Stepping into the river, at last

Now that I’ve had a chance to engage the Day of DH in a fuller way than I’ve been able to in prior years, it seems a good time to reflect on how I’ve managed this day and how I position myself as a practitioner of Digital Humanities.

I’d say that even though I am now spending my third year as a graduate student working for the Center for Digital Humanities at UCLA, I haven’t really considered myself true “DH” people. While I was entirely aware of the name on the shingle, I had been viewing my work primarily as providing support and resources for instructional technology.

The work I did in my few short hours at CDH today was typical in this regard. I provided a good deal of back-end support for the CMS many UCLA departments use, CCLE, our own special build of Moodle. One person needed a new role on our TEST server; another workgroup pointed out some duplicate course sites that had to be deleted. I was able to delegate to the other ITCs a number of less intensive tasks, including enrollment of auditors and basic troubleshooting. It wasn’t all CCLE, though. We welcome drop-ins, and a couple of guests stopped by while I was at work. An undergraduate student asked about getting counseling for our new Digital Humanities minor; I promptly referred him to the Digital Humanities program coordinator, Miriam Posner. A graduate student from Art History needed better ways to back up his dissertation work and work on it from multiple workstations; ITC Chris Wood and I introduced him to Dropbox and Google Drive (which, I discovered, was perfectly capable of saving Scrivener files, even if it couldn’t preview them!).

I consider instructional technology a fundamental aspect of Digital Humanities, and I want to continue to engage the pedagogy of DH – I would hate to see this get lost in the shuffle in all our discussions about the practice. Still, I was hoping to make something. Between my current job responsibilities and the traditional critical work that I do in literature, I wasn’t seeing that much opportunity for a while.

However, there is a shift underway at CDH. We’re now preparing to take on more of the responsibilities of other DH research centers. And this means a shift in, among other things, the way that the graduate students in the department will be working. Currently known as Instructional Technology Consultants (ITCs), starting this fall these workers will become Research and Instructional Technology Consultants (RITCs – or “ritzies,” if you will). As part of my current appointment as Senior ITC, I’ve already been asked to start thinking about how I could take the otherwise very analog work of my dissertation and parlay it into a research project with digital tools. And that’s a very empowering thing to think about.

Now, in addition to thinking about automobiles, and the relationships my characters are forming with their cars and with one another in the process, I’m also thinking about how the movements of these characters, in their cars, map (of course) onto cartographic space. I see much interpretive potential in this, and it’s exciting.

Because this is still in its nascent stages, I must admittedly declare myself an aspiring digital humanist. But I’m hoping that by the time the next Day of DH rolls around, I’ll have much more to tell you about my project and my progress.

Meanwhile, it’s been good to set aside a day to seriously engage these issues, and the platform I’ve had available to me to do this has been truly outstanding this time around. Let’s see where we go from here.