[Humanist] 23.760 skills for humanities computing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Apr 10 14:54:46 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 760.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Barbara Bordalejo <bb268 at nyu.edu>                         (40)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.758 skills for humanities computing?

  [2]   From:    Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel at ualberta.ca>                  (20)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.758 skills for humanities computing?

  [3]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (48)
        Subject: basic skills?

        Date: Fri, 9 Apr 2010 12:57:42 +0100
        From: Barbara Bordalejo <bb268 at nyu.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.758 skills for humanities computing?
        In-Reply-To: <20100409111932.3D7F74F3E1 at woodward.joyent.us>

There is one absolute requirement for Humanities Computing: you must  
belong to the TEI. You don't necessarily need to know XML (although  
it might be good if you understood how it works) but you have to know  
the standard software used to process it (when I say standard, I mean  
software commonly used by TEI members and generally open source).
If you want a job in Humanities Computing then you should be able to  
use Oxygen and XQuery. You get brownie points for being able to write  


        Date: Fri, 9 Apr 2010 10:42:35 -0600
        From: Geoffrey Rockwell <grockwel at ualberta.ca>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.758 skills for humanities computing?
        In-Reply-To: <20100409111932.3D7F74F3E1 at woodward.joyent.us>

On Apr 9, 2010, at 5:19 AM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

> Out of interest, what would be the bare minimum any would-be Humanities
> Computing researcher should have in terms of skills? By that, I mean what
> should you know in order to be eligible for most jobs, funding opportunities
> etc.?

Alexander Hay asks an interesting question about basic skills that could us to defining boundaries as to who is in and out. Boundary setting is something I believe we should avoid for a bit longer, especially since humanities computing is a field that has generally been welcoming and should stay so. That said, it is still useful to ask the question as Hay does in order to help students who want to pursue jobs in the field. So, I've tried to answer it in that spirit - what skills could you acquire to be positioned to be hired. Here is my list: 

* Ability to represent humanities evidence digitally following best practices for scholarly digitization. This would mean that the researcher would be familiar with discussions, research, standards, and guidelines around the representation of a type of evidence. They would be expected to have some experience actually digitizing authentic evidence whether it is text or images or other. For those who want to present themselves as well prepared to do a scholarly text project that would mean being conversant with XML, TEI and the discussions around best practices for digitization/encoding of texts. I would not, however, say that a researcher has to know about text encoding necessarily, though it dominated the early decades of the field; they could specialize in geospatial representation or historical data. My point is that they have experience and knowledge in one recognizable area of digitization, preferably the area needed for the job, though I would generally trust that if they know one area well they could learn others as needed as they would have an appreciation of how much is lost and gained in digitization.

* Understanding of the possibilities for the manipulation of digitized evidence in some field. This sounds obscure, but again I feel it is important that a researcher has struggled with what applications can do with data. I would not, however want to prescribe which applications or which type of data. If a researcher wanted to present themselves as competent with electronic texts then I would expect them to have an understanding and basic facility with text editing tools (XML editors), text manipulation technologies (XSLT), text publishing tools (especially for the web), and possibly analytical tools. I would not expect as part of the "bare minimum" that the person be able to set up such tools on a server or that they could program them, but I would expect them to be able to understand their place and be able to use whatever variant was needed with minimum instruction. Again, I would not expect expertise necessarily in text tools, but I would expect comparable understanding in whatever area of evidence they presented themselves as competent at.

* Understanding of how to imagine, design, carry through, document, and finish off a digital humanities project. In other words they should be able to participate in a project in some recognizable and significant capacity. Ideally they would have the skills to act as a project manager if needed, but Hay asks for "bare minimum." As part of this I would hope that they would be familiar with the types of documents typical of projects from proposals to training manuals. Likewise, I would expect that they would have the basic people skills to be a welcome participant in a project. To be honest the most important skill when hiring is whether the person gets things done in a timely fashion and communicates effectively. A smart person can be learn most of the technical skills needed for a project, but someone who can't learn and work unsupervised ends up costing the project more than they are worth and doesn't get rehired. 

* Closely connected with the previous skill is the ability to communicate using the variety of tools typically used on projects. (See below for a list of some that are applicable now.) More important than the tools is the ability to write effectively which usually means being able to think clearly. For academic projects it is also very important that the person understand the importance of accurate and detailed communication. By this I mean things like being able to maintain a bibliography or getting technical details right. There is nothing worse than realizing that someone you trusted with detailed information did not pay attention to the details.

* Some knowledge of the community and its history so as to be able to contribute to the community. It would be nice if they had attended a conference or regional workshop of some sort because when you hire someone you often need them to interact with others and hope that they will help publish the project. For this reason it would be nice if they knew enough to be able to write a paper proposal and give a paper that would be recognizable as a contribution. Obviously this would mean that they are capable of original research in the field, and that too would be good, though it is hard to define and it might not be a bare minimum for positions that are not faculty positions. That said, for a faculty position this would be the most important "skill" - the ability to do publishable research.

* Some other skills that I would expect today, but which change over time would be:

- Familiarity with social media tools like blogging, wikis, and twitter. These are used a lot by projects for documentation and communication.

- Ability to edit HTML and to be able to build a simple web site. We all seem to end up needing web pages edited now and then.

- Ability to use bibliographic tools to maintain a project bibliography whether it is RefWorks, Zotero or something else.

- Ability to use shared documents like Google Docs.

- Ability to read and edit a spreadsheet with a budget.

- Ability to prepare slides (PowerPoint or other) for training or a conference.


Geoffrey Rockwell

        Date: Sat, 10 Apr 2010 13:51:29 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: basic skills?
        In-Reply-To: <20100409111932.3D7F74F3E1 at woodward.joyent.us>

In Humanist 23.768 Alexander Hay asks,

> Out of interest, what would be the bare minimum any would-be Humanities
> Computing researcher should have in terms of skills? By that, I mean what
> should you know in order to be eligible for most jobs, funding opportunities
> etc.?

At one level this is a question implicitly at least asked and answered 
by those who set up programmes in the field, especially undergraduate 
programmes. It becomes less important the more academic and the less 
professional the training becomes. It's certainly not one of the central 
questions arising out of the PhD programmes that I can observe or 
imagine. For students at the PhD level (few of whom, I'd suppose, have 
passed through any undergraduate programme in humanities computing) it's 
simply not an issue, or rather, which skills the student needs depends 
entirely on what the student proposes to work on.

It seems to me, however, that as asked about participation in the field 
generally, it's altogether the wrong question to be asking. Asking it 
pushes what is meant by humanities computing toward fields we associate 
with the techno-sciences. But even there it has an unfortunate narrowing 
effect. I doubt (but do not know) whether one could produce such a list, 
applicable to practitioners of the field, for many of the 
techno-sciences that would not have to be heavily qualified.

Take TEI, for example. I would say that there are a number of ways in 
which someone in training could gain the essential knowledge of what 
markup can and cannot do, TEI being just one of them, and by far not the 
simplest, most efficient of the lot. Marking up texts is not the only 
life. True, knowing TEI-XML makes one more likely to get a job 
somewhere, though not an academic job. And again, thinking in those 
terms, of becoming oneself or making someone else employable, shifts 
what we have in mind away from the humanities and away from scholarly 
work. Is that what we want to do?

Another way of saying this is to argue for a loose consensus about what 
undergraduate programmes should train students to do as far as skills 
are concerned but to recognize that undergraduate training provides two 
paths: (1) basic training for those who have bought into the notion that 
education is for full-time employment, who want the degree in order to 
get a job; (2) a highly simplified starting point for those who will go 
on to dwell on the questions that make for a life worth living. Apart 
from the appalling misunderstanding of higher education to which the 
former attests, in my experience it also doesn't work very well because 
students can do much better elsewhere. Who among us could stomach 
teaching students enough of what they don't already know so as to help 
them get a job? Aren't they much better off going to a technical college?



Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London: staff.cch.kcl.ac.uk/~wmccarty/

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