Date: Fri, 9 Apr 2010 10:42:35 -0600
From: Geoffrey Rockwell <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.758 skills for humanities computing?
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
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 Ref Works?, 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 (Power Point? or other) for training or a conference.