How I Became a Digital Humanist After Grad School

This is the first in a series of posts by LEAP members about how they joined Livingstone Online. Like many faculty members, Megan Ward became interested in digital humanities after grad school — this is her story.

My dissertation on Victorian middle-class identity morphed into a book project that incorporated theories of artificial intelligence, and along with that, I started exploring digital tools and projects in my pedagogy and research. But when it came to embarking on a digital project of my own, at first I wasn’t sure where to start.

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HASTAC

I was – very fortunately – in a tenure-track job. But, like many other faculty members interested in DH, I was not a research-intensive university or in a program invested in pursuing DH.  Instead, I was at a small, teaching-focused college without a faculty cohort or the technical infrastructure to support digital tools.  So, I turned to my local academic community, looking around to see who might be interested in exploring the world of DH with me. And at the same time, I started dreaming up my own digital projects and gathering grant information.

During this phase, I made plans to attend DHSI.

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These two avenues converged when I found that there was a new Victorianist in the greater Pittsburgh area who had recently been awarded an NEH Digital Humanities Start-up Grant for what would become the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project. I emailed Adrian Wisnicki, the director of this project, to see if he wanted to meet for coffee and tell me more about his project. Luckily, he agreed, and we met in Indiana, PA (about an hour and a half from Pittsburgh by car), and he showed me the project in more depth.

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Adrian was very generous in inviting my input on new directions for the project. Together with Adrian and the Livingstone Online team, I wrote several successful grant applications, imagining how the project could grow in size, scope, and technical innovation. Being awarded these grants has allowed us to pursue new technical and theoretical directions, as well as to build Livingstone Online into the open-access repository and that we imagined several years ago.

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Megan Ward in her new office at Oregon State with her Livingstone Online computer set up.

My current work as a digital humanist thus owes much to the generosity of my colleague Adrian and his team, and I think that this highlights the importance of collaboration in DH work. Though this was never part of my grad school vision of my career, collaborating on LEAP has been enriching in ways that I could never have predicted.  I’m currently working on an article about what spectral images can tell us about the materiality of information. In addition, I’ve transcribed and encoded Livingstone’s manuscripts; overseen the beginning of our outreach program in Scotland; and examined spectral images for 150-year-old clues to Livingstone’s composition practices. By becoming a digital humanist after grad school I’ve pushed the boundaries of my expertise, added technical skills to my repertoire, and enriched my traditional scholarship through digital projects.

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