SPP 008 | How to Get a Job in Digital Humanities Even if You Dont Have Tech Skills, with Jason Roe

Digital Humanities is a termed tossed around like five year olds playing catch – clumsily and with no purpose in mind. Tenured faculty tell graduate students that they can get a job in the digital humanities if tenure isn’t possible, mostly because they want to offer some sort of career reassurance even though they don’t know what digital humanities means. Before this episode, I neither did I.

But Jason Roe does. He is a history PhD and digital history specialist. He works for the Kansas City Public Library as a public historian who collaborates in projects that use the latest digital technologies to engage students, researchers, and history enthusiasts. He coordinates grant-funded projects, edits scholarly writing in a popular style, and writes blog posts.

Moreover, he didn’t have any special training before he entered this field. He breaks down the process of how any scholar can learn basic tech skills to enter an entirely new career field. Digital humanities is one of the very few areas in higher education that is growing, so this is worth considering. Jason even breaks down how to launch a digital humanities career in three easy steps in this episode.

Prior to joining the Kansas City Public Library, he earned a doctorate in American history and taught courses at the University of Kansas.


In this episode, you’ll hear

  • How Jason moved from a traditional academic career path to one in the digital humanities
  • The skills he learned to make this possible
  • How a few historical documents, a website, and a nearby museum are enough to give you a whole new career
  • Why the future is digital, whether we like it or not, and what scholars should do to prepare

Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

Omeka – organize digital collections.

Archgis is good for maps.

Midafternoon Map

More show notes from Jason

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University is one of the more prominent proponents of digital history specifically. They’ve developed a variety of tools, including Zotero and Omeka.

Omeka is the most popular open source content management system: http://omeka.org for online collections of digitized documents, suitable for historical sources, works of art, etc. (of course it is essential to ensure there aren’t copyright violations in any scanned documents). It would be possible to use it as a standalone site or integrate it into a Drupal website or possibly a WordPress site.

The Rosenzweig Center also sponsors “THATCamp” workshops around the world for people interested in the digital humanities, including several disciplines. http://thatcamp.org/

For people interested in GIS projects, QGIS is a powerful open source GIS program modeled on the professional ArcGIS:http://www2.qgis.org/en/site/ For self-starters, there are a number of online tutorials, webinars, or workshops available that can be found through web searches. For brainstorming purposes about what to do with GIS, the Spatial History Project at Stanford University has sponsored multiple student projects on a variety of topics and with many different approaches.http://web.stanford.edu/group/spatialhistory/cgi-bin/site/index.php

Additionally, museums and scholars have created projects utilizing Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms to engage the public in conversation or even crowd-sourced projects. These tend can spark public interest, and could be great to pitch to local organizations. One award-winning example: http://www.1863lawrence.com/twitter/

As for metadata, I learned what I needed to know about metadata on the job, and it’s not very intuitive to go beyond the basics. Generally people learn about it in library school or computer science, and it can get complicated very quickly. At the most basic level, though, practitioners would need to adopt a schema or controlled vocabulary to describe the items in their collection (probably utilizing an existing one, such as Dublin Core: http://dublincore.org/)