English for a Career in Digital Humanities
“[I]t’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” -Steve Jobs
Almost every career today is highly dependent on computer technology — at a bare minimum, individuals are expected to use email and the web with ease, as well as be proficient in MS Office. But, there is an increasing demand for individuals who can design and create dynamic websites, edit media files, build databases and mine data.
Students who combine technical know-how with the core skills of an English major — the ability to think creatively and critically, to offer well-supported interpretations of complex situations, and to communicate effectively to any given audience — not only increase their career options, but, regardless of their career choice, as Business Insider notes, they will also stand out in the crowd. As Geoff Colvin Fortune’s senior editor in charge puts it: “the most valuable people of all will be those who combine technical knowledge with the skills and sensibilities built by study of the humanities.”
“We assume that this will be a century of technology. But if the competition in tech moves to this new battlefield, the edge will go to those institutions that can effectively employ imagination, metaphor, and most of all, storytelling. And not just creative writing, but every discipline in the humanities, from the classics to rhetoric to philosophy. Twenty-first century storytelling: multimedia, mass customizable, portable and scalable, drawing upon the myths and archetypes of the ancient world, on ethics, and upon a deep understanding of human nature and even religious faith.”
– Michael S. Malone from the Wall Street Journal
What is Digital Humanities (DH)?
Digital Humanities (DH) is a broad term that is used to mean many things. For example, it can mean this, or that, or any of these. One way to define DH is as an umbrella term used to describe multi-media content (including text, images, audio, and video) from the disciplines in the humanities that has been made available electronically (usually via the Internet).
What Can Digital Humanists Do?
Chances are you use electronic resources created by people, who could be called Digital Humanists, every day: things like Wikipedia, e-books, assorted smart phone apps, and even some video games. Simply put, DH in its many forms is nearly everywhere you look.
For example, digital humanists often work with non-profit organizations, such as universities, libraries, and/or museums, to preserve historical/cultural documents and create free online access to information. DH-ers helped build things like #NewPalmyra, Global Middle Ages, Project Gutenberg, What’s on the Menu?, DIY History, and UND’s own digital collections (many of which were built with the help of UND English majors).
Individuals with a background in humanities computing also join the business world. They can work with online publishers like Thomson Reuters; they can find a place in Silicon Valley; and they can even be video game developers at places like BioWare.
Digital Humanists can find careers with libraries, museums, businesses (big and small), educational institutions, government entities and non-profit organizations.
What Classes Should I Take if I Want to Concentrate in Digital Humanities?
In addition to the courses required for the English major, you should take English 428: Digital Humanities. You should also consider taking classes with English faculty members who frequently include new media/digital humanities projects in their courses, such as Dr. Crystal Alberts, Dr. Sheila Liming, and Dr. David Haeselin. You should also take courses that will make you digitally literate, that will teach you how to design and build web sites, and that will enable you to become familiar with software that allows you to edit image, sound, and video files (and there are a number of possibilities on campus, depending on your interests).
If you would like to know more about how to bring together an English major with a career related to digital humanities, contact Crystal Alberts to be your undergraduate advisor. Professor Alberts can help you decide on related classes that will complement your English degree for careers in digital humanities; research internships and career opportunities; and can help you put together a resume and application letter.