Learning in Public

In my most recent talk on humanities computing, one of the issues that I raised, and that others asked about, was how humanities computing projects are evaluated in a way that can contribute to career advancement, especially for those of us who do not hold traditional research positions but are some kind of hybrid developer/research assistant. The time that I spend developing a database and website (what our end-users see) is time that I don’t spend writing scholarly articles (which would be better for my career). This is a conundrum that has been recognised by scholars in humanities computing, but as long as we remain in the academy, we have to adapt to the academy as much as work towards making the academy more adaptable to a new paradigm.

I know – and I keep being told – that it’s time I wrote a paper or two about my work on Founders and Survivors. I think that the primary material for this paper would be the project itself. As I look back over the last two years, I think that many of the FAS team have been learning a lot about methods and techniques in historical study that are new to us, if not entirely new. Since our website launched last year, some of this learning is taking place in public.

My ‘learning in public’ has meant learning about Drupal administration, learning to work with researchers from a variety of disciplines, and learning about the humanities computing landscape and where our project might be located in that landscape. This learning necessarily involves experimentation, risk-taking and public mistakes. I think some reflection on this learning process could be useful for others working or considering working on humanities computing projects. And perhaps, in the same spirit of learning in public, some of my thoughts on the process or fragments of a draft might be shared on this blog.