be a HASTAC Scholar through the Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory (NUDHL). I received my MA in History from Slippery Rock University, a small school with a peculiar name (it was always an ice breaker at a conference when someone would peer skeptically at my nametag and ask, “You’re from where?”) just outside of Pittsburgh. Prior to that, I earned my BA from the University of Pittsburgh, where I studied History and Theatre Arts. I like to think of myself as an interdisciplinary cultural historian, but the reality of it is that I have a considerable amount of training to undergo before I can finally call myself anything with any degree of certainty. I focus on Modern Britain, with an emphasis on the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with interests in theatre, performance, gender, and sexuality. Broadly, right now, I’m working on interwar British theatre, building on my MA thesis.

            I have a handful of scattered ideas for what I’d like to gain in my year as a HASTAC scholar, but I think it’d be helpful for me to just focus on one issue at a time in these blog entries. I’ll start out by admitting that I am not incredibly well read in the Digital Humanities, so a lot of this year will (hopefully) be an introduction to the field, its literature, its debates, and its goals. I started “doing” DH before I realized what it was, so I came to HASTAC sort of accidentally. In my archival research, I have been fortunate to find a huge amount of sources. But this good fortune has also posed a unique set of challenges to a fledgling grad student still learning to tackle large and unwieldy research projects. Along this journey so far, I’ve found myself bewildered and frustrated about how to most effectively manage a body of evidence of this size. So I turned to DH (without recognizing it, of course), to collect, organize, and make more efficient use of my materials. The problem is that I am constantly sensing that I could be doing this much more efficiently.

            For example, since many of my materials are photographed (from messy and crumbling scrapbooks), I’ve been transcribing these documents and plugging them into Zotero as PDF files, where I can tag them — my own slapdash version searchable database. Even better, I can load them all onto my Kindle DX, so that I can carry my transcriptions with me wherever I go (without resorting to pulling out my laptop or an external hard drive every time I want to have a look at an item). Sure, it’s meant that I can use more materials, but it’s also been a very cumbersome process. I know there has to be a better way to manage my sources. But beyond that, I am unsatisfied with what kinds of questions this method is letting me ask of my sources. Beyond efficiency, what is my embrace of the digital offering me that I couldn’t get from more archaic methods of document management? I don’t want my research to just be more efficient. I want it to be more effective. I want to understand what the digital can do by way of transforming my research and questions, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The long and short of it: there has to be a better way here. And that is one of the things I’m hoping to learn about this year, in spending time online with all of you.

            I’m looking forward to interacting with all of you, getting to know your work and interests, and collecting tips and expertise from other grad students trying to embrace the digital. I welcome conversation from anyone who feels like we might connect in terms of research interests, goals, etc. Feel free to get in touch. You can find me here (obviously), on Twitter (@emilydvb), and on So, lovely to meet you!


No comments