The Digital Humanities as a job at Stanford

Stanford has been hiring digital humanists for some time now, though only occasionally by name. It’s currently looking for another, though the title is technically Academic Technology Specialist for History. I’ve heard some trepidation about this position, and positions like this, from several constituencies. The first is a general insecurity on the part of possible applicants in regard to the technical requirements of the position, which I think is an outgrowth of the general disciplinary insecurity in regard to the digital humanities that Ted Underwood engages with. Let me then sacrifice myself at the altar of truth for the sake of undercutting some of this fear: I’m a terrible programmer. The one programming language that I felt comfortable with when I got to Stanford (ActionScript3) is now extinct. I struggle with understanding how network analysis statistics work, even though I’m called on to explain them to very smart people. I only took a few classes in GIS and when I got to Stanford, I didn’t know anything about the spatial analysis world beyond ArcGIS. On top of all that, I’ve been working with real professional web designers lately and so now I have to find out on an almost daily basis that I know practically nothing about design.

And still, I did all right. You can, too. If you’re creative, and you get it, and you’ve got some experiencing doing sophisticated digital stuff with humanities research, then you can come to Stanford and do good work. To be clear, if you’re a programming wiz and you were snickering at me through the entire last paragraph, then you should still apply for the job, but so far the number of DH people who laughed at my “I learned how to multithread in Java” joke is in the low single digits, so I assume you guys don’t need this kind of advice.

But there’s a second reason I could see why this position is worrisome, and it’s because it’s #alt-ac and that means taking a position like this kills your chances of being tenure track faculty. Sure, it pays double what a post-doc makes, but a post-doc is still respectable to the right people, and being staff means you’re forever looking up at the faculty. I don’t think that’s the case, though, especially with jobs like this ATS position, which has its feet firmly planted in research support. Part of the job description describes working with CESTA, which is a federation of DH labs here at Stanford that involves the Literary Lab, the Spatial History Project, and Mapping the Republic of Letters. That’s a lot of opportunity for a young scholar to make connections and pad their CV with interesting research, and then take off for a job at whatever university is doing their DH cluster hire in 2016. Or maybe you’ll find out that you’d prefer to work at Google or Apple.

Regardless, the position is one of a number of DH roles here at Stanford, among a thriving community of practice full of folks with a proven track record of success in most everything that defines DH.

So apply for the job, already.


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