I’ve been asked numerous times how I will be funded this summer. Occasionally, the question is motivated by sheer politeness—“And, what are your plans for this summer?” I think more often, though, the question is born of the asker’s empathy and familiarity with the advanced graduate student’s enormously unstable financial situation. “And, what are your plans for this summer?” The question, of course, is another way of asking if I do have plans this summer, if I have found myself (to use a Victorian phrase!) a “situation.” I feel my luck keenly in being able to say, “I have a Digital Humanities Fellowship with the Northwestern Library.”
Alluding to my (sometimes precarious) financial situation may seem a tacky way of introducing myself, but I do this for two reasons: First, I wish to underscore my deep gratitude to the Center for Scholarly Communication and Digital Curation (CSCDC) for giving me this valuable opportunity. I’m thankful for the opportunity to become (hopefully) a contributing, useful digital humanist, as I figure out how open-source tools can aid, deepen, and improve graduate research in textual criticism. Second, I want to muse on some of the specific structural challenges—including funding—that graduate students face in incorporating the “digital” in their research practice(s) and project(s). Identifying and mitigating these challenges is, at this moment, an immensely important task. Former MLA President Dr. Russell Berman argued in a 2011 statement that “digital abilities… must become integral to every doctoral program.” And, in response to this call, universities have launched a variety of programs meant to involve graduate students in “the massive digital transformation of our inherited cultural archives.” I hope, drawing from my own very limited experience, to start a conversation about what Northwestern students, faculty, and administration can do to create a DH community conducive to innovative graduate research.
To introduce myself properly: my name is Winter Jade Werner (Jade), and I am a rising 7th year student in the English department. I am interested in nineteenth-century British literature and culture, and my dissertation—entitled The Gospel and the Globe: Missionary Enterprises and the Cosmopolitan Imagination, 1795-1910—focuses on evangelicalism and globalization during the period. This summer, I will be using Voyant and Juxta to analyze two versions of the popular nineteenth-century novel, The Missionary (1811) by Sydney Owenson, which was rereleased with in 1859 under the new title Luxima, The Prophetess. (For more on the two versions of the novel and why I’ve turned to digital tools for help with textual analysis, check out this CSCDC post.) In the process of conducting my own research on this novel, I’ll also be using this summer fellowship to develop user guides for these open-source tools.
Because this fellowship is the first of its kind at Northwestern, I will, in addition, be posting more here on the pros and cons of using this model—that is, a dedicated DH fellowship or GA-ship—to promote graduate student familiarity with digital methodologies. I have some thoughts on the subject right now, though (this is my grain of salt) they come from a Week One, first-day-on-the-job perspective.
In their introduction to the MLA Commons’ anthology Literary Studies in the Digital Age, Kenneth Price and Ray Siemens note, “Typically, those who practice digital humanities embrace collaborative scholarship, through which they can explore previously invisible connections […] inquiries that were certainly beyond the scope and capacity of the individual analog scholar.” Collaboration, however, implies a certain amount of digital literacy shared by all parties—a digital literacy that, at the moment, lies outside the scope of the typical humanities doctoral program. Despite evidence that jobs in the humanities increasingly demand some amount of digital fluency, DH—in many traditional programs—is still treated as an extracurricular to be pursued in one’s free time. For graduate students, free time can be hard to find, what with the pressure to complete the dissertation, publish articles, and find funding. So, on the one hand, this fellowship creates that time, allowing a student to commit herself to learning new skills in a manner akin to taking a class or an independent study.
On the other hand, I am curious how far I will get in the “Digital Humanities” (capitalized, in quotes) without substantive interaction with a broader Northwestern community. So much DH work emphasizes collaboration, interaction, and exchange that I wonder how fruitful a “Digital Humanities Fellowship” can be when conducted solo, without faculty advisors or graduate peers. Can a virtual community take the place of an immediate campus community? What new partnerships can be forged between graduate studies in literature and library information studies? Should this fellowship also be used to organize DH events and workshops around campus? I will weigh in over the course of the next nine weeks!