Tagged week 3

Building “The Life DHSI with Steve Anderson”: Blogging and Professionalization in the Digital Humanities

The white paper below is my final assignment for Week 3, Professionalizing the Early Career Digital Humanist, as part of the Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities at DHSI 2015.


Introduction

This summer I spent three weeks at the University of Victoria completing the Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities. The certificate is offered by the English department at UVic in conjunction with DHSI (Digital Humanities Summer Institute) and the ETCL (Electronic Textual Cultures Lab). This year at DHSI 2015 was the first run of the program, which requires five weeks of study. I was able to transfer-in my classes from DHSI 2014, and also HILT 2014 (Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching) which took place at the University of Maryland last August, enabling me to complete the certificate this year. Requirements for the certificate include a daily log or journal, a presentation on work-in-progress each week, and also a white paper discussing each week’s material. In addition to these items, a digital project must also be completed for each class. Since I was at DHSI for all three weeks this year, I made this website or blog for my digital project, The Life DHSI with Steve Anderson, which extended across all three classes. This digital project especially connected with my last class in week three, Professionalizing the Early Career Digital Humanist.

Professionalization and the web

One of the key takeaways of the professionalization class was the need to control our own digital presence. In order to present ourselves online in the best possible light, we first need to be findable on the web. With a common name like “Steve Anderson” finding myself with a Google search was not as simple as it might seem. Adding more information, such as my middle name (Gordon), my university affiliation at UC Riverside, or my hometown of La Verne, California, definitely helped. The idea is to make the task of finding you online as easy as possible for job search and hiring committees. I already had a personal website at stevenganderson.org, but the domain name didn’t match how I usually represent myself, I rarely use “Steven” or my middle initial. Through the professionalization class I changed the domain name for my personal site from stevenganderson.org to steveanderson.digital This new “.digital” domain name is much more memorable, and also in line with my digital humanities work. With some SEO or search engine optimization, I might be able to raise my profile a little higher in a general Google search. In addition to my steveanderson.digital web presence, I also created this WordPress blog, The Life DHSI with Steve Anderson, for my DHSI classes as an homage to Wes Anderson (no relation!) and his film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Through The Life DHSI website, the journals and essays required for the Graduate Certificate in DH found a home on the web, possibly helping others attending DHSI and those interested in the DH certificate. By combining the writing for the certificate program with a new blog centered on DHSI, I increased my digital humanities web presence as well.

Finding a theme

The notion here of “finding a theme” is twofold. First, there is the need for a certain aesthetic or design for the website that is interesting and memorable. With The Life DHSI I was drawing on Wes Anderson’s films, which use carefully chosen typographical elements and interesting color palettes. Anderson’s films rely on analog and digital techniques and they focus on the art of storytelling, and these aspects are very much a part of my own work in digital humanities. I purchased the domain name thelifedhsi.org from Hover, and began searching online for graphics related to The Life Aquatic film. The second part of “finding a theme” is the template or digital design. I thought briefly about working with Drupal for this project, but I settled on WordPress since the weeks at DHSI were already so busy. I’m more familiar with WordPress, and this made it easier for me to focus on content for the site, which I would be generating on a daily basis. The theme for the site is Make Plus by The Theme Foundry ($99 yearly subscription), and the typography or web fonts are provided by Typekit which I use as part of my Adobe Creative Suite subscription ($20 monthly for students and teachers). With my (Wes) Andersonian design and Make Plus theme, I was ready to construct the website. My idea was to keep the blog fun and friendly, but also informative and professional — DHSI is a wonderful mix of these two qualities, and this is something I tried to capture in digital form. I also made sure to include Accessibility features by using Joe Dolson’s plugin that allows users to change the color, contrast, and text size as needed along with other options. Twitter is a major feature of many academic conferences these days, and especially at DHSI there is a constant stream of activity. On The Life DHSI homepage I included my Twitter handle (@sgahistory) front and center, as well as a feed of #dhsi2015 activity.

Managing content, and sanity

A year or so ago a few of the WordPress websites I was working on were hacked — all of the WordPress core data and plugins were up-to-date, the attackers may have gained access through simple user passwords, or perhaps through out-of-date server software. These sites ran open-source software from WordPress.org which requires self-hosting, WordPress.com sites are run by the company Automattic. One of the sites was totally destroyed, and it had to be rebuilt from scratch as the backups were infected and damaged as well. All of the hacked sites were hosted on university servers at UC Riverside, and while free of charge for academic projects there was little support, especially for dealing with viruses and backups. For the sites that were hacked but still online, I was able clean them with the help of Sucuri (yearly fee of $89 per site at the time, less with multiple sites, but plans have also changed). The frustrating and time-consuming experience of cleaning, repairing, and hardening multiple WordPress sites led me to look for hosting outside of the university when possible. Many web hosts offered low prices, but much needed services such as backup and security were either an additional cost or not available at all. Managed hosting with WP Engine has been much more reliable, and with fantastic customer support as well (WP Engine helped me automatically redirect all posts at stevenganderson.org to steveanderson.digital so that no links were broken in the changing of domain names). WP Engine updates WordPress core files automatically, and they include data caching so no plugins are needed to speed up the site. Security, anti-malware, and automatic backups are included in the $29 monthly fee, and a global CDN or content delivery network is also available (WP Engine also has yearly options, and packages for multiple installs). Building digital projects and creating content is one thing, but managing them can be quite a chore, and sadly the time, labor, and monetary expense necessary for proper maintenance is often overlooked. Through our discussions in Professionalizing the Early Career Digital Humanist we found that while many social media and blogging platforms are free, sometimes it’s best to go with premium services. Along with WordPress and WP Engine, the online platform Squarespace also provides managed hosting for websites and blogs. Many in the professionalization class chose Squarespace to develop their first personal website ($8 a month for hosting, security, and design all in one, or even less with education pricing).

Archiving a digital project

Using a managed host like WP Engine or Squarespace is fantastic while the blog is being developed and actively maintained. Over time though, the associated costs might overwhelm a tight budget, and if new content is no longer being added it could be time to archive the website. Self-hosted WordPress installations require a MySQL database, Php software, and a web server to host the data. With WP Engine these things are all taken care of, but when it comes time to archive the site a new strategy is needed. Making sure the website is captured by the Internet Archive is one way to make certain that the content remains online for the foreseeable future, and making local offline backups is always a good idea too (BackupBuddy by iThemes is great for this). During the professionalization class I signed up for Reclaim Hosting, a new web hosting company focusing on academic institutions and individual students and scholars with yearly plans as low as $25! I chose the “faculty & institution” plan of $45 a year, which includes unlimited domains. The Life DHSI website could be moved to a functioning WordPress installation at Reclaim Hosting, and I could also setup test sites for working with Drupal, Omeka, Wikis, and Scalar. If The Life DHSI blog is no longer being actively updated, transforming the WordPress data into a static HTML5 website would eliminate the need for a MySQL database and also make the data more portable and secure. Static HTML5 could be hosted at Github for free, even with a custom domain, although the domain name would need to be paid for each year via a domain registrar. For the time being I’ll keep The Life DHSI at WP Engine, as I’d like to add posts about DHSI 2014 and also HILT 2014, and I plan on attending DHSI in the future as well.

Conclusion

Building The Life DHSI was not an easy task, but it was an enriching one. Through the website I have been able to share my daily logs, white papers, and other posts about DHSI openly on the web. Digital humanists and digital scholars are especially active on the Internet, and it’s important to consider our digital projects and web environments from a variety of perspectives. The process of building The Life DHSI helped me to see how even small digital projects have many points to consider, from online security and data protection, to aesthetic design choices and accessibility features. Many times the lowest cost alternative is used, especially for social media, but even users of free services such as Twitter and Facebook can have their information put at risk. Digital humanists, whether early-career or otherwise, should be adept at analyzing online service providers, as well as making informed decisions about the amount of effort and funding that digital projects require for sustainability and longevity.

Journal 5 – Professionalizing the Early Career Digital Humanist

On the last day of class, also the last day of Week 3 DHSI 2015, we worked on our individual projects. Many in the class created new websites on WordPress.com and especially Squarespace. WordPress.com websites are easy to setup, there are many free themes, and the blogging function is pretty straightforward. For those in the class that did not want a blog but did want a more stylish web presence, Squarespace was the favorite. There is no free tier for Squarespace, but the monthly cost is only around $8, or less with education pricing. Squarespace also has blogging features, but most of the students in the class that went with Squarespace chose to make a static website.

WordPress.com is free, however they also place ads on your site. These ads are seen by seen by a small percentage of visitors, and they help WordPress.com cover expenses. For academics entering the job market though, these ads can make the site look a little unprofessional. Since it’s difficult to tell who will see the ads and when (possibly a hiring committee, who might only visit the site once), it’s best to pay for an ad-free website, about $30 yearly.

Many of the Squarespace templates were clean and crisp. Students in the class really liked the clean modern design of Squarespace, but some found the customization options a little tricky. One of the students emailed Squarespace for help during class, and she received a reply within minutes. Such great customer service is another compelling reason to go with Squarespace.

Later in the afternoon we worked on grants and other types of project proposals. Some of us wrote proposals on the spot, while others refined documents they had already been working on. We used Dr. Karen’s Foolproof Grant Template, focusing on the transition between the initial “large general topic of wide interest” and the “gap in knowledge” section. This transition can make or break a grant proposal — it’s in the beginning of the document and it must be compelling and informative in order to catch the eye of the funding committee.

drewbarker.info webpage
One of the students, Drew Barker @drewNblue, built his Squarespace website in-class with his own photos. He even purchased a new domain name, http://drewbarker.info in order to professionalize his web presence.

Journal 4 – Professionalizing the Early Career Digital Humanist

Grant writing was the subject of our discussion this morning, and we focused on the professional and social networks that grant information flows through. Our class has a mix of people from the United States and Canada, so we covered both US and Canadian grant agencies.


Canadian funding agencies

  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)
  • Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI)
  • Canadian Heritage
  • Province specific funding
  • Canada Council for the Arts

US funding agencies

  • National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Digital Humanities (NEH ODH)
  • National Science Foundation (NSF)

Private Funding Organizations

  • Andrew W. Mellon
    • Scholarly Communication
    • Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities
  • MacArthur Foundation
    • Digital Media & Learning
  • Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • Wellcome Trust

Things to think about when proposing a DH project grant:
Audience
– the people receiving and deciding on the grant might not be steeped in the digital humanities or DH culture, be sure to explain things clearly and see the wider picture of the research

Interdisciplinarity
– not just inter-humanities, the sciences should be involved too, as a full partner, not just some type of technical support

Collaboration
– this can extend beyond the university or academia itself, or perhaps across institutions, perhaps even in different countries

Explaining equipment and space needs
– some items on the grant might not be approved or funded, but if these items are essential, be sure to include clear reasoning for the equipment or space, how it will be used, how long it will be needed for, and what will happen to the equipment at the end of the grant/research period

Making budgets seem reasonable
– this isn’t so much to make the budget small, but to make sure that all aspects of the project have been considered, this requires collaboration at the very beginning of the writing process


We also talked about “Dr. Karen Kelsky’s Foolproof Grant Template” at http://theprofessorisin.com The structure of the proposal is clear, concise, and very persuasive. It’s a must-have formula for constructing grant proposals (as well as a thesis, abstract, or prospectus).

Dr. Karen Kelsky's Foolproof Grant Template at http://theprofessorisin.com
Dr. Karen Kelsky’s Foolproof Grant Template at http://theprofessorisin.com

Journal 3 – Professionalizing the Early Career Digital Humanist

We dove into online presence and cyberinfrastructure today, starting with an overview of WordPress and Squarespace as possibilities. WordPress has two separate paths, either wordpress.com (which is a free service, with premium features available for a fee), or wordpress.org (which is the open source engine of WordPress, where you download and host your own installation). With WordPress.org we could run the installation on a host like asmallorange.com or reclaimhosting.com With the power of the self-hosted WordPress install though, comes a lot of responsibility. In addition to choosing a theme, designing pages and posts, and uploading content, there are other things to worry about, like storage space and bandwidth. In addition, wordpress.org sites need other things, like backup and malware protection. Running your own self-hosted WordPress site can be rewarding, but it also requires a high investment of time.

Squarespace was another great solution for hosting our online presence, and domain names can be purchased there as well. Squarespace has a blogging feature, just like WordPress, but it can also be extended in many other ways, such as adding an online storefront. With Squarespace, the control panel is within the site itself, so changes can be made right in the browser with the site live on the right-hand side of the screen. WordPress has been moving in this direction as well, where sites can be redesigned live with their new Customizer feature. Squarespace also has an education discount of 50%, it’s available at: http://squarespace.com/students

Along with creating a personal/academic website, we also discussed other methods of sharing scholarly work. Some of these options were posting audio clips to SoundCloud, creating a podcast, making a short video, and participating in a three-minute dissertation contest. The competition might go by different names according to the school, UC Riverside calls it “Grad Slam.” Creating a blog about your dissertation can be really helpful for working through the project, and also for gaining an audience. However, there are many caveats for this, as dissertation committees and future book publishers can have strict rules about the process — always best to check around before starting the project. A few notable digital dissertations were Amanda Visconti’s digital dissertation: http://dr.amandavisconti.com, Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s project for Planned Obsolescence: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/plannedobsolescence/ and Dani Spinosa’s project, Generic Pronoun http://genericpronoun.com

reclaim hosting screenshot
Reclaim Hosting is a great way to go for personal and professional cyberinfrastructure. It’s only $25 a year for 2GB of storage and unlimited bandwidth.

Journal 2 – Professionalizing the Early Career Digital Humanist

This morning we presented the elevator speeches we worked on yesterday afternoon to each other in small groups. An idea we had about this type of one-on-one or small group conversation, was to layer the information so that it’s easy to digest. For example, each sentence could provide a little bit of information about the project, beginning with a basic overview of time and place, and then touching on more complex ideas. Reading the elevator speech versus hearing it on the spot required different types of communication. We found that the ideas written down were clear, but when delivered verbally they could be too dense or heavy with information for a quick listen. Conversely, if the elevator speech is only set to be delivered in person verbally, it might be too informal for a more serious academic meeting. It’s important to hone the elevator speech with written and verbal practice, also considering body language and other nonverbal social cues from the listener.

The afternoon was a discussion of social media, and how we can present ourselves as academics online in the best ways. One of the problems many people face with online identities is that links or URLs can change over the years. An option that some researchers are using is a DOI (Digital Object Identifier). The DOI is a static reference that lives above the level of the domain name, and it can be used as a permanent location for links that might change over time. For example, if you had an important blog post at “example.com/p=25” but the URL was changed to another URL, like “example.com/june-2015/great-blog-post,” a DOI could be used to provide a permanent non-changing link. Many journals and libraries are using the CrossRef system to manage URLs, which helps prevents broken links or link rot. The ORCID (“orchid”) service provides DOIs that can be used for individuals. Funding agencies such as the NIH and NSF are using the integration of ORCID to link researchers and information about their grants. This will help reduce the paperwork overhead of applying for and tracking grants, as information can be entered into ORCID once and then applied to each particular project: https://orcid.org/blog/2014/02/19/link-your-orcid-record-your-funding

ORCID example
This image shows how ORCID information can travel between grant winners, funding agencies, and publishing groups without having to enter information multiple times.

Journal 1 – Professionalizing the Early Career Digital Humanist

After introductions in the morning we started discussing what it means to be a “professional” digital humanist, and how we present ourselves online. Online presence is something many cringe about, but in this modern digital age we’re all already online, somewhere, for something. What that “something” is might be decided by others, unless you curate your own digital presence. We need to Google ourselves and see how we’re presented online. Ideally this is done from a computer you’ve never used or a private/incognito browser window. On your own computer the search results might be catered to you specifically, and it would be best to see your results as others see them. Ranking near the top of page one on Google can be really important for finding jobs, as committees are very likely to do some research about you online. Making sure that you’re visible and presented in the best light requires some work with building online profiles, adding photographs of yourself, and also taking a look at search engine optimization (SEO).

Many academics have a sense that tenure track positions are the only ones to shoot for, but “alt ac” careers can be rewarding as well, possibly with better hours and pay. As early career digital humanists we’re uniquely positioned to work in a variety of industries. Keeping ourselves open to possibilities outside or perhaps alongside academia is important. The vast majority of PhDs are able to get work, but only a small sliver finds a tenure track position. Even with a tenure track job there’s no certainty that tenure will be achieved. Moving forward as digital humanists we should keep our research front and center, and also look toward the horizon for new developments in social media and digital technology.

In the later afternoon we started working on our “elevator speech,” which is a short and precise verbal communication about a major project you’re working on. The idea behind the elevator speech is that if you found yourself in an elevator with a person offering a job, you could quickly explain yourself and your work before the doors open at the next floor. The elevator speech idea comes from the business world, but it’s also very helpful for explaining digital humanities projects or dissertation research in a clear, concise, and friendly way — definitely a good skill for grant writing too.

google search screenshot
This Google Search screenshot for “Steve Anderson” doesn’t show me at all. Using my full name – Steven Gordon Anderson – would help, along with other specific information, like my university ( UC Riverside) or my hometown (La Verne, CA).
google search via vpn screenshot
This Google Search was done from DHSI in Victoria, using the VPN service from the UC Riverside Library. The Canadian search results are gone since the VPN makes it appear as though I’m in the United States. I’m still nowhere to be seen though — time for some SEO work.