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What are the "Digital Humanities" Anyway?

When I read academic job listing for "Digital Humanities" the skills range from HTML coding to video editing. Some list audio editing. The jobs are so varied that you cannot pinpoint what the phrase means. Is my doctorate in rhetoric, scientific and technical communication sufficient? Often it is not. Some posts suggest an MFA or Ph.D. in media production.

Starting January 2016, I am going to be working towards completion of my MFA in Film and Digital Technology. This feels like a last-ditch effort to revive my academic career, while also giving me more credentials to support my creative writing. With or without an academic revival, I'll benefit greatly from the courses and the exercise of creating and editing digital works.

One of the frustrations I've had on the job market is that nobody seems to know what the "Digital Humanities" are or how to prove you have the skills to teach the courses.

My age and my experiences are a serious obstacle on this job market.

When I completed my undergraduate degrees, I had been working at the USC Computing Services on what was the BITNET and ARPANET. I was using USENET newsgroups and performing online searches with WAIS and Gopher. (See

As someone who grew up in the PC era, the time of Apple, Atari, and Commodore (and Sinclair, Tandy, and TI), I was programming at a time when there were few programming degrees (computer science is not programming, generally). My wife and I launched a dial-up Internet service in the early 1990s. Think about that. We were among the pioneers who had multi-line BBS servers. By the time classes on HTML and Web development were offered, I had been using markup languages for a decade.

I can set up database servers and write SQL fairly well. I can crunch data with SAS, SPSS, and JMP. I know scripting languages like PHP and Perl (ouch), though those are a bit out of style. Not to whine too much, but I certainly consider myself a "digital" person.

When I apply for jobs, I'm competing against people with degrees that did not exist when I was doing the work. I'm competing against transcripts that list courses and skills I have taught or could teach. That's a lousy situation, so I turn to portfolios and other ways to demonstrate my skills.

Online, I maintain these Blogger accounts (old tech) because I'd hate to lose all the old posts and the loyal readers I have. However, I also develop new sites using newer technologies to prove my skills are current. That's what you have to do, right?

My passion is the rhetoric of narrative, sometimes called the "rhetoric of fiction" or the "rhetoric of story" — though none of these names really captures what my interests are. I want to use digital media (online distribution) to tell stories to wide audiences. I also want to study how others share their stories, both fiction and non-fiction.

I am a playwright and screenwriter. Several of my plays have been produced regionally and I've helped with screenplays that have been sold. (Admittedly, my screenplays by me and for me have not been produced.) As a writer, I seek to reach as many people as possible, which means I do have a bias for "creative" writing over academic writing.

I hope yet more credentials help on the academic market. If not, I'll write some great plays and keep chasing the screenplay dream, too.


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