By Ana M. Silva, PhD Candidate, Department of History
Can a History PhD provide the skills for a career in software development? Two months ago, when I started working at the MATRIX Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University, I didn’t have a clear answer to that question. I had no previous training in computer science and, frankly, after five years in a PhD program in Latin American History, I thought that it was a little late to venture outside of my field to learn something completely new. The Mellon Public Humanities fellowship allowed me to explore not only software development in the humanities, but also Digital Humanities more broadly.
At MATRIX, I worked on MBira, an open source platform for building, managing, and sustaining location-based cultural heritage experiences. It is an authoring tool that allows scholars, cultural and heritage institutions, museums, and individuals with little or no technical background to create digital heritage experiences and empowers communities by encouraging collaboration and conversation among users.
So what can a historian contribute to a software development team, you might ask? Was I there to research the origins and cultural impact of the others’ work? To formulate a structural critique of the gendered dynamics of the workplace? Actually, my role at MATRIX boiled down to a set of relatively routine tasks that nevertheless brought me well outside of my comfort zone:
- Learning how MBira works, testing it, and reporting any bugs I found to the team of programmers.
- Writing documentation for the software, explaining other scholars, museum and cultural institution professionals how to use MBira.
- Designing and developing an exemplar project built with MBira.
In order to complete the first two tasks, I had to familiarize myself with the everyday aspects of the software development process, including version control, bug fixing, and technical writing. Fortunately, the learning curve wasn’t quite as steep as I had predicted, largely thanks to a vast online world of tutorials and collaborative resources available for people in all skill levels. Furthermore, I had continual support from the MATRIX site supervisor and my other coworkers.
The exemplar project, on the other hand, allowed me to bring my own research and scholarly training in history and museum studies to the design and development of a website about the cultural heritage of colonial Cartagena de Indias. The website explores the role of slavery in the construction of some of the city’s historic monuments, and it is based on the archival research I have done for my dissertation.
As a Mellon Public Humanities fellow at MATRIX, I gained firsthand knowledge of the broad spectrum of activities that fall within the umbrella term “Digital Humanities,” from writing blogs to publishing online and programming, always in service of scholarly questions. On the surface, then, yes- the experience helped me to develop new technical skills. But the deeper I got into the larger world of digital humanities, I became increasingly aware of how these skills are best applied in the service of scholarship itself. While creating content for a digital platform, for instance, I learned to synthesize large amounts of information in order to produce concise yet rigorous writing for non-academic audiences, and to think creatively about ways to communicate my research to broader publics. In turn, this exercise helped me to reframe some of my research questions and to find connections that I had previously overlooked.
More From Our Blog
- By Lucy Smith, Doctoral Student in History and Women’s Studies Jean – Antoine Houdon, the Parian sculpture, traveled to …Read More »
- By Alex Honold, Second year PhD student in Education Studies with a focus in history education and learning technologies. …Read More »
- By: Meryem Kamil, Doctoral Candidate, American Culture “Take the banana, put it in a vat of rice overnight, and then …Read More »
- By Elizabeth Harlow, Doctoral Candidate, English Language & Literature As the University of Michigan commemorated its bicentennial in 2017, one …Read More »
- By Matthew Woodbury, Doctoral Candidate, Department of History As a historian, when asked to explain what I do, one reply …Read More »
- By Michael Pascual, Doctoral Student, American Culture I have been in school for as long as I can remember. Except …Read More »
- By Emelia Abbe, Doctoral Student, English Language and Literature I’ve never been sold on the idea of a strictly academic …Read More »
- By Nicole Navarro, Doctoral Student, Department of History When I was accepted as a Mellon Fellow at the Charles H. …Read More »
- By Catalina Esguerra, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures This past summer, I had the opportunity to work …Read More »
- By Cecilia Morales, Doctoral Candidate in English Given that one of my goals in applying for a Mellon Fellowship was to …Read More »
- By Allison Kemmerle, Doctoral Candidate in Greek & Roman History This past summer, I completed a Mellon Public Humanities Fellowship at …Read More »
- Originally written by Marie Stango for the Public Humanities section of the Discover Rackham blog in November 2015 How can scholars located …Read More »
- By Mika Kennedy, Doctoral Candidate in English Language and Literature At time of writing [August 2017], I’m in rural Nebraska. I …Read More »
- By Peggy Lee, Doctoral Candidate in American Culture RESIST My last day at the NEH in August 2017 was the …Read More »
- By Marisol Fila, PhD Student, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures I became interested in Digital Humanities during my first year …Read More »
- By Catherine Fairfield, Doctoral Student in English and Women’s Studies For the last eight weeks, I’ve been taking part in the Rackham …Read More »
Collecting Records, and Archival Experience Too: Mellon Fellowship at the Bentley Historical LibraryBy Matt Villeneuve, Doctoral Student in the Department of History The inestimable historian Barbara Tuchman once remarked that “To a historian, …Read More »
- By Elina Salminen, Ph.D. Candidate in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology This spring and summer, I have …Read More »
- By Jallicia Jolly, PhD Candidate in American Culture Purposeful intellectual work meets publicly engaged humanities in “Health and Humanities” taught …Read More »
- By Elizabeth Nabney, PhD Candidate in Classical Studies I decided to attend the 2016 Mellon mini-course, “Editorial and Translation Work Within …Read More »
- This is the first in a new series of blog posts by participants in Mellon Public Humanities Mini-Courses. By Amanda …Read More »
- By Rachel Cawkwell, PhD Student in English Language and Literature Humanties. It was one of the several misspellings of the word …Read More »
- By Malcolm Tariq, PhD Candidate, Department of English Language and Literature On my first day at the National Endowment for …Read More »
- By Christina LaRose, PhD Candidate, English & Women’s Studies I discovered the power of storytelling in the early 1990s when Princeton …Read More »
- By Emily Macgillivray, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of American Culture In 2002 pop-rock band Matchbox 20 released their third studio album, More …Read More »
- By Jennifer Alzate González, PhD Candidate, English Language and Literature Nonprofit grantmaking, impact assessment, the philanthropy sector — before my 8-week …Read More »
- By Cassius Adair, PhD Candidate, Department of English I love to talk at people, which is one of the reasons …Read More »
- By Shana Melnysyn, PhD Candidate, Anthropology and History When I first considered applying for a Mellon Public Humanities Fellowship, I …Read More »
- By Jacqueline D. Antonovich, PhD Candidate, Department of History I’ll be honest with you. One of the best perks of …Read More »