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A Chance to See DH Work from Another Side

2018 April 4
by Sheila

Doodle by Jannelle Legg

My days of grant writing have come to an end for now. I’m pleased to announce that starting in late June, I will begin as a program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities and will join the amazing, hard-working team in the Office of Digital Humanities. I couldn’t feel more excited for this opportunity to work for an organization truly dedicated to public humanities.

The position will offer me a chance to continue learning and exploring digital humanities methods and projects in a broader context than I do now. I will also work closely with many of you as potential and current grantees to develop work in the multiple ways that digital humanities scholarship develops and is expressed.

This new job, however, means that I must leave RRCHNM,which will not be easy.

Since 2005, I contributed to 26 funded grant proposals yielding $13 million in funding for the Center, and I worked on 20+ digital projects from the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank to Mobile for Museums, Histories of the National Mall, and Omeka, and to the DoingDH professional development series that is increasing digital capacity of faculty and cultural heritage professionals. Over these 13 years, I have worked with many smart and dedicated professional staff, graduate students, faculty at Mason, and with collaborators across cultural heritage organizations, foundations, universities, and open-source communities. My digital public humanities work has been both challenging and meaningful, as most collaborative work is. I remain convinced that all of the work I’ve done is not mine alone and is better because of collaboration.

During this time, I developed many close friendships with my colleagues. We’ve been through a lot together (including losing Roy) over the years: marriages, kids, mortgages, epic vacations, family deaths, illnesses, dissertation defenses, and white elephant exchanges. Some of my best recent memories occur during lunch at the Center’s main dev table with the amazing Public Projects team,+ our honorary teammate, Faolan Cheslack-Postava, and Research Projects Director Sean Takats, analyzing ingredients and packaging of Trader Joe’s snacks, discussing the rules of obscure Olympic sports, or playing trivia. All the while, we worked hard together moving towards shared goals; tackled big projects and problems; planned and discussed projects; respected one another’s expertise; listened to one another’s voices; and worked towards consensus on major decisions.

Some colleagues at other universities have marveled that I was able to craft a career and scholarly identity while working as a contingent faculty member whose salary was paid by grants. Somehow I fit in a lot, in addition to digital projects, including presenting and writing a few things (someday, my long-awaited digital and print publication will be published), and having some fun along the way. This worked for a long while, but I’m ready for a change.

When you’ve been at RRCHNM as long as I have, you see many folks come and go, and change will necessarily come to RRCHNM. By the end of the summer, all four of RRCHNM’s women leaders mentioned in Sharon Leon’s 2016-17 essay will have left the Center, as well as some staff and graduate students who will be moving on. During my time here, I feel lucky to have worked closely with many accomplished RRCHNM alum, including Sharon Leon, Tom Scheinfeldt, Dan Cohen, Lisa Rhody, Trevor Owens, Jeremy Boggs, and many others.

Much of the Center’s work has relied on the ideas and expertise of the Center’s staff at given moments in time. New exciting Center projects will emerge and reflect the ideas and specialties of the existing and incoming faculty. Long-term software projects, such as Omeka and Zotero, will remain strong due to their incredible project teams, and because of efforts taken by project directors past and present who established mechanisms to ensure for their long-term sustainability.

I came to Mason in 2002 as a part-time PhD student to work with Roy, and never imagined staying until 2018 to work for a Center named for him, without him there. I probably stayed longer than I would have were he still alive.

Now is the right time for me to move on to the NEH-ODH where I can support and foster digital humanities work at the national level. I’ll see you soon, when I will be exploring DH from another side and finding out the secret to those legendary ODH muffins.

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