Digital Humanist Interview with Erin Passehl-Stoddart

For my interview, I contacted Erin Passehl-Stoddart, who had been an archivist and digital librarian at Western Oregon University where I went for my undergrad. After contacting Passehl-Stoddart, I found out that she has since relocated to the University of Idaho where she is now the Digital Project Manager in the University’s Archives and Special Collections. Passehl-Stoddart earned her BA in history and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she spent time volunteering in the rare books collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society. She later went to graduate school at the University of Michigan where she earned a master’s degree in information with a specialization in archives and records management. Passehl-Stoddart noted that her first time working a digital collection was, “a little scary – I didn’t know how to code anything, and the technology was a little terrifying. However, I came to find that I loved working with new ideas and pushing boundaries for how users could interact with materials and research online.” From that experience she went on to receive a certificate in metadata for digital collections and has worked with digital collections and institutional repositories at academic institutions ever since, including at Cardinal Stritch University, Boise State University, Western Oregon University, and currently at the University of Idaho.

Collaboration, curiosity, and an open mind are all important skills to have for someone interested in the digital humanities according to Passehl-Stoddart. She stated that, “collaboration is so important; very rarely do I ever work on a project alone, and often times with people from all different backgrounds and expectations with regards to technology. It is important to be curious and open to learning new skills and ideas. You never know what you will find fascinating until you try it, including sometimes forcing yourself to feel uncomfortable with new experiences.”

Passehl-Stoddart is currently working on digitizing and creating metadata for a 550 photograph collection at the University of Idaho Special Collections and Archives. The Stonebraker photograph collection includes photos from an Idaho homesteader and pack train operator for miners at Thunder Mountain during Idaho’s last gold rush circa 1902. Passehl-Stoddart is applying GPS coordinates to the photos to provide another layer of searching capability to the collection, which will also as help researchers visualize the physical trail that Stonebraker helped create. While working at Boise State, Passehl-Stoddart worked to digitize the Peter Beemer Collection, which included a handwritten musical score of songs he heard in mining camps near Warren, Idaho. She was also able to get two musicians to reproduce recordings of the 150 year old music. According to Passehl-Stoddart this created, “a perfect example of what digital humanities can provide, an added value to existing work; in this case, performing songs that were played over 150 years ago that allows users to connect to the research and cultural material in a new way.”

I also asked Passehl-Stoddart about a project that she worked on at Western Oregon University, called WOU’s Future’s Past that incorporated videos on the history of the university and Monmouth Oregon. The project also incorporated interactive activities that were located throughout the Hamersly Library including a historical photo booth that had photo cutouts of Monmouth town founders, early students, and the 1909 women’s basketball team. I asked Passehl-Stoddart how the project came about and how students were involved in designing the project. She said that the project was, “meant as an introduction for freshman students to the university and to generate enthusiasm and interest not just in the university’s history, but as a way for students to interact with archival collections and create digital projects from it. We also used a short video I created using grant funds on the early history of the university as a jumping off point.” Students helped design the exhibits that were located throughout the library as well as researching and writing the script the video that explored the early history of Monmouth and Western.

Finally I asked Passehl-Stoddart what she would recommend for someone who was interested in the digital humanities. Her biggest piece of advice was to get experience wherever possible, whether it was paid, volunteered, or only lasted a week. Because these “experiences may change your life, take you down a new path, or provide a new relationship or networking opportunity.” While in graduate school Passehl-Stoddart, worked several different jobs and internships that all contributed to her professional interests, allowed her to travel, and to find out that the Pacific Northwest was where she wanted to settle down. Finally Passehl-Stoddart suggested that people interested in the digital humanities “don’t just focus on the ‘digital’ part – take on projects that allow you to see the big picture, everything that leads up to the ‘digital’ part. It’s all great experience.”

Learning with a Librarian

On Monday 22 September 2014, I sat down with Boise State University’s own Memo Cordova, associate professor, librarian, and library liaison to the Anthropology, Bilingual Education, and World Languages departments at Albertsons Library on campus.

Memo graduated from Boise State in 1991 with a BA in Illustration and Graphic Design and worked ten years at the Boise Public Library and Boise Art Museum before getting his Masters in Library Sciences from Seattle. From there he worked at the Nampa Public Library for a year and then began working for Albertsons Library again in 2005. Since then he has published many articles and contributions to books which focus on the connection between people, technology, and information. This is mainly what our interview focused on.

Going into the interview, I thought I wanted to talk about the future of the book and libraries and if he believed the book (and thus the library) was at an end. But what I got was a schooling on the fundamentals of books and, especially, libraries and a new vision of what our world might look like in years to come.

In 2005 Memo began writing about technology and libraries and how they are interconnected. He said to me, “Books are the simplest way to convey information” and that for hundreds of years they have been the most convenient way to spread knowledge and convey information. Beginning with clay tablets and stone markings until early versions of paper was widely used which then lead to letters, documents, and paperbacks and we recorded what we knew-our thought, dreams, questions, answers- into them and spread them around. Then someone came up with the smart idea to save many of these thoughts and ideas into one place where people could access them and gain the information they wanted: the library. However, in came the technological age and everything was digitized. We got computers, recording devices, tablets, smartphones, and most importantly, the Internet. This made knowledge even more accessible. People got crazy; it was socially acceptable to put out for the whole world to see what you ate for breakfast and snap pics of the neighbor’s dog and tell everyone just what a terrible, horrible day you’ve had. And the information got muddled. There is too much information, for too little time and space. And so there are books, which are like little hand-held sized condensed versions of the information you need from the internet.

But is that all a library is? A bunch of floors filled with a bunch of shelves filled with a bunch of books? If so, the end of the library is quite plausible. Although many of my own generation still enjoy the feel and smell of an old dusty book, this will not be so in the many generations to come after us. So, is this really the end of the library?

The answer is: of course not!

As we broached the subject, Memo told me that “libraries are not just books.” He said that libraries are constantly adapting themselves to fit in the world society has made or them. With the introduction of the Internet, yes, there comes the onslaught of information when accessing the web, but most librarians have become proficient at data mining or, in the case of Boise State’s librarians, guide students to research topics and databases they might never have found on their own. Also, many libraries have been implementing new technology as demand increases. This includes not just laptops and tablets, although this form of technology has vastly increased the mobility and accessibility of information, but also e-books and creating blogs and pod-casts and using other forms of social media to reach out to the public. They do this because it is what is in demand, it’s what the public wants to see: the information they want from a place that is not only familiar but also convenient and in a convenient and modern format.

Basically what Memo left me with was, “As long as people need access to information, there will always be libraries.” I will admit that before I had interviewed Memo Cordova, I had bought into the hype that books and libraries are practically extinct and that future societies will have no place for them. But after talking with him I find that I am now excited to see the future of libraries and where they will go from here!

Thank you, Memo, for everything you taught me in our session. You have given me many things to think about for not only the future of knowledge but for my own future as well.


Interview with a Digital Humanist, Jim Calder of the Ohio Humanities Council

Over the past several days I have had intermittent conversation with Jim Calder, the director of the Ohio Humanities Council. Based on the work he contributed to Hacking the Academy I really wanted to pick his brain on a few things, namely what he thought the digital humanities were, where it had been and was going form here, and where things like Unconferences fit into the wider scope of academia. His answers were hilarious as well as enlightening.

One of the crowning achievements of his career thus far was he and a few other colleagues helped the unconference THATCamp Columbus 2010 (as he called it) get off the ground and flourish the way it did. He was in a unique position to have such a large hand in the production of the unconference because as he said he “had been too young to have much involvement with more traditional conferences anyways”. The production of the conference for him was somewhat accidental. He just started his job at the Ohio Humanities Council, heard about the percolating ideas from a colleague at Cleveland State, and thought it would be a good idea for him personally, because it was right up his alley, as he said, and would be a good thing for him to take on professionally. From the conversation we’ve had the conference was a huge success, and was the second regional THATCamp that had ever been done. The success and fun he had at the THATCamp is something he considers to be one of the crowning achievements of his career. He was particularly happy with how well it worked because the whole idea of an unconference was such a new idea to so many of the participants, so it was almost in a way really good validation. Based on the work he contributed to Hacking the Academy he claims he is a really big fan of unconferences because they were, as he said “such a natural idea to me”. He also expressed his thoughts on the more “traditional” conference, such as a Phi Alpha Theta regional conference: “…it is kind of pointless to gather a bunch of professionals together and have them read to each other”. It was interesting to get his opinions on unconferences, because he said he saw more or less one of the most basic human interactions, that you give to another human in an interaction what you receive, to be a core piece of an unconference, and perhaps he didn’t see that in a more traditional conference.

As far as where he works in the context of the digital humanities is concerned, he feels that since, say 2008 things “…certainly haven’t improved…”. There is change that is occurring at all levels of the university, he feels, but he really doesn’t think the Digital Humanities (DH as he calls it) has really any sort of part to play in that, both in the change coming, nor in the faults of the university system. One of the most important questions I asked him was whether or not he thought the Digital Humanities was changing the university or academia on the whole in any part, large or small. He expressed he himself is not entirely comfortable with the idea of “hacking” anything, as the title of the book to which he contributed Hacking the Academy alludes to. I think his feelings about DH changing academia harkens back to his original thoughts about the massive changes of technology five to six years ago. At that time, he said, he was a lot more optimistic about technology’s abilities to incur change than nowadays. Now, he feels the change that is expected as a whole is “…completely dependent on how the technology is used o in what structure it is used in….”

All in all, while the idea of Digital Humanities as a whole has not incurred any major change, he says, he has noted the concerted and fervent efforts of some of his colleagues and contemporaries. He said because of those people and their efforts, “…the way humanities are practiced, the scholarship that is produced, what counts as scholarship, and also the culture within that department or other universities….” have come a long way. So perhaps the changing of academia by and large at the hands of Digital Humanists isn’t a mass effort or that the DH is one large scale body, but more concentrated efforts of one person to a few, slowly building things that starts an avalanche of change.

Interview with Digital Humanist, Dr. Larry Cebula

What is the Digital Humanities? This is a question I have spent a lot of time pondering over the last few weeks. I have spent time talking to different individuals throughout the public world, and the world of academia. One of the best descriptions of the digital humanities is from Dr. Larry Cebula, he said, it’s the humanities “making it up as we go along.” I think that’s a prefect description; this is a new era of knowledge. Like the printing press, Internet and the digital arena has now brought knowledge to the common folk. Whether it is a good ol’ boy from Western North Carolina…. Just saying… or an underprivileged youth from the inner city of New York, knowledge is at their fingertips. No longer the tool of the elitist to hold over the average person.

For my Digital Humanist Interview I interviewed Dr. Larry Cebula, a few times actually. Dr. Cebula is a professor at Eastern Washington University and specializes in Public/ Digital History. Dr. Cebula made sure I understood the concept these are two very… very similar fields, “digital humanities IS public history,” stated Dr. Cebula. His education took him trough the interesting world of Ethno-Historic studies, where he earned his Ph.D. studying Native American culture. He published a book on the Columbian River Plateau Indians. I found this to be truly fascinating and inspiring. A professional academic whose academic specializations are of the traditional mindset, while his more recent developed specializations are in a field he did not in fact receive any formal training in. He receive is training in the digital humanities as the Mississippi State Museum digital director. It gives me hope that a lowly undergraduate history student can put their skills to learn in an up and coming digital job market. Dr. Cebula also mentioned the interesting fact that Eastern Washington University has the first ever state digital archive built from the ground up, and made specifically to be a digital archive.

When I asked Dr. Cebula, “What skills should a digital humanist have?” I expected the traditional answer of “why coding of coarse!” This is not the answer he gave me. He actually told me he did not know how to code, but he knew incredibly smart people, and organizations like and that did. To be frank this blew me away, I assumed a digital humanist had to know about coding, or at a minimum had to know HTML; this is apparently not true. Dr. Cebula is one of the most decorated and known digital humanists I have encountered, and the man does not know HTML. There is hope for us technology defunct individuals. I did not know and frankly still do not know the skills and talents needed by a digital humanist, other than the ability to learn and the desire to push the limits.

An interesting development taking place within the field of digital history is how the guidelines for tenure track and graduate student’s are changing. It historically has been though their publications in which Professors are granted tenure and tracked through the system. Also, in the humanities graduate students have been required to produce an in depth research paper for their thesis or dissertation. This is no longer the case for certain programs. At Eastern Washington University their graduate program in public history requires students to complete a project, to develop a digital portfolio to display their research and work.

“What are the limits?” I attempted to ask Dr. Cebula. I was quickly reminded the limits are those of your mental capacity to see the future and their needs. I took this, as the futures of the digital humanities are endless! This is a truly empowering experience, especially for an undergrad. I am not used to pushing the boundaries, especially in a field like the digital humanities. To learn you hold the future of a revolutionary field in your hands. This is quite the experience for someone who assumed the studies of history should entail the long and ambiguous studies of lost cultures. Bottom line, Wrong! We are to push the limits and attempt to get the information hoarded by scholars to the average individual. To get the information of top scholars and academics like: Dr. Cebula, Dr. Madsen-Brooks, and Dr. Brian Alexander to the regular, and underprivileged being.


Dr. Larry Cebula’s current contributions to the digital humanities can be found at: and The Northwest blog is an extraordinary explanation of both the Immigrant-American and the Native American’s contributions to humanity. I was particularly interested in his work on the Native American’s contribution to current pop-culture, with their contributions to the local, and national artistic scenes.


Digital humanities and Technology

          I have been assigned to interview a digital humanist for my digital humanities class at Boise State University. I started by searching twitter pages and sending out a few emails to find a professional. After this dedicated research, William Turkel agreed to answer a few questions for me on the subject. Turkel is a computational historian, a big historian, does physical computing, desktop fabrication, and of course is a digital historian. In addition, he teaches at Western University in Canada. From reading up about Turkel he seemed more then qualified as a digital humanist.

Still, if you’re like me your not sure what many of his qualifications mean. For starters computational history is using abstract machines to decipher information; for example, deciphering various forms of languages in different dialects. Then there is a big historian, one who looks at history on a large scale starting with the beginning of time up to the current day. Next, Physical computing is machines that take analog information and digitizes it for computers. Physical computing is great for digitizing written information. Along with this Turkel does desktop fabrication, which falls into the field of 3D printing. Desktop fabrication is the designing of3D printing modules. Most of these fields can translate into one another allowing for overlap in ones profession.

As we can already tell William Turkel is a professional when it comes to computers. Currently, he is working on a self-replicating device, aka 3D printer using technology from the industrial revolution. Additionally, he is studying the 20th century analog computers. He and his colleges are reverse engineering the vacuum tube base computers of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s using transistors from a new decade. When Turkel isn’t building devices he’s teaching Max 6 programming to undergrad students at Western’s new digital humanities program and to grad students in his interactive exhibit design courses.

Now that you know a little bit about Turkel we can move onto my interview. I started by asking Turkel what began his interest in digital humanities, a pretty basic question. He responded, “I have been programming since I was a child. When the sources that humanists use started to be digitized in large numbers like texts, images, moving pictures, audio, and so on, then it became obvious that humanists could use programming to develop new research methods. The Web 2.0 shift, from a web of pages to a web of people, created many more opportunities.” Following this Turkel defined a digital humanist as “If someone has an interest in the traditional questions of the humanities basically, what does it mean to be human, and if they use computational methods or tools to approach those questions, then they are a digital humanist.” His definition was straight forward, which I personally liked. My version of his definition is, if someone uses technology to understand or better human kind they can be classified as a digital humanist.

Earlier I described some of William’s current projects, but when I asked about current humanist projects he explained his work is focused on “creating tools to work with non-textual digital sources, primarily images and audio.” Following this I asked what skills should a new digital humanist have? He explained how it is less about having the skills and more about the willingness to learn and continue learning new technical skills. He said “ You should get use to typing computer error messages into Google”

As our discussion continued I inquired about writing code as well as his feelings towards EBooks vs. traditional paperback. Foremost, Turkel writes code everyday. He feels all students should be learning this skill, but he understands that’s not a reality. He feels writing code and programming is “creative, powerful, and a lot of fun.” Still, your average student is not literate on writing code. Personally, I feel Universities should put a stronger enfaces on writing code. The way our current society is going, writing code will be a helpful skill. On the subject of EBooks vs. paperback he feels the two work well but call for different circumstances. He uses EBooks all the time but enjoys sitting in a chair and reading a regular book. From there, I asked about libraries and if he feels they are adapting to a more technological world. He said, “I think that libraries are doing a pretty good job of adapting to the contemporary world, especially given the budget limitations they usually face. Some of their patrons, not so much.”

In my final interview question I asked how he saw the future of digital humanities? He said that’s up to me! Personally, I am not sure how I fit into the world of digital humanities. With the current class I am taking, digital humanities 381, I know I will impact the community somewhat with our current project. We currently have been tasked to create a historical website in an effort to help preserve the Central Rim community here in Boise. The Central Rim is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Boise with a long history. Well-known figures like the Albertson family have lived in the Central Rim. I am excited to see what my class and I can accomplish. Personally, I think I will impact the humanities by connecting people to one another in differing fields. Additionally, I hope by posting my personal experiences through future blogs I will associate my feeling with other’s who are struggling in similar ways.

Finally, after the interview finished I followed up one last time. I was curious how his current job relates back to what he wanted to do in life. From talking to him, I gathered he truly enjoyed what he did. I asked if his current job was a childhood dream. On top of this I mentioned that not many people get paid to take apart old computers and rebuild them. He said, “I do really enjoy my work. When I was a kid I liked codes, spy gadgets and of course the Star Trek tricorder. I started learning about programming and electronics based on those interests. So I guess that was partly responsible for me getting into the digital humanities.” Finally, I would like to thank William Turkel for taking the time to talk with me. I enjoyed grasping a deeper understanding of what the digital humanities mean.
By, Alexander Martinez

DH Interview with Ian Read

I decided to interview a former professor, Dr. Ian Olivo Read. Dr. Read is an Associate Professor of Latin American Studies at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, California. He received his B.A. from DePaul University, his M.A. from University of Chicago, and his PhD from Stanford. I thought he would be helpful for the purposes of this course because he received a National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Fellowship.

Dr. Read is currently working on a book-length project studying the movement of epidemics in 19th century Imperial Brazil, which employs “geographic information system (GIS) tools, digital records derived from archival research, and database organizational techniques.” His very interesting project website includes archival sources, maps, and other information and can be accessed at

Dr. Read shared that he became interested in the Digital Humanities at about the same time as it was being labeled as such. He had been attracted to a PhD program at Stanford which combined his interests in the social sciences and history, and through that program was able to work with sociologists that used network analysis and GIS technologies.  By his second year, he was pursuing a project which involved social networking and network graphs, which have since become part of various publications he has written. In a broad sense, these examine the links between people and various social phenomenon. He later used GIS as a tool for his dissertation work, learning it at a basic level in order to create maps and do spatial analysis.  He later created more maps to provide visual representations of his arguments when he turned his doctoral dissertation into a book. Dr. Read commented on the importance of maps, noting that they continue to be useful as almost all social phenomena are spatial phenomena, and that maps lead to new questions and avenues for understanding.

Most recently, Dr. Read became interested in using content analysis quantitatively. For example, in researching Brazilian newspaper databases he found that the frequency of the world “slave” very closely matched a pattern which mirrored the population of slaves at different times. In terms of research, Dr. Read says that the Digital Humanities have become an important tool not only for asking questions, but for framing new questions. He said that “when you gain these tools you start to realize there are more questions you can ask,” which often changes the direction of the research. Dr. Read has also embraced the Digital Humanities in his teaching, albeit to a lesser extent. He teaches an introductory course on the Pacific Basin, in which students read an approximately 800-page text about the history of the Northern Pacific from about 1500-1950. Since this is a huge amount of material to cover, he has found that by putting his students into groups and having them map the lessons on Google Earth, they are better able to comprehend the material. He finds that Google Earth is a great teaching tool, containing a lot of the capabilities of a GIS program but in a user friendly way that only takes about an hour to learn.

Dr. Read recently decided to end a start-up consulting company he was involved in for two years, which offered GIS services aimed at providing cartographic tools at academic researchers and writers. He said he was able to learn a huge amount about GIS in that time, and had some great advice for those interested in GIS. He noted that it is possible to learn basic GIS in 10-20 hours, and while ARCGIS maintains a virtual monopoly over the industry, there is a program called Quantum GIS or QGIS which works as well as ARC for basic use and is completely free. Furthermore, there are tutorials on YouTube and he recommends anyone interested in learning GIS to spend even 10 hours learning QGIS and listing it as a skillset on a resume.

Another helpful bit of advice Dr. Read recommended for those interested in the Digital Humanities is to master Excel. He noted that in his experience with content and spatial analysis, networking, and GIS, basic database management such as the ability to store and manipulate data is a critical skillset. While there are more advanced internet databases such as SQL, he said that even using Excel can be a great time-saving tool. Dr. Read further remarked that beyond writing and analysis skills, visual and design experience is a great tool to have in the Digital Humanities, as even using something such as a mobile mapping device involves maximizing space and utilizing design elements like colors, symbols, and placement. These are skills can be self-taught through reading.

In regards to DH overall, Dr. Read believes that the greatest amount of activity, interest, and funding lies in content analysis paired with networking, and in using GIS to analyze social phenomena or even map out literature. For those interested in pursuing DH, he recommends learning how to use these skills in new, intersectional ways. One resource he recommends is Stanford’s Terrain of History program, which is highly funded and has an interactive website which is a great tool. Stanford’s Humanities Lab is at the forefront of content analysis. Dr. Read laments that within the traditional humanities about 95% of researchers are not using DH tools, but notes that there is a lot of interest forming and we are just at the beginning phase. I sincerely hope so, and greatly enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Read and learn about his experience in the Digital Humanities. He was a wellspring of advice and offered great guidance for my thesis work and for the class.

Local Digital Humanist Amy Vecchione Makes Your Life Easier!

When trying to understand a new field of study, it is helpful to interview a person well-versed in the discipline. Consequently in my journey to explore the rapidly growing field of digital history I found the opportunity to interview a digital humanist quite enlightening. I spoke with Amy Vecchione, a Digital Access Librarian at Boise State University whose duties include providing web content for the Albertsons Library website, facilitating the creation of user content, and eliminating barriers to information access. Her self-described goal is to “make it easy for students to access information.” For example, if a student is perusing the website looking for a journal article or e-book, Vecchione wants them to be able find it within two to three clicks of the mouse, as opposed to nine to ten. A typical day for her could include meeting with students in order to assist them, creating web content, or designing and running workshops. Clearly this is one digital humanist who knows how to stay busy.

Vecchione entered college wanting to do archives, specifically digital archives. She holds both a B.A. and a M.L.I.S. in Library and Information Sciences from the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Washington respectively. While at Berkeley as an undergrad she digitized the free speech movement papers, which documented the 1964-65 student-led movement arguing for the right of students to form political clubs and practice free speech. Vecchione performed the digital markup, building the infrastructure architecture of the website that digitally displayed the data contained in the papers. She is proud of her work in this endeavor, proclaiming that the digital archiving of this important movement helps those studying it to better understand what happened intellectually on campus during those tense years. During Vecchione’s time at Washington she learned much about digital architecture, as it is emphasized strongly in the college’s curriculum. Digital architecture involves both the theoretical and practical know-how of how users search for and locate information. For Vecchione, an understanding of digital architecture is vital to her current position. She also studied several theoretical frameworks, including “user experience,” the study of how a user perceives the utility of a particular website or other product. She says Aaron Schmidt’s book Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library has been very useful for her.

Vecchione’s education has prepared her for a career in the digital humanities, a career that has sent her to many places and has her working with all sorts of people. Before her current position at Boise State, she worked in many different libraries, primarily in archiving work. Most recently she held a position at the Idaho State Archives. Currently, Vecchione is working with the city of Boise to transform data into open access content via the Open Boise project. The goal of this project is to link citizens with data they might need, including crime rates, historical information, business listings, and much more. Vecchione says that Boise is behind the curve in this field as compared to other cities in the U.S. She adds that it is important to complete this project because cities that link citizens with data are better able to retain their high tech work force. For Vecchione, the hardest part of her job is generating consensus among work partners. She says a digital historian must learn to be flexible and can not get stuck doing just one thing.

Vecchione was very helpful in suggesting resources to assist the aspiring digital humanist. Among the digital tools that she says help to get the job done are the text editing website Edit Pad Lite, Skype, Google Drive, and the remote file backup service Drop Box. She also suggests learning how to code in multiple computer languages. She says learning how to read HTML, CSS, and Bootstrap is a vital skill in this field. Vecchione suggests taking as many coding classes as you can and, barring that, at least messing around with websites geared toward teaching code like Code Academy. She also suggests checking out Atomic Learning, a self-help website geared towards technological training. After achieving the technological know-how from these helpful websites, the digital humanist can turn to the DML (Digital Media Learning) Hub. This multi-faceted site focuses on civic engagement and digital histories, but also engages users to connect with the world through amazing, inspiring, and captivating projects. Vecchione says the DML Hub is always a wellspring of good ideas. When it comes to marketing tools, she suggests using Google Analytics.

I found Amy Vecchione to be an affable, engaging woman, eager to help an aspiring historian better understand the rapidly changing world of digital history. She told me that she has done her job well when students don’t notice the process of searching for a library resource because they find it so quickly. So the next time you find what you need at Albertsons Library, remember what an asset Vecchione is to this university.

My Interview with Bethany Nowviskie!

I got the opportunity to interview Bethany Nowviskie who is the Director of the Scholar’s Lab and Department of Digital Research & Scholarship at University of Virginia Library. After exploring her website (, I knew that Bethany would be a great digital humanist to interview. After an initial few emails being exchanged, I found the she was a very busy woman but was willing to take a few minutes to reply. Therefore, I stuck to simply questions throughout the interview. Below are my questions followed by her responses in italics:

1. What academic background do you have that has prepared you for your position as a Digital Humanist? Any specific classes or technological trainings?

My PhD is in English, but I really focused on digital humanities subjects for my dissertation (before it was called DH — when “humanities computing” was the common term). I took some relevant classes from Jerome McGann and John Unsworth along the way, but most of my training was extra-curricular, on-the-job, or self-taught.

2. What does your average day consist of? Are there any big projects that you have previously worked on or something you are working on now?

If you look at “recent funded research activities” on my CV, you can get a sense of my digital projects. “Speaking in Code” has just wound up, but Neatline is an ongoing project even though the grants have ended. As far as an “average day,” you could look for some of my past entries for the Day of DH project (which is a community ethnography project to document a day in the lives of digital humanities practitioners) — but, for the past couple of years, my time has been increasingly taken up with three kinds of service and organizational work: 1) work for professional associations (I have just finished terms as President of ACH, the major professional association for digital humanists, and as chair of the Committee on Information Technology at the Modern Language Association, and I am currently a steering member of ADHO, the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations and the chair of its Conference Coordinating Committee); 2) work on faculty governance issues at UVa (just finishing up a term as chair of our General Faculty Council and an executive committee member of UVa’s Faculty Senate); and 3) work as our Provost’s Special Advisor for Digital Humanities, helping to re-organize DH services and set directions at an institutional level. This is all stuff outside my regular job duties as a director in the Library and member of our library’s senior leadership team and as director of the Scholars’ Lab, which have been ongoing. So you can see my time is increasingly taken up with administrative, service, and organizational work, which keeps me away from working directly on DH projects. I miss that kind of work

3. What are some skills that you need as a Digital Humanist?

It’s crucial to have a serious grounding in one or more academic humanities disciplines, so you know some humanities content and current research questions at a very deep level. Beyond that, you should hone your skills as a collaborator, because very few DH projects can be accomplished alone. I think it’s important to have an understanding of and appreciation for research questions and new directions in information science, computer science, design, and software development and a grasp of the culture and mission of galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (the “GLAM” sector — particularly the value they place on open access to cultural heritage resources).

4. Do you have any advice for someone interested in the Digital Humanities?

Don’t just be interested in “the digital humanities.” Be able to clarify for yourself WHAT about DH interests you — what social or intellectual problems you want to address with new technology (including things that may not have been traditionally part of “the humanities,” but where humanities ideas are key! an example might be climate change or social justice); what kinds of humanities subjects, texts, artifacts, or other media, and issues motivate you to learn more and enrich your own life; what kinds of things (content or methods) you are most excited to share with others or teach them; and why you care.  If you know all that, you’ll find the right corner of the DH world to grow in and thrive, and that will lead you to the right tools and techniques.  Don’t go for the gadgets first: go for the meaning.

5. What is your definition of the digital humanities?

I don’t think it’s fruitful to define DH. So many people in the academy are feeling embattled and short-changed and anxious right now — and so many academics have a hard time seeing beyond their disciplines, their types of institutions, their countries, etc. — that past attempts to offer definitions have been divisive. They are inevitably partial (from one particular perspective, even when innocently or kindly meant) and are so often received as attempts to stake claim or close doors to others, that I don’t think it’s a productive exercise.  If I had to say something, it would be that digital humanities *is* whatever people inspired by the various DH communities and concepts and goals *do.*

Bethany had a lot of very helpful information regarding digital humanities. You do not necessarily have to consider yourself a digital humanist in order to participate in the digital humanities. I found out much more than I could have imagined from this short interview with Bethany.

Interview with Dr. Michelle Moravec

I was privileged to interview Michelle Moravec who is an associate professor and Women’s Studies director at Rosemont College in Pennsylvania and a subject area specialist for NITLE. Dr. Moravec is highly engaged with the digital humanities. She blogs at History in the City, converses with her colleagues and students via Twitter , is currently working on several digital projects, regularly presents at digital history conferences and uses class blogs and digital assignments with her students.

As the digital humanities are a relatively new field, I was first curious how Dr. Moravec found herself a part of it. While some digital humanists purposefully pursue the discipline at larger institutions, many have found themselves a part of the field by happenstance; they combined their traditional education with the technologies of the modern world. Dr. Moravec is a part of this later group. She called her participation in the digital humanities “accidental.” While out on sabbatical, she was looking for a way to keep in touch with her students so she kept a blog and communicated via Twitter. She enjoyed that and began to look at different ways to communicate with her colleagues. As an associate professor at a small, private university, she often felt isolated from her peers across the country. She began to explore digital methods of networking with them and quickly became enveloped in the digital world. Dr. Moravec did point out that she was tenured and mid-career and felt that she had a lot of freedom to play around with new ideas. Had she been at the beginning of her career, raising small children, and focused on publishing, she probably would not have pursued digital methods with such fervor.

Dr. Moravec has been blogging, tweeting and using digital research tools for over three years now. This past year has been the first time that she has started using digital methods in her classroom and publishing digitally and she is happy with the results from both. Her students use hands-on, real world digital skills to engage with history. They participate digitally by editing Wikepedia entries or browsing Pinterest to find historical images. Both of these methods not only prompt her students to think like 21st century historians, they also allow her to have a quick “check-in” with what they have digested in class. Her current book project is also going to be digitally peer-reviewed. She is excited about the amount of new readers that she is able to reach online and is looking forward to getting feedback as she is writing, rather than at the end. She values collaboration and transparency and seeks to “erode the division between private and public.”

There are still some tensions in academia about blogging. I am interested in the reception that blogging professors have received from their peers and if they have ever run into privacy or over-exposure issues. Dr. Moravec indicated that blogging has been an overall positive experience for her. It rebooted her career and gave her a much wider audience and peer group. The majority of her speaking engagements come from groups that found her blog or other digital platforms, rather than a journaled article or her older books. She did indicate that her credentials help. She has a PhD from a prestigious university and was already an established historian before she began employing digital methods. We discussed the difficulty of using digitally published work to apply for tenure and she was not able to say what that journey might look like for a new digital historian. But she did say that she felt the time that it took to create an online presence has been completely worth the effort and that she is now reaping more rewards as a digital historian than in her earlier career.

The last piece of advice that Dr. Moravec left me with was to first create a firm foundation in my discipline and then find digital methods to fill in gaps and expand my horizons. Regardless of the strides that technology makes, we will not stop using the tried and true historical analysis practices of the past. A digital historian must first be a good historian. Even if one is a genius coder or website designer, you will not go far in any form of academia without a strong historical background. Although a history student would be a fool to leave Graduate school without digital skills, she cautioned an over-emphasis in this area. We live in an over-saturated job market and students must be engaged and comfortable with the old and the new.

Interviewing Dr. Moravec was a rewarding experience not only for the encouragement I received about what I am interested in, but also for the cautionary warnings. She was upbeat and positive, while still honest about the pitfalls of the digital humanities. I also felt inspired to step up my game and work even harder to be an excellent historian with excellent digital skills.

Digital Humanist Interview of Dr. Ian Milligan

Brittany Reichel

Digital Humanist Interview

Interviewee: Dr. Ian Milligan

On September 4th at 12:00pm Central Mountain Time

When I first started looking for a digital humanist to interview I thought twitter would be the best way to find one. I instead ended up posting a sub-reddit under ‘Digital Humanism’ calling out for any digital humanists in need of interviewing. There I found a flurry of people I could delve into. I chose Ian Milligan because of this website I found through reddit. The website, hosted on word press, is It is co-authored by Ian, Scott, and Shawn. What caught my attention immediately was the content of the website. It is called ‘The Historian’s Macroscope: Big Digital History’ and they “peel back the layers of a particular approach to big data using topic modeling and network analysis”. This is a fancy way of getting my attention because this topic is of particular interest to me as a history major that has quite literally grown up in the new digital medium that they discuss in more detail.

After a few technical difficulties i.e. my microphone not working for the interview, and neither Ian nor I realizing until the last minute that we are in different time zones, we got the ball rolling. Ian is an assistant professor of Digital, Canadian, and Youth History at Waterloo University in Canada. He did his PhD work at York University; where he first started finding his interests lie in digital methods and learned web archives. He told me about finishing his PhD early and that he decided to stick around at York for a while. After his PhD he decided, from a lack of not much to do after a doctorate, that he would teach himself to program. He ended up doing a postdoctoral for about three months long at Western University. Here he looked at sources, music lyrics, old websites and archived all this information.

More than anything he thought that his mathematical and language textual training helped him with his current position. He sighed heavily when telling me about all the coding he has had to do. Ian’s passion is focused towards his current work. I asked him what a typical day looked like for him and he responded ‘now or in the summer?’ with enthusiastic gusto. He told me all about his back and forth schedule. Right now he teaches two courses during school semesters. One is a senior seminar on Canadian Social Movements and the other is a Research History Methods course. In between his class work he tries to work on the book he is currently writing on the website mentioned above and earlier. During the summer he is doing full time research and writing for his book. He starts off reading lots of blogs and moves into web archives. In this book project he is working on with Shawn and Scott, he explained, “at this time historians don’t know how to analyze web archives. With 500,000 images from the web, how can we use computer science methods to learn about history? What do web archives mean for historians?”

After discussing his book I really wanted to ask him if he had any advice for someone interested in digital humanities. He told me that a basic understanding of everything from computers and algorithms, to a basic Google search is important. He also said it is important to know why some search engines are at the top of the list vs. the bottom. Along with that the basic skills of being able to write well, take criticism, give criticism, and maintain that spirit of inquiry among yourself is important as someone seeking this profession. As you might delve into those skills, it is also important to decide early on which side of the digital humanities you are passionate about. We talked about the academic side vs. the programming side. He says the reality of the market to many people who get PhD’s in this field know that programming is in high demand. But he also said it is like every other job. He recommended that if you have sincere interests in this field you want to find a mentor and a good grad program that you can follow. “Don’t work to hard but treat it like a job. Work every day, have a good research question that you think you need digital methods to answer.”

All in all I had a great time getting to know Ian. I think the book he and his fellow academics are writing is going to be very useful to us historians of the future. They are right when they say that historians don’t really have a way of analyzing web archives right now. There is an increasing amount of digital sources being produced every day and hardly any way or know how of cataloging them. Eventually an academic standard is going to need to be set in stone just like any other format of the professions like APA, MLA, etc. More than that, I think their book project will challenge our lens of inquiry. It’s telling us to look at the humanities through a larger lens and multiple lenses at the same time.