Living the Life Electric

I’m addressing the Underhill Graduate Students’ Colloquium tomorrow, here in the history department at Carleton U. Below are my slides for ‘Living the Life Electric: On Becoming a Digital Humanist’

update March 7: here are my speaking notes. These give a rough sense of what I intend to talk about at various points. Bolded titles are the titles of slides. Not every slide is listed, as some speak more or less for themselves.

I wanted to be an archaeologist – I graduated in 2002.

‘Digital Humanities’ wasn’t coined until 2004.

It emerges from ‘humanities computing’, which has been around since the 1940s.

In fact, computing wouldn’t be the way it is today without the Humanities, and the Jesuit, Father Busa.

Eastern Canada’s Only Stamped Brick Specialist -Roman archaeology

Stamped brick

Eastern Canada’s only Stamped Brick Specialist, probably

….things were pretty lean in 2003…

Life from a suitcase

Comin’ Home Again

Youth development grant to study cultural heritage of my home township

Also a small teaching excavation based in Shawville

Which led to a teaching gig at the local high school.

A Year of Living Secondarily

What was it about my academic work that I really enjoyed?


Possibilities of Simulation

Random Chances and the virtues of ‘What the Hell’

Coronation Hall

Meanwhile, I enter business – 3 different startups, one of which has survived (so far!)

Heritage focus

Heritage education – learned how to install my own software, LMS

Trying to monetize the information I uncovered in my cultural heritage study

Coronation Hall Cider Mills

(Shameless Plug).

What are the digital humanities  – think about it: modern computers were developed in order to allow us to map, forecast, the consequences of massive annihilation and death. Simulation is rooted in the desire to predict future death counts. My interest emerged from trying to simulate my own understandings of the past, to understand the unintended consequences of my understandings, to put some sort of order on the necessarily incomplete materials I was looking at. I call it ‘practical necromancy’

Do your work in public blog was originally intended to chronicle my work on simulation, but it has become very much the driver of my online identity, the calling card that others see when they intersect my work – and because it’s been up for so long, with a sustained focus, it creates a very strong signal which our algorithms, Google, pick up. This is how academics can push the public discourse: interfere with the world’s extended mind, their entangled consciousness of cyberspace & meatspace.

Allows you to develop your ideas

Forces you to write in small chunks

Exposes your work to potential audiences

My blog posts have been cited in others’ academic monographs

Has improved the readership of my published work

A quarter million page reads over the last six years.

My book: maybe 40 copies, if I’m lucky.

Basic Word Counts

Top words:

digital 1082 research 650 university 577 experience 499 library 393 humanities 386

History: 177 times

Broadly, not useful or surprising. But consider the structure of word use…

Group 1: gives you a sense of technical skills, but for the most part not the kinds of analyses that one would use that for. That’s an important distinction. The analysis should drive the skill set, not the other way around (a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail)

Group 2: European centres!

Group 3: Canada!

Job adverts – to – topics. Six broad groups based on how the adverts share particular discourses. Gives a sense of where academic departments think this field is going. If I’d done this according to individual researcher’s blogs, or the ‘about’ pages for different centres, you’d get a very different picture – game studies, for instance.


Important point: I wanted to show you how you can begin to approach large masses of material, and extract insights, suss out, underlying structures of ideas. This is going to be big in the future, as more and more data about our every waking moment gets recorded. Google Glass? It’s not about the user: it’s about everything the user sees, which’ll get recorded in the googleplex. Governments. Marketers. University Administrations. Learn to extract signals from this noise, and you’ll never go hungry again.

Keep in mind that in 1994 I wrote that the internet would never be useful for academics. My ability to predict the future is thus suspect.

So how to join this brave new world? Twitter, etc.





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