In my work as a digital humanist, I spend a lot of my time counting things—words, documents, topics, citations, hours spent getting even my simple bits of code to work. In describing to friends, family, and students what Digital Matters is, I also often start with numbers, “Digital Matters is a partnership between four colleges that seeks to bring together technology and the humanities.” Or “we’re a team of people working on a various aspects of digital culture—a director, one librarian, one postdoc, two graduate fellows…” and so on. Accordingly, as I write a summary of my time spent as a postdoc here at Digital Matters, I’ll start with the numbers.
My postdoc ran from January 2018 to June 2019, which is 18 months. In those 18 months I presented at four conferences, attended two sessions of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, and participated in one National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute. I’ve had three articles published and three more accepted at journals. I have attended eight Digital Matters workshops and organized nine speakers to present to the digital arts and humanities community campus. I’ve played with both book arts methods and Arduino mini computers in our weekly Maker Time, led a graduate student working group in digital humanities, and participated in at least five collaborative projects. In addition, I finished four creative projects including book arts pieces, and a digital story generator about climate change.
This summary of my time at Digital Matters can tell you a few things. The events at Digital Matters provide the opportunity to become a digital humanities generalist. Even as I attempt to learn one programming language, R, more deeply, I take advantage of all the workshops offered by Digital Matters. Consequently, I have some facility with visualizations in Tableau, webscraping in python, layouts in InDesign, text mining in Voyant, and digital exhibits in OmekaS. I have also benefited from the choice by Digital Matters to include workshops that don’t just introduce scholars to tools, but attend to digital competencies like thinking through privacy in the digital age, planning data management in the humanities, or telling compelling stories with data. I have found that attending our workshops are equally likely prompt me to ask new research questions inspired by capabilities of some new tool as they are to inspire thoughtful critiques of the very tool that is being taught. For me, the Digital Matters workshops have provided an opportunity for critical self-reflection. In each case of expanding my skillset I was invited not only to grapple with the possibilities and limitations of the new methods I was undertaking, but also to reconsider traditional literary methods that shape my approach to knowledge.
From attending nine Digital Matters talks over the past year and a half, I have gained a good sense of what digitally-inflected work is going on at the University of Utah and in the region. I have been inspired by the range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary engagements with digital culture from scholars in history, literature, media, sculpture, and libraries. Digital Matters has enriched not only my technical capabilities but broadened my vision of digital cultural studies and widened my circle of colleagues and collaborators. The speaker series is not only a formal sequence of talks about cutting-edge research, but also provides the opportunity for repeated informal interactions with the colleagues who attend the talks. These informal conversations have sparked research projects, collaborations, and friendships.
Finally, my favorite skill I have practiced at Digital Matters is collaboration. I have both led and been a contributor to collaborative research projects—something I otherwise do very seldom in my work in American literary criticism. Much of my research, until this postdoc, has been very solitary. At Digital Matters, I have begun to figure out how to research with others—what roles a project leader has to play, how that is different from what I do as a contributor, what is reasonable to ask of collaborators, how to harness the synergy of scholars coming to a project from different angles. To be honest, I am still learning the ins and outs of collaboration, with some stalled projects along the way, but overall these have been some of the most exciting lessons I have learned in Digital Matters.
I’d like to thank all my colleagues at Digital Matters and Marriott Library for this wonderful opportunity and especially for all the things that escape the counting with which I started—the goofy projects like my outfit generator, the technology puns, and the countless small conversations that have informed how I think of the field—and beyond. You all matter to me in so many different ways.