Students tend to identify themselves as good at one of two academic categories: math/science or humanities.
They think of themselves as either a “math person” or an “English person,” and parents often help foster such thinking, considering the two studies distinct and separate.
With the rise of technology, many humanities lovers find themselves at a considerable disadvantage. College admissions committees seem to favor students with STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) profiles.
The vast majority of new jobs require STEM-based backgrounds. When funds are cut, the humanities are often the first to go. As a result, many would-be humanities majors are discouraged about this field of study, finding it archaic and irrelevant in the modern world. However, such thinking is extremely limited in scope and vision.
Since the 1940s, but really in the last five years, a new type of humanities has been on the rise: Digital Humanities. When you consider that traditional humanities studies have been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years (philosophy, literature, etc.), Digital Humanities is a fledgling field indeed. In fact, it is so new that even its definition is still in a formative state.
What is Digital Humanities? Well, in one sense, all information and data in this modern age is becoming digitized. However, there are specific applications within humanities studies of the technological tools that are becoming so pervasive.
In fact, it no longer makes sense for students to think of themselves as exclusively a “math person” or an “English person,” a devotee of STEM versus a devotee of the Humanities. Increasingly, hybrid academic fields are beginning to take advantages of both academic categories.
Specifically, Digital Humanities is a new major (sometimes a minor) that is offered at various colleges and universities. (The University of Virginia has an entire institute—The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities—dedicated to this study, which was started in the 90’s through a grant from IBM.) Professor Johanna Drucker, who teaches an introduction to Digital Humanities course at UCLA calls the study “work at the intersection of digital technology and humanities disciplines.” The goal of such work is to “expand the reach and impact of the humanities and humanistic knowledge for the public good.”
However, what is the nature of such work? Well, the possibilities are varied and wide-reaching. They include: 3D visualization, text-mining, mapping, network analysis. Projects might include creating a digital encyclopedia of early civilization, or curating an on-line art exhibit, or reconstructing in 3D an ancient city.
What kinds of jobs are available for Digital Humanities majors? The possibilities are as diverse as the study itself. Most obviously, there is library work. Since the rise of the Internet, the idea of digitizing text has stirred up all kinds of debate, from the near-miraculous accessibility of information in digital form to the controversy over copyright laws in this new technological world. However these controversies are resolved, rest assured there will be plenty of opportunities for Digital Humanities majors to find meaningful and profitable ways to participate in this very current discussion.
Additionally, Digital Humanities majors participate in social media campaigns. They work for museums. They help build databases. They manage large projects. That’s just the start.
One reason that students might want to consider a Digital Humanities major is that the interdisciplinary nature of the study makes it extremely attractive in the job market. As William Pannapacker of The Chronicle of Higher Education writes, “DH offers transferable skills that can land (students) in administration, coding, grant writing, and project management if they are unable to find permanent academic posts.”
In fact, Pannapacker describes his experiences at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, hosted by the University of Victoria, as one of increasing conviction as the numbers of participants tripled over the past five years, and the participants talk about the advantages of “the transformative power of the work.”
As Laura Mandell, director of the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture at Texas A&M University, says, “cuts are coming in everywhere in the humanities, and money is being strategically reallocated, but DH is seen as a good bet for continuing investment.
So more and more people are seeking to be identified with it.” Or, in short, as market expert Karen Kelsky says, “any candidate who can add an expertise in Digital Humanities to their conventional profile is going to be noticed.”
High school students may not feel equipped to make a commitment as a Digital Humanities major, per se. However, the nature of this discussion only highlights the fact that the academic world is transforming and students must stay ahead of the curve. For STEM students, the job market is largely secure. There are more jobs than there are qualified applicants, and universities are actively seeking qualified candidates within these majors. However, there is room for the savvy humanities lover as well.
My advice for the parents whose child seems inclined toward the humanities, the child who would rather pick up a good book than sit at a computer, is to encourage these interests while simultaneously bolstering his or her exposure to digital learning.
While that student may or may not want to make a career in STEM, this education will be invaluable for his or her career in the humanities. It will also make him or her an attractive, perceptive, and well-rounded candidate in the sea of “math-only” versus “English-only” candidates when applying to college.
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