The “spirit of entrepreneurship and egalitarianism” and collaboration

I love it when I serendipitously discover a terrific article or posting. Today, while searching for something entirely different, I came across Amanda Gailey and Dot Porter’s posting on Alt-Academy’s site, “Credential Creep in the Digital Humanities.” This posting’s title is a quote from their article. It gets at what I feel myself, hanging out with digital humanists.  Although it’s been about a year since they wrote the article, it seems that many of their concerns regarding the hiring practices for the digital humanities are being born out.

I remember something similar happening in the programming world back in the 1990s–originally, companies were hiring people who taught themselves to program. As the field grew, so did a perceived need for certifications for advancement, and then later, even for qualifying as a hiree. (On a separate note, I’ve always wondered if this was more due to the influence/assertions of the peripheral markets, such as certification companies and programming manual publishers.)  However, it seems that later on, although those accomplishments certainly did not hurt a person’s career, many managers  (at least in my organization at the time), realized that “real world” experience was preferable to degrees or certifications–as the deciding factor. I remember one manager expressing that as far as specialized skills were concerned, the company was often changing out different technologies as the different technologies advanced. This particular manager was more concerned that the programmers, networking people, and tech support persons he hired, possessed the ability to learn the new technologies as they changed–it was much cheaper to give that kind of training than to train new employees with specific skills from scratch. And it made the employees feel much more integral to the company’s success. It makes me wonder if the digital humanities will eventually follow this pattern. But if Gailey and Porter are correctly assessing how it’s following the academic model/pattern in general, well, it may be a longer time-frame.

Gailey and Porter end their post with three helpful recommendations to counter the credential explosion within hiring practices. I would add to their suggestions, that  smaller schools trying to add digital humanities components to their programs, work with an already established tech savvy group–a computer science department (if their institution has one). There may be problems with this type of setup, particularly in terms of budgeting issues between departments (sharing resources); I don’t know. But I do know that having worked in the corporate world, at least for the computer science program, it would be a boon for their students’ marketability to be able to gain experience by working on real world projects under the guidance of their professors. Not only would they gain technical experience, they would also gain invaluable project management experience–either as the manager or the managee.  That last point also applies to people within the humanities. Though they have much experience working with graduates, committees, and their individual research projects, learning to work with technologists on a project will teach them another subset of these types of skills: managing a programming project. It would also make it easier for the humanities people to gain experience with the different technologies. This has to help complete projects sooner rather than necessitating an individual professor or graduate student to learn five different technologies for one project. I’m sure this type of setup has already been in place with different institutions, at least in individual cases/projects. But establishing a formal partnership across programs would help facilitate the likelihood of more such projects. And who knows? Eventually, the institution may create a dedicated digital humanities center based on the interdisciplinary relationships in the “spirit of entrepreneurship and egalitarianism” we all understand are necessary for this field.

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