What are we DOING as we support digital humanists?

As I manage student’s workload and facilitate the projects they do in support of digital humanities projects on campus, I’ve noticed that one of the underlying dynamics that I have to negotiate is what The Work is that the students do. People talk about job descriptions and the scope of the service, but unarticulated below of if that are deeply held assumptions about what counts as meaningful work for whom.

The student workers themselves are divided on this point. Some of them are very good at zeroing in on core questions that help us think through the project as a whole and set baselines for future decisions. They engage with the process of defining projects, and documenting decisions, and engaging with the campus, and they see this as part of The Work. Other students see this kind of thing as “administrative” work. They would prefer to DO rather than plan or document. Planning and documenting is not The Work to them.

I can see the same thing playing out in different ways with the faculty heading up the projects. Some see the student workers as collaborators with whom to exchange ideas about how to proceed. Others see the student workers as people to cary out project duties as assigned.

Meanwhile, as I look at my own work associated with digital humanities on campus, I can see that I’m kind of at war with myself on this topic. First, I’m an interim in this position, which I’m not good at. A couple of times I’ve wanted to engage with questions or jump into action and my steady comrade-in-DH has reminded me that we should do things right rather than soon, and I’ve felt chagrined each time because I know this and I think that in my regular work I’m usually good at this, but somehow in my current situation I seem to get ahead of myself sometimes.

Another layer of my own internal struggle is that my main goals as the interim DH supervisor is to keep the program afloat and to document, document, document. I want the transition for the new person to be as smooth as possible, and I want to be an effective project manager for my students. But sometimes I worry that I might be too deep in the “admin stuff” (as one student calls it) and pulling my students too far in with me. I can totally relate to the desire to just plug away at a project.

Planning, documenting, and program development are important parts of the job for each of us. They are definitely a good part of The Work of digital humanities on my campus. The trick is to figure out the right balance for each person. I don’t think I’ve figured out that balance point yet.

Leave a Reply