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 omeka.org and curatescape.org 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: http://northwesthistory.blogspot.com and http://spokanehistorical.org. 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.

 

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