Go West, Young Man


I’m very pleased to share that starting August 1, I will begin a new job as Assistant Research Professor of Digital Humanities at Brigham Young University. I will be part of BYU’s Office of Digital Humanities, which is located in the College of Humanities. I will join colleagues who are experts in computer-assisted language learning, computational linguistics, and, of course, digital humanities.

BYU has an extensive history in mixing computers and humanistic inquiry. When I was a student there in the mid-1990s—how time flies!—I remember courses being offered in a Computers and Humanities (CHum) minor. I’ve kicked myself more than once for not taking some of those courses from Chuck Bush and others. The minor has been renamed as Digital Humanities and Technology in the last five years, and offers tracks in digital humanities, print publishing, and web publishing. I’m pleased that I’ll be teaching courses regularly in the minor, including “Introduction to Digital Humanities,” a course with which I have some history. BYU is intensely focused on undergraduate education, and I’m tremendously excited to return to thinking hard about how to teach digital methods to humanities students and to teach humanities methods to students who come from other parts of the university as part of BYU’s Humanities+ / +Humanities initiative.

In addition to teaching, I will continue to do what I have done for the last six years: partnering with other researchers—undergraduates, grad students, faculty, librarians, and other staff—and imagining, designing, managing, and shipping digital scholarship projects. I was impressed with the range of people I met with at BYU who are well on their way with projects in connection with BYU’s ODH.

N.B. You can’t use the acronym ODH without thinking of the National Endowment for the Humanities‘s Office of Digital Humanities. In this time of disastrous budgetary requests on the part of the person who somehow sits at the desk in the Oval Office, it’s important to advocate as loudly and strongly as possible for the work done by that Office’s Director and Program Officers. I have had the great pleasure to participate in two different NEH-funded workshops as well as acting as an occasional grant reviewer, and you would be hard pressed to find individuals more dedicated to the advancement of humanities education and research than these public servants. If you need advice on how to get started on advocacy for the NEH, please see this post and this one by Jason Rhody, formerly of the NEH’s ODH and now Director of Digital Culture at Social Science Research Council. You can also join the Modern Language Association in calling on the government to come to its senses. And if you want to see the impact that the NEH as a whole has had in your particular state, please see this project and accompanying blog post by Patrick Smyth as well as this series of visualizations and discussion thereof by Hannah Aizenman, Tahir Butt, and Jojo Karlin, all GC Digital Fellows in the GC Digital Initiatives Program at the CUNY Grad Center.

Of course, changes in employment means leaving behind work and colleagues. For the last two years, I have been working in the Brown Library and its Center for Digital Scholarship. Recently, I have been managing one of the two flagship projects for Brown’s grant for digital scholarship from the Mellon Foundation. The Alchemy in Code team is working with Tara Nummedal (Brown) and Donna Bilak (Columbia) to create a digital edition of Michael Maier’s 1617 emblem book, Atalanta Fugiens, along with an edited collection of essays. We are designing an experience for this 400-year old multimedia work that will allow readers to view a facsimile of the rare book as well as consult the text in a modern edition, both in the original languages (Latin and German) as well as English. I’ve had the chance to get deeply involved in the management of the encoding of the text into TEI, the music into MEI, and discussions about the UI / UX of the site as well as the custom platform that will support our remediation. Alchemy ins’t the only thing I’ve been up to at Brown, however. This year, I’ve had the fantastic opportunity to work with Linford Fisher in the History Department to begin development of the Database of Indigenous Slavery in the Americas. Inspired by the TransAtlantic Slave Trade Database at Emory, we are hoping to reveal the other side of slavery in the history of the Americas: that of native peoples. Working with our talented undergraduate developer, Cole Hansen (’19), on the data models for a group of people who have all but been erased from history has been deeply rewarding and educational. I can’t wait to see how this project evolves as it begins adding data and (fingers crossed) secures funding for further development. I have also had the chance to partner with James Green in Brown’s Departments of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies and History on a number of different projects, including Opening the Archives, which is making public tens of thousands of recently declassified documents related to US-Brazil relations from the 1960s-1980s. In another context, I’ve again worked with the Brown Digital Repository and then Susan Smulyan and Jim McGrath at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Jeff Drouin at the University of Tulsa to shore up the foundations of the Modernist Journals Project, a 20-plus year project started by Robert Scholes. I helped develop two visualizations for the Decameron with Nicole Gercke (GS ’15) and Cissy Yu (’17) that draw on data collected by students in Massimo Riva’s course on the same subject. And in the most recent semester, I got to work with Steve Lubar from American Studies and Emily Esten (GS ’18), along with data science student Steffani Gomez (’17), to visualize the catalog of the 1853 New York Crystal Palace exhibition. Steve has written about the research project extensively on Medium.

In these projects, as well as the day-to-day work of the library, I have had the fantastic fortune to work closely with some of the best and most humane colleagues anyone could hope for. Bruce Boucek, Crystal Brusch, Ben Cail, Ann Caldwell, Andrew Creamer, Birkin Diana, Kerri Hicks, Ned Quist, Patrick Rashleigh, Joseph Rhoads, and many others here at the Brown Library have been generous in sharing their thoughts and expertise with me. I’ve perhaps learned the most from Elli Mylonas, senior digital humanities librarian extraordinaire. I will miss them all sorely.

I will also miss being part of a library. Libraries are where I’ve worked for the last seven years and are, as I wrote when coming to Brown, a logical and important part of digital scholarship. I hope to help cultivate strong connections between BYU’s ODH and the campus’s libraries (which have one of the best YouTube presences imaginable). Libraries are both where scholarship starts and where it ends up, so it’s critical to partner with them every step of the way. 

Finally, I find myself surprised to be starting a job that may ultimately lead to tenure. That said, this is a 12-month faculty position on a professional, rather than professorial, track. Add that to my starting this job at age 40, maybe I still qualify as a little bit alt.

I can’t wait to tell y’all about what I get up to at BYU!

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