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An experiment in writing in public, one page at a time, by S. Graham, I. Milligan, & S. Weingart

Who are we and how did we get into Digital History?

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Previous Section: Who is this volume for?

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Ian Milligan, like many historians, got into digital history in a roundabout fashion. As a child, he had been a computer geek: programming in BASIC, finagling to get computer games to run, and hitting up garage sales for hardware to take apart. In this, he was part of a cohort of largely “middle-class white men” who had access to this as a child, and so is conscious of this (as Miriam Posner has helpfully cautioned) when thinking about whether coding is necessary or not to be part of the digital humanities.[1] A disastrous semester or two with higher-level calculus and a detour with the Canadian Forces took him away from computational work and eventually towards his love of history, to be rediscovered a few years later during the waning years of his doctoral degree.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 In his PhD, Milligan studied youth culture, which involved studying large amounts of people. Unsure of where to go next in a second project, a serendipitous conversation with digital historian William Turkel and a visit to a humanities and technology un-conference – a THATCamp – led him down the digital humanities rabbit hole. He learned his text analysis and data mining skills first through the Programming Historian, and then months upon months of trial and error. It all worked out, as today he works as an assistant professor of digital history at the University of Waterloo, a school intensively focused on science and engineering. His advice to his students is that anybody can do computational work, provided an ability to fail.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Shawn’s background is similar to Ian’s: his first computer was a Commodore Vic-20 that his older brother had saved up to purchase. Games were hard to come by, so he and his brothers developed a workflow for reading out the code published in magazines like Compute!, typing it in, and error checking. If they were lucky, two weeks later there’d be a space-invaders clone to play. In junior college and then university, Shawn successfully internalized the idea that ‘scholarship’ could only mean essay writing; asked to go on this new ‘world wide web’ in 1995 to find out about the Etruscans, Shawn was dismayed at the dreck he encountered and dutifully wrote a paper whose first line read, ‘The World Wide Web will never be of use to academics’.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Eating his words some years later, Shawn’s doctoral thesis on the epigraphy and archaeology of the Roman brick industry necessitated a re-engagement with digital tools for network analysis as it was the only method that could help sort out the tangled relationships. Returning to video games provided the motivation to reanimate these networks (readings in artificial intelligence showed Shawn the potential of agent based modeling for dealing with contingency in the past), Shawn won a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Manitoba where Lea Stirling took a chance on this admittedly odd idea. This work was recognized at the first University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Digital Humanities Workshop where Alan Liu and William G. Thomas III suggested that he should blog about his work; thus electricarchaeology.ca was born. Shawn’s exploration of new tools for teaching and research in archaeology via his blog (including chronicling his failures as much as his successes) became a cornerstone of his research and pedagogy as he worked in the online education world. Eight years after his PhD, he won a position as assistant professor of Digital Humanities at Carleton University in the History department.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Scott grew up with a passion for history, but a dedication to computers, believing they would lead to his eventual career. Three and a half years through a computer engineering degree, however, Scott grew disenchanted with the engineering aspect and vowed never to touch a computer again. Having taken just as many history courses as engineering, he easily finished off his degree as a historian of science, happy in the knowledge that he would spend much of the rest of his life in a dusty old archive. When he applied to at Indiana University, and got accepted in both the history of science and information science graduate programs, Scott figured the information science could help fund the history, so he pursued a dual degree. In very short order, he learned of the existence of digital humanities, and that computers were much more fun when applied to one’s passions.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 As a historian of science, Scott became interested in modeling and mapping the large-scale growth of science. He became interested in those punctuation periods where science seems to lurch forward, and those lacunae where research is all but stalled. These periods tend to be described in very broad terms but without much depth; Scott’s research imagines combining those macroscopic broad strokes with individual datum, seeing the big and the small at once. As such computational approaches were still rare, he began to develop software techniques and packages to aid his goals. His forward-thinking mentors, particularly the historian Robert A. Hatch and the information scientist Katy Börner, have been instrumental in helping him achieve these goals.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Scott’s journey into history, data, and the digital humanities is chronicled on his blog, the scottbot irregular. He currently holds the position of Digital Humanities Data Scientist at Stanford University, while still finishing his Ph.D. at Indiana University.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The key element that ties our biographies together is that, despite some false starts, we were willing to look under the hood. If you are too, then let’s start with chapter one.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Next section: The Joys of Big Data for Historians


11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 [1] Miriam Posner, “Some things to think about before you exhort everyone to code,” MiriamPosner.com, 29 February 2012, http://miriamposner.com/blog/some-things-to-think-about-before-you-exhort-everyone-to-code/.

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Source: http://www.themacroscope.org/?page_id=593