Digital Humanist Interview

I started off looking for a digital humanist locally in the Treasure Valley.  I found myself knocking on the door of the Idaho Digital Learning Academy and was assisted there with a curriculum brochure and a quick tour around the office.  Going off the title I assumed this may be a place I’d find myself a digital humanist locally, but it was more of a place for doing required curricular activities for graduating at high school and post high school credit levels.  The only real in-depth digital coursework they offer on the subject of  technology are Computer Applications and Digital Photography & Communications in High school levels as well as Web Design at the college prep level.  I persisted on sending out emails to expert references given in our class as well as outside sources.  In my hunt for finding a Digital Humanist to interview I came across two individuals whom are both highly qualified and have extensive professional research in digital technology and analysis.  One of my interviewees is a graduate student attending the University of Hull,  Mastering in Humanities-Media, Culture and Society. Adam Chapman is his name, he told me that his training wasn’t necessarily geared toward using GIS systems that historians usually use for research, instead he is heavily involved in the study of history incorporated with games, an informal yet appealing approach to Historical data analysis.  Informal in the sense that his extensive training is mainly being good at playing games, however he says “the ability to play games and use gaming technology requires some kind of training this is not in the formal sense and is training now shared by many many people!” It certainly seems appealing as far as the entertainment sector, but he assured me when I asked him “What’s a typical day like at work?” he said, ” Though many people think that studying historical games means that I get to play them all day, this is unfortunately not the case and the time spent playing to writing and researching is very small.” I asked him to give me his best advice for someone pursuing his field of study, he responded “For someone wishing to become an academic I would of course advise you to work hard, find a subject you like, remain open minded and yet critical. Also be creative in your thinking, being successful at the highest levels of education and as a professional academic relies on being able to come up with original ideas that fill a gap in current research.”  Soon to be Dr. Chapman also added on a more specific note to his own field of research, “For those wanting to study games I would advise you to play a lot!   As many different types of games as possible (including boards games etc).  Also read a lot of game studies work, there is lots of high quality stuff available on the internet for is an excellent place to start.”

My next Interview was none other than Professor Paul Fyfe, he’s an assistant professor of English and History of Text Technologies at Florida State University. Professor Fyfe had lots to say about the subject of Digital Humanities, My first question was, “What kind of technical training did he acquire to do your job?”, He answered “I took four years off between undergrad and grad school, in that time working various positions in the publishing industry. That included an editorial job at a new media company where I learned lots about the web, including HTML as well as back-end technologies for content management and distribution, and worked extensively with project managers and technicians. In grad school, I experimented as much as I could with instructional technology in my own classrooms, learning from our on-campus teaching resource center and from all the generous teachers who share their experiences online.I also worked for the Rossetti Archive where I learned TEI, XML, and XLST, as well as about archival standards for texts, images, and markup data. In all of these contexts, I learned crucial lessons about how to work with people, about how to translate priorities between different constituents, about how to manage expectations and time.” He seemed very enthusiastic about his work and his progress in the field of digital studies.  I’d asked Professor Fyfe if he’d been working on any projects currently. He said, “I’m starting a project on the trans-historical relations between media past and present called Victoria Telecom: Writing in the Age of Transmission. I aim to relocate the emergence of contemporary concerns about information overload, intellectual property, network hacking, and big data in Victorian precursors, while also insisting on their unique material contexts and impact on how written forms were conceived and transmitted. I have a graduate research assistant and two undergraduate research assistant working on different elements of this, including doing some preliminary text analysis of selected corpora, and some collation of versions of given texts using software like Juxta.”  The answer that Professor Fyfe gave me for my last question was the most informative for a student like myself interested in this field of work. “What would be some advice for a person pursuing a career in Digital Humanities?” I asked.  He said to “Start listening to the field conversations.  Learn the research interests, the advocacy commitments, and the turn-offs of the community. Learn also about the constituencies involved, from librarians to alternate academics to students and so on. Though there are jobs “in” digital humanities, the careers of digital humanists can be pretty diverse. Get a sense of all the possibilities. Also, start trying stuff for yourself, whether playing in sandboxes of recently released tools, tweaking your research workflow, learning a markup or programming language, installing new platforms on your own machines, getting involved in open conversations online. Seek out formal training if it’s around, but don’t wait for it either. “

Paul Fyfe
Sep 26

to me
Hi Kyle: just stumbled across a post that describes doing sentiment analysis on your class’s DH interviews. Small world. Anyway, I wound up seeing that your assignment was due on 9/19 and I didn’t get back to you until 9/23. I hope this didn’t cause you any trouble; I’d be glad to contact your teacher if it helps. Take care — Paul

DogBlog Alan

When I first started learning about digital humanities, I was overwhelmed. By the end of a class, the only thought going through my head was, “What the hell just happened? This is not what I expected from a history class.” I thought I was well over my head. Then I spoke to Alan Levine, a digital humanist, but more importantly a man who loves what he does and enjoys helping others, like me, who are not as familiar with the digital world that we live it. It’s hard enough to find good instructors for any discipline and even more so to find someone who enjoys the work themselves.
Alan Levine is a geology major who originally started studying computer science. He went to school in Arizona to obtain his degree but really had an emphasis digital media. He is self taught for the most part, but ha a few courses focused with digital media, specifically with photography and audio. With the knowledge that he gained in school, he began teaching himself to create stories and perfecting his photography skills to help create, what is now, a work in digital story telling which a great passion of his is now.
Alan is currently an instructor helping people through online courses to better their understanding and perfecting their skills with digital media. He teaches what new media is available and how to use it. His students learn how to manipulate and improve themselves with a language he or she could understand. For example, I told him I am a 25 year old caveman who didn’t know digital humanities existed and have a hard enough time learning how to use my phone and laptop. Alan didn’t see it that way with me. He said that it wasn’t so much as me not having extensive knowledge in the digital world, but rather I know more than I credit myself and that I just need to learn more about manipulating the technology around me.
Alan feels that it is more important to focus on the passion one has rather than the focus of the technology itself. He explained that through law enforcement prospective, the digital world is growing and the greater the quality of the media, the greater one can make a difference. To take a photo of a crime scene now is much more detailed than a few decades ago. The technology of taking a generic snapshot has evolved into fine, hi-resolution photographs that will help solve crimes in the future. Audio is great too. We now have the technology to manipulate the audio that law enforcement receives and use this to helping the community around us in a multitude of areas.
I was so intrigued with his explanations; I had to ask about working for or with him. What would someone have to do to instruct classes and teach other students, like myself, about multimedia? Expecting some great emphasis on communication, technical terminology, or a plethora of computer science classes he simply stated a passion or love for a line of work. Geology major working to aide both students and professionals with bettering the world around us by educating all that he could and his answer was my own personal passion. Alan said that learning some terminology would be good to know and some communication or internet classes might help, but really it just comes down to the person and his or her career emphasis. There is no need to be a computer programmer to learn about multimedia and its capabilities when there are others around the world willing to help aide someone in understanding something new or unfamiliar to him or her.
There is always something new to learn and explore but communication is a big part in learning about technology. Alan has a blog,, where he discusses technology on a regular basis. One thing that struck me is that it is his own ideas and he accepts that sometimes he is wrong in some occasions when he posts. He doesn’t mean to be incorrect about some things but thrives on the fact that others around him, who enjoy the work with multimedia as much as he does, corrects him and help both Alan and people that follow his blog to better understand the technology around us. He finds it a real blessing that he can go online with the world, share a few thoughts, and have mature informants educate him and his followers about what the world has to offer. He brought up the fact that sources, such as YouTube, have people showing their experiences, lectures, and demonstrations first hand can help almost anyone with whatever they might be searching for. If you have new hardware or software that you aren’t too sure about and need some instruction, you’re almost guaranteed to find something on YouTube or an article elsewhere to help explain and possibly demonstrate what goal you want to reach.
Alan Levine is a very knowledgeable man with goals to help all people around him. Why even his number one goal has already been met relying that his love with teaching others. Alan lives in Arizona but travels the states constructing new material for both himself and his students he educates passionately on his online classes. Alan wishes to continue his teaching career, helping to educate others through his blog and communication media, and perhaps expand on the digital storytelling and techniques to improve both his writings and the writings of others.

Digital Humanist interview

For my interview, I had the please with talking to John McChesney-Young, a digital humanist employed at the University of California  Berkeley art department and a avid online blogger. Mr. Young grew up in Berkeley, attended UC Berkeley and graduated with a degree in paleontology, and currently still resides there. After talking with Mr Young and informing him the purpose of my interview, I could feel the excitement and passion in his voice about digital humanities.


I started by asking Mr. Young how he got in into technology and digital humanities. I never asked for his age but from his voice and picture I would presume he had to be in his mid to late 60’s. Mr. Young informed me that once computers started becoming mainstream and the invention of the internet, he realized  technology would become a very important aspect of the future.  In 2004, Mr. Young became an active blogger online discussing various things from the problems and errors on websites to sites that can help improve your life. The project that Mr. Young and a few of his online colleagues have recently been working on finding the exploits of Internet Explore and possibly help Microsoft. Mr. Young informed me that Internet explore has so many exploits that computers can get compromised simply by visiting a malicious website, which gives an attacker/hacker the same privileges as the current user allowing him to obtain your deepest darkest secrets. As of now, Mr. Young informed me that there is no plan for a patch to be released by Microsoft and that 41% of residence who use Internet explore in North America have a chance to be hacked. So if you have internet explore, you should delete that web browser and install google chrome or firefox.


Since Mr. Young has almost been active blogger for the past ten years, I asked him how technology has advanced to help digital humanist. He informed me in the past ten years there has been a drastic change. For example he told me that in present day there are many universities, museums, or research libraries that a person can go to that have some sort of visualization theater. A visualization theater is room that has a big open dome ceiling. Normally on the ceiling there will be some sort of visuals like space  or the deep ocean, but it can also be used for scientific purposes. For example, teachers can take their students within 3D models of complex molecules, virus’s, or even DNA.  Allowing to have a 3D projection in front of you and the ability to discuss with your colleagues makes it a prime learning environment.  Apparently in 2002, University of California Los Angeles was the only facility in the nation to have a visualization theater.  Ten years later, you can find almost one in every big city if not multiples.

After talking with Mr. Young, I could tell he truly appreciated his work as a digital humanist only trying to help or improve people or software.


John Theibault by Stephen Gentry

At the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey (an undergraduate and graduate college of the arts, sciences and professional studies) there is a man who walks a different path, the digital path. As a historian, he began his journey with a PhD. in early European history, but the story of John Theibault does not stop there. His published works includes books like A Short History of Europe, 1600-1815: Search for a Reasonable World and German Villages in Crisis: Rural Life in Hesse- Kassel and the Thirty Years’ War, 1580 -1720. He had a long career of teaching. He was not satisfied with the status quo and went to business school after moving to New Jersey. During the Dot-Com rage, John took a class in digital marketing and instantly fell in love with it. His passion for digital technology flourished as he began to work for a digital press for online college books long before the idea of digital reading media was popularized by amazon or apple.
Although his company closed its doors in 2002, John was inspired by the online textbooks of his past. I asked John about his thoughts on his old company and its failure. He stated that the small niche was created due to the overwhelming need for digitized media sources, but profit concerns, piracy, and online unsecure testing materials made it a hard buy for students and faculty.
John told me, he believes that we must expand the online environment through networking similar things in order to teach or lecture in the future. This virtual online environment can create a presentation that can not only be learned but also experienced.
John proudly works as the Administrator of Digital Products at Stockton College doing small end jobs for everyone who works with software. I asked him, what programs does he use normally. He replied to me with Zetero (a free endnote sharing), R (a statistical program), Omeka (for serious web publishers), and neatline (for timelines and maps). He procures best and the brightest software for the College. The best part is that it is usually free.
John still teaches a range of history courses on Early Modern Europe and a Visualizations in Digital History while grant writing. John told me that he is working on a new bibliographic visualization project. When ask what that does, he stated that the human experience can do more than just read along.
So in turn I asked him two last questions. What is the future of digital humanities? He answered simply, “I don’t know.” I did not accept that as a answer so he continued that he believes there is a hype associated with the term digital humanist. John thinks that in the long term that notion of digital will be part of an immersive environment that will become a natural and ordinary part of life. He predicts devises that would give individuals or groups a shared experience of an event whether in the past or present. Experience an audio tour or 3D theater that is a virtual world that user direct. “You are the experience!” John predicates that long before it comes to personal use, look for Hollywood to capitalize on the changes in the digital age.
My final question was the future of media and media storage. John brought up the shared experience of a movie theater today. Do we not think a movie is more funny by hearing others laugh? Movies may survive, but the distinction between movies, websites, and other digital media will begin to bleed together. However, John looks to the next few years and believes that the IPAD style tablet with continuous live streaming will begin to make waves in your home first.

Thank You Director John Theibault.

By Stephen Gentry

Interview with Melanie Schlosser

When first assigned the task to interview someone in the Digital Humanities segment of academia, I felt a bit overwhelmed. Not knowing where to start, fear of barraging the same person with interview requests, and a sense of ignorance of who does or does not qualify – left me hesitant. However, I was so lucky in contacting Melanie Schlosser a Digital Publishing Librarian/Scholarly Resources Integrator from Ohio State University. I had a great opportunity – and time – conversing with another human being passionate about digital humanities and scholarship as a whole. I would like to take this time to thank Melanie for her time and her thoughts. I was pleasantly surprised about how much fun it was to get my questions answered by a compassionate professional willing to share intriguing insights about the digital humanities discipline.

Nonetheless, let me tell you about Melanie. Melanie is a librarian. Being such, Melanie “stressed that she is not engaged in digital humanities research or teaching, but does collaborate with digital humanists in her service and librarianship”. This disclaimer made me recollect the assigned reading – of August 29th – about the digital humanities. More specifically, the “I’m Chris. Where am I wrong?” article. This article made compelling arguments about the nebulous definition of the Digital Humanities field. Chris Forester begs the question about the cogency of the digital humanities definition when he states – “So rather than introducing myself, let me try introducing you.” Forester attempts to define the Digital Humanities field – a daunting task. Melanie also fleshes out what is or is not the digital Humanities which I will explore later in this blog post.

I asked Melanie three questions that I was interested in. These questions were: (1.) The definition of Digital Humanities. (2.) Advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in the Digital Humanities. (3.) Melanie’s thought’s on the statement “the Digital Humanities is intersectional”. I will be exploring the career question first, followed by the definition and the intersectionality blurb – if word count allotment allows.

Schlosser’s advice to someone interested in a digital humanities career can be broken down into three arguments. First, get some experience, second, create your own project, and third, learn a desired skillset. But first, Melanie articulated that experience is key when it comes to the digital humanities. She suggested doing whatever you can to get involved. Such as finding a digital humanities project and offering whatever assistance possible. Schlosser did note that sometimes one must overcome cliquey attitudes. And that digital humanities projects require an orientation to openness regarding hands on work. As a quick aside, the hands on work of the digital humanities seems appealing to me. I personally like to see the results of my work, and be able to physically acknowledge contributions and progress. After talking with Melanie – the digital humanities seems right up my alley. The ability to see a hard drive fill up with data, or reworking a research question, or even collecting data about a topic that interests me – seems splendid. Second, Melanie suggested starting your own digital humanities project. When I first entertained the idea of starting my own digital humanities project, I again felt a bit overwhelmed. However, Schlosser denoted some possible resources that reduce the “dauntingness” of publishing scholarly digital humanities work. Outside possible resources include: scholars, fellow digital humanists, librarians, and programmers. Take librarianship for example, librarians use specific scholarly knowledge on how to go about completing or starting a digital humanities project. Librarians’ order books and journals and can even assist with tricky research questions. Outside resources are a necessary component of scholarly digital humanities work. Making librarianship a key component to digital humanities. Moreover, Schlosser recommended an online tool named Omeka. Omeka is a web based, web publishing platform, for all types of collection based research. It bridges the realm of scholarship, librarianship, and museum curatorship through common standards. The program’s dashboard seems easy to deal with. It utilizes keyword functions, collections, and even Youtube integration. Someone relatively new can even use the “Documentation” section or the forum to unmask difficult “how to’s”. One phrase I found compelling in talking with Melanie was “there’s no shortcut for scholarship”. Schlosser noted that slapping together a digital humanities project for the sole purpose of adding it to a resume or feeling like a digital humanist is inadequate. Authentic scholarly activity requires diligent, collaborative, efforts. Lastly, Melanie suggested developing skills necessary to the Digital Humanities. For example, learning computer programming and being able to “speak code” is a great resource for someone interested in collaborating with the digital humanities. The IT – Internet & Technology – knowledge required to complete certain digital humanities projects means there is always a need for IT skills. Learning how to code the “back door” of a given digital humanities project would appear to make oneself more employable. Schlosser also recommended the alternative academic community – something I had never heard of before. Here is the link: ( The alternative academic community made me optimistic about employment post-graduation. The job market has always appeared dismal to me. Especially the lack of tenure track positions, slashed school budgets, and the overwhelming phenomena of the “publish or perish” attitude. This has always been discouraging. The humanities are such an intriguing and intersectional field. Hopefully the rise of Digital Humanities opens more doors then it closes.


Digital Humanist interview with Dr. Bernard Frischer

Recently, after a rousing game of email and phone tag, I had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Professor Bernard Frischer, a leading scholar in the application of digital technologies to humanities research and education. Frischer has been the head of several significant projects, including virtual recreations of historical sites such as the city of Rome in the time of the emperor Constantine the Great. On his website, Dr. Frischer lists that he “and his institution have received international acclaim and have been featured on the Discovery Channel, the RAI, German Public Radio, the BBC, in Newsweek, Scientific American, Business Week, Computer Graphics World, Forbes, the New York Times and many other magazines and newspapers around the world.”

Beginning his digital humanities experiences in the 60’s, Dr. Frischer noted the importance of radio at the time. Frischer became a licensed radio operator at an early age; at the time the licensing process required a “basics of electronics” test be passed, so a general knowledge of the analog world would have been a necessity which allowed him to more easily transition into the digital age. Frischer also mentioned that when he began his career path, it was very helpful to have an understanding of the basics of photography (such as how to run a dark room, aperture and lighting etc.) as well as sound technology to ensure quality of work. As the digital age rolled around, the shift to the PC became necessary. Dr. Frischer reminisced that he had purchased his first PC in 1981 and began learning the basics of coding in the C language. Towards the birth of the internet Frischer had taken it upon himself to learn to use HTML to create his first website, which he proudly boasted was “one of the first ten thousand available on the internet”.

As Dr. Frischer progressed through his career as a digital humanist, he received his “B.A. (Wesleyan University, 1971) and Ph.D. (Heidelberg, 1975)” (as well as being recognized by numerous other scholastic groups and associations in his field of study) and would go on to become the first “head of the digital humanities lab” at UCLA when the lab was founded. Dr. Frischer noted that this would allow him much more potential for earning government grants and different sources of funding for his larger projects. As Chairman of the department, this position gave him a title and legitimized him as one of the leading professionals in the digital humanities world and greatly aided the progress of his career. While at UCLA, Frischer was appointed as founding director of the UCLA Cultural Virtual Reality Laboratory, which would become one of the first in the world to use 3D computer modeling to “reconstruct cultural heritage sites.”

In 1985, Dr. Frischer received a grant to create the world’s first remotely accessible library of Greek and Latin texts. A year later, at a conference held at Apple Computer in 1986, he gave a paper “in which he proposed creation of a digital model of ancient Rome”, the project that had originally drawn me to him in the first place, “Rome Reborn,” was not publicly exhibited until 2007, over twenty years later. In this project Dr. Frischer and his institution used a video game engine coupled with 3D modeling to recreate ancient Rome based around what archaeological knowledge we have. Dr. Frischer described to me the potential that projects like this granted for better understanding that time period. Aspects like lighting, acoustics and capacity could all be calculated and simulated based around this model. Frischer informed me of an expansion to this project, focusing on the area known as “Hadrian’s Villa” and another simulation that involves an animated population for the city complete with character interaction.

As we spoke, Dr. Frischer went on to paint the picture of a day in the life of a digital humanist, a picture that largely revolved around the magic of “Skype”. Stating that his “entire life is a series of Skype conferences after Skype conferences; it gets very busy and very confusing.” Frischer noted that he works with only one local employ for his research and projects, but relies heavily on international communication, as much of his archaeological work and field of study revolves around Europe.

After prying myself away from asking more and more about the professor’s truly incredible work, I brought out conversation towards a close by asking Dr. Frischer if he had any advice for the blossoming digital humanists out there, and of course he did. Frischer emphasized the importance of staying as busy and active as possible, a theory that he seemed to still live by as he continued to tell me about some of his other work in the field. “Use both the microscope and the telescope at the same time.” Suggesting that I start locally and keep my eyes open for involvement in projects online, throughout universities and other organizations. He suggested that I “talk to my university librarian” about any projects that needs assistance because groups are always looking for a little free, skilled help.

Overall Dr. Frischer’s conversation with me was a very enjoyable one, leaving me feeling a lot more comfortable with my understanding of what it means to be a digital humanist. Frischer’s impressive resume as well as his creative and interesting projects made for a great interview which in retrospect, turned out to be more of a free flowing conversation. There were times when we were both derailed from out main topic of conversation by one tangent or another, adding a much more personable feel to the discussion. Ultimately Dr. Frischer clued me in on one of his current projects, establishing the nation’s (if not the world’s) first Digital Humanities graduate program; a program he suggested that I keep in touch with him about, as he thought I’d make an excellent candidate!

“Do the Right Thing and Digitize”: Troy Reeves’ Interview

Many history students often wonder about the careers they will one day pursue. Admittedly, teaching is the most common answer or option that is often presented to recent graduates by the general public. But for many students, there are different avenues present. Recent graduates have the opportunity to seek a public history career, either in museum studies, archives, historic preservation, etc. Some individuals receive the privilege of finding their niches in history careers and become fortunate enough to pursue lines of work that fit their interests. Such is the case of Troy Reeves, a student of Idaho State University and Utah State University and now head oral archivist of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Oral History Program.

Troy’s was born and raised in Idaho and attended Idaho State University as an undergraduate. He first became interested in oral histories when enrolled in the second half of a United States History course. His professor at the time, handed a piece of paper to the students, exclaiming congratulations, they did not have to complete the course final (a concept all undergraduates wish their professors would consider), if they could find someone to interview who lived during the Depression. Troy had the privilege of interviewing both his maternal and paternal grandmothers, who endured during this era in history. Troy realized during his interviews that his grandmothers became more than just his family, more than just cookie-givers, they became real people with real histories. He discoverd through oral histories, one could capture a little bit of history from primary sources who were present throughout various events.

He was able to garner more information concerning interviewing and oral history documentation from folklorist at Utah State University, where he sought his MA in History. At the time they used analog transcripts. After his time at Utah State, Troy became involved in a project for the state of Idaho, conducting interviews about the Boise Green Belt. He recalls completing some three dozen interviews, but unfortunately these interviews have since been lost. In 1999, he became the Oral Historian at the Library & Archives at the Idaho State Historical Society. It was there that he met his mentor, Doug Boyd, who would share the importance of digitizing oral histories. For Troy, digitizing histories “is the right thing to do.” Early on, they would record oral interviews on mini discs (I had to Google images to see what they looked like). He explains that there is good content on the internet, but with technology moving fast he often purchased technologies that had shelf life-spans of fifteen seconds. Regardless of the technology, Troy continued digitizing oral histories for preservation purposes and public access. He provided audio clips of the Boise fire jumpers on the Idaho Archives website to further interest people in oral histories and to persuade archive visitations

In 2006, Troy applied for the University of Wisconsin-Madison oral historian position and became head oral archivist in June of 2007. He explains that while he was able to emphasize in oral histories once again, the various interviews were all on analog cassettes. He was frustrated, but knew the only way to go was up and began working on digitizing the 2,500 hours of cassette recordings. The project took three years. A project Troy became involved with at UW-Madison was that of Campus Voices. Campus Voices is actually an aggregation of 5 oral collections and attempts to interpret campus history to the community. Troy’s proudest project is that of the Sterling Hall Bombing of 1970, which was the biggest act of terrorism in the United States until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. These projects have repackaged analog material and converted the oral histories into iTunes albums, 20 minute podcasts, a thirteen minute movie, and also created a web presence for the Madison community and digital world.

Troy Reeve’s passion for oral histories are evident in his work and in this informational interview. He has a yearning to not only conduct interviews—he only does about ten to fifteen a year now that he runs the Oral History Program and is managing editor of the Oral History Review—but also provide oral histories for the students of UW-Madison and the public. He does not consider himself a digital humanist, but rather a person who understands the need of preserving oral histories through the utilization of digital tools. He recommends to all students who are interested in archives or library science to understand the necessity of providing and preserving primary sources and to “learn the entire process,” whether that be creating metadata, research summaries, or pushing interviews. An advanced degree doesn’t hurt a cause and he recommends students be willing to volunteer, even if the work doesn’t sound appealing. People will recognize commitment and work ethics, even if the jobs are “crappy.” It all benefits as a rich experience. His enthusiasm and obvious devotion to oral histories is inspiring and encourages one to pursue a history career that is both a challenge and a reward.

Campus Voices:

Interview with Cameron Blevins

For the digital humanist assignment, I interviewed Cameron Blevins, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University focusing on U.S. History, specifically the late nineteenth-century American West. This was particularly interesting to me as my own thesis research focuses on the same region and time period. Cameron’s dissertation examines the role of the U.S. postal system in the shaping of the West. Cameron and I conducted our interview via email.

First, could you please share a little bit about your background and what drew you to the field of history?
Cameron: I was a history major at Pomona College (graduated in 2008), and the summer after my sophomore year received a grant to do independent research over the summer in Connecticut. I ended up studying the life of a former slave named Venture Smith and a flurry of real-estate transactions over the final thirty years of his life. At some point in the archives I fell in love with history and realized I wanted to do this full-time.

What was it that led you to the digital humanities?  Did you have any special training?
Cameron: I was transcribing and taking notes on all of these 18th-century real-estate transactions and realized I had no idea what the land actually looked like. So I ended up using GIS to map out the boundaries of the transactions, then overlaid them onto other kinds of data – soil quality, hydrology, other real-estate deeds, etc. in order to figure out what kind of land he was buying and selling, its value, and probable use. I had no formal technological background. From there it opened me up to the wider field of digital history, and I ended up applying to graduate schools with an application geared explicitly towards digital methodology. I had a clear research agenda for how I wanted to do history (if a much more nebulous notion than most applicants on what I wanted to study from a thematic standpoint). 

What role do you see technology playing in your current projects, is it supportive to your overall narrative or is it more of a primary, integrated aspect of your work?
Cameron: Technology is central to my current project. I’m studying the geography of the late-nineteenth century US postal system. The post was a massive spatial network, and the sheer scale of its operations requires me to work with data and sources that would be unwieldy or unusable without computers. Although I’m still at an early stage, I will be relying on technology from start to finish – from gathering the data to analyzing it to crafting and presenting my arguments in non-print formats. 

What do you think are the primary challenges to incorporating digital technologies in the study of history?  Are there any particular pitfalls or shortcomings that you’ve noticed?
Cameron: Despite the popularity of digital history/humanities over the past several years, challenges still remain. One is the inherent messiness of our subject. History doesn’t lend itself particularly well to neatly-structured databases or tables. We are all about context and contingency and digital tools sometimes seem too blunt for this kind of nuanced analysis. A second, though far less (and quickly receding) challenge is institutionalized resistance to technology. I personally think this is often overblown, but I am also aware that I work at an institution and in a history program particularly geared towards digital methodology and technology. 

Finally, if you could give any advice or recommend any skills to other students just beginning to explore the digital humanities, what would they be?
Cameron: My advice to students would be to throw yourself into the technical side of things but consciously mold it to fit your interests and practical needs. The most effective skill-building I’ve done has been when I’ve learned a new skill in order to accomplish a quite specific task or project. I learned how to program in Python in order to analyze a particular historical source (Martha Ballard’s diary). All technical skill-building is good, but I think it’s most rewarding when you see an immediate pay-off from the historical standpoint. A broader piece of advice would be: collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Seek out new projects and new ideas and talk to different people. Get yourself affiliated with different digital humanities initiatives or projects on campus and off campus. Openness is one of the really positive aspects of the field, so take advantage of it.

If you are interested, I would recommend you visit Cameron’s websites to learn more about not only his own dissertation work, but also the other projects he has been involved with.

Cameron’s academic page including his research, C.V. and the open content that he has made available to share:

Cameron’s blog on history, technology and the digital humanities:

Cameron’s Twitter: @historying

Digital Humanist Interview

Digital Humanist Interview


For my digital humanist interview, I spoke with Brandi Burns. Brandi is a historian and digital humanist who currently works for the Department of Arts and History in Boise, Idaho. Brandi has a B.A. in History and a minor in creative writing from Idaho State University. She has a Masters of Applied Historical Research that she earned from Boise State University. While working for the Department of Arts and History, (A&H) Brandi has developed Boise’s first Oral History Program, part of which includes 30+ hours of interviews. Brandi also coordinates a monthly lecture series, designs exhibits, and performs research for the Mayor, City Council, city departments and the public. Brandi’s digital work includes the A&H blog and designing a digital interpretive project for the city’s 150th commemoration. As a graduate student, Brandi gained experience working at A&H as the city historian; a research assistantship awarded through the Boise State University History department. At Idaho State University Brandi worked as a lab assistant and as an intern for the historical journal Idaho Yesterdays.

When I interviewed Brandi, she expressed the importance of having a basic technological understanding; including how to add content to web sites and run a blog. Brandi, however, feels that the most important skills for a digital humanist reside in the traditional field of humanities. She told me “Remember, you are a historian and you do not need to know everything in the technology field; like how to build an app or coding a website. You just need to remember that a good digital humanist provides solid content and pays someone with the tech skills to build what you are dreaming about. They are good at tech, you are good at research, writing, interpreting, which are the skills all historians need.” Brandi’s advice reiterated many of our class readings that expressed the need, amongst so much technology, to not lose sight of what we do as humanists. The humanities are a unique field that can take advantage and utilize the numerous technological tools available to us, and by using these tools we are still able perform the type of research that sets us apart as scholars. Further, the important questions we ask can be supplemented by technology, not replaced.

Besides a basic knowledge of various technologies, Brandi felt that digital humanists should be flexible, and have a strong willingness to learn new things. She also stated that it is important to try new things, which may be out of our comfort zone. She told me a skill you need as a digital humanist is the “ability to try different things even if they make you uncomfortable.” The other skill that is paramount for a digital humanist is the ability to interpret large amounts of data for public consumption, this is especially important for historians.

Brandi recommended a few resources for aspiring digital humanists, such as the Boise City Department of Arts and History website, the Timeglider website, and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. (I noticed on our syllabus one of our assignments is to explore the Rosenzweig center) Brandi is also a fan of Northwest Digital Archives and is in the process of incorporating historical documents from Boise into this archive.

As the current city historian, I have the opportunity to learn from Brandi and to test out some of the skills and methods we are discussing in class on a daily basis. After conducting this interview, and working as the city historian, the actual day to day life of a digital humanist seems less daunting and technological frightening.

Digital Humanism in the Last Frontier

The word humanist is broadly defined, and is applicable to several disciplines. Andrew Gildersleeve defines himself as not just a humanist, but a digital humanist. Andrew graduated from Lewis and Clark Law School with his Juris Doctor, as well as his BA in English. Throughout his career, he spent time as a teacher, a writer, and most recently, he worked for the Alaska native tribal health consortium as their Digital Communications liaison. Because of his experiences working with rural Alaskans, and specifically Alaska Native peoples, I felt that his experience would lend perfectly to this interview.


What is the purpose of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium?

Among a variety of responsibilities, the primary objective was to take care of the health of the people we represented as well as the health of the environment that they were so dependent upon. We worked with people throughout the state, as well as government and corporate officials in varying positions.


What were your responsibilities as the Digital Communications Liaison?

Well, there were a lot of challenges involved with my position. I had to take  language that the fed government used in their official documentation and translate to a sort of layman speak for the native community, so in a sort I was a translator. It involved a lot of sensitivity, to be able to connect with these people and in a way that was conciliatory and helpful, and not as a bureaucratic official. I was in charge of all external communication to those communities, including designing websites, copy briefs that established tone and audience, starting social media channels to reach people, leveraging existing channels to support traditional culture programs, such as traditional food contemporary chef, the list carries on and on.


What challenges did you see the people facing recently in reflection of the economic downturn and increasing political impotency?

Living in rural Alaska has always been expensive, which is a problem for people who are not always able to find gainful employment in their village. Specifically, fuel prices skyrocketed, as well as the general cost of living, in addition to natural environmental factors such as the hard winters and disappearing villages syndrome. It’s become extraordinarily hard for these people to get by, so as their advocate I witnessed a lot of this and formed a very personal view on it. Even the influence of corporate interests have led to degradation of traditional food stocks (due to population loss from commercial fishing, over-hunting,  and disease). Thankfully, the digital age has given those people a voice in opposition to things like projects that would impact their livelihood. One such project is the proposed Pebble Creek Gold mine, which stands to threaten a vast network of rivers and streams in southwest Alaska, the spawning grounds of Alaskan Salmon, a vital subsistence source for these people.


What challenges did you face in working for a corporation?

Through my time there, I found that corporate institutional values are fundamentally at odds with the needs of the people. The corporate structure is built for survival, and even though we were a non profit, we did all sorts of deleterious to the communities- such as building water treatment facilities on top of perfectly good spring water. As a digital humanist, it was difficult to separate my personal views from my professional life- that’s why I don’t work there anymore. At the end the day, what kept me going was I knew I was working toward a good cause. I still work toward that cause, but in a fashion that doesn’t require me to sacrifice my personal beliefs in any way.


What do you believe is the biggest obstacle to humanism, digital or otherwise?

 Lack of education. The lack of dialogue. You can be ahead of the curve creating solutions and stuff, but at the end of the day there is an uneducated element that is opposed to creativity and humanism. Because I am a humanist I am naturally conciliatory, but there are a lot of dogmatic beliefs out there that impede our ability to move forward. Political polarization and an inability to compromise is the biggest threat to humanism. It’s a shame that the discussion has become so vitriolic that the basic needs of the people, rural or otherwise, are ignored in favor of everyone trying to be right. There’s no compromise whatsoever anymore. There’s no appreciation for the value that humans bring to the table based off virtue alone– no support for education, traditional languages and cultures are being neglected to the point of extinction, it’s quite sad really.

Thanks for your time Andrew, I really appreciate the thoughtful dialogue!


Although humanism is broad, it’s also very specific. Andrew has a lot of passions, his biggest being education. Through education, he believes, we can preserve the value of humans– creativity and culture specifically. It’s very interesting to see how your environment can change the way you view the world and the people in it, as every place is going to have its own set of unique challenges. Everyone places value in their own set of morals or beliefs, and like it or not, we’re all in this together.