Week 5


Many of the things that were said in “Precarious Labor and the Digital Humanities” were new to me, yet they were unsurprising. But the section about summer seminars was simply ridiculous. I couldn’t believe that they had to take out money from their already precarious salary to invest in a seminar that will make them seem more “apt” in the eyes of universities.

All of that aside, there was a line that raised some questions for me. It reads, “Digital laborers face particular challenges in mentorship and advancement in university contexts. Their work, and their positions, is often new to the university, so there is little institutional memory about how best to succeed”(4). I ask myself. could this be a good thing? I know mentorship is key, but maybe not having a mentor could be an opportunity to have more agency over your project? I’m not sure.

Some of the issues that this article brings up, in a way, made me recall the issues with Ethnic Studies that Lorgia Garcia Peña raises in Community as Rebellion: A Syllabus for Surviving Academia as a Woman of Color. I don’t know much about DH and am not sure if it’s even fair to compare the overlooking of Ethnic Studies to the overlooking of DH. But I’d love to hear what other’s have experienced in the realm of DH. Whether lack of mentorship is a pro or a con and if it’s fair to compare DH issues to Ethnic Studies issues? (or not)

4 thoughts on “Week 5

  1. Jen Hoyer (she/her)

    Adriana, I’m glad you brought up comparing DH to other disciplines because I think it’s really worth looking at the similarities we see across range of our disciplines. I think it’s so easy to get lost in our silos of departments and professional organizations and not realize that the issues of precarity that we’re exhausted by are not unique to us. If we identify common issues, I think we can more clearly identify the roots of systemic injustices and potentially address them.

    Your question about mentorship is also really interesting. It has me thinking about the first job I was offered out of grad school (as a new librarian); because I would’ve been the only librarian in that setting, I was really concerned that I wouldn’t have any mentorship. I was afraid I wouldn’t keep learning, wouldn’t have role professional role models, and instead would end up stuck doing the same thing forever because I had no one but myself to challenge my ideas or suggest new directions for growth. To be honest, I was probably being overly paranoid–I think I would’ve had enough initiative to find folks outside that institution who could mentor me as a new professional–but I think it’s really valuable to look at how we are (and who is) given access to opportunities for continued growth and learning, if we want them.

  2. Sean Patrick Palmer

    I never had a mentor. I was just shoved into my position and left to sink or swim. I had no real support, and, since I was in a brand new position, the job duties were at best ill-defined. Now, in terms of the technology, no one at the college could have mentored me because they were all unfamiliar with it. In this regard, a mentor honestly wouldn’t have helped me.

    However, one of the things a mentor does do is guide the mentee through the bureaucracy and the office politics. No mentor means no help here. You cannot rely on your colleagues because they might not want you to succeed for their own reasons. In my case, in fact, the powers-that-be set up the other lab tech and me to fight. So, anytime anything went wrong, the other lab tech would go straight to the office to let EVERYONE know how I was failing.

    Further, without a mentor, I had no guidance in maneuvering through the bureaucracy, which also caused problems. All the things I discussed about going through the tenure and the class observation processes was from personal experience… no one told me any of those things. I survived the process mostly because I’m stubborn and I managed to convince my department chair that the work I was doing was worthwhile.

  3. Katina Rogers (she/her)

    Great questions, Adrianna. From my perspective, the lack of institutional memory is indeed sometimes a good thing—it makes it more possible to create new systems that work well, rather than trying to figure out the mechanics of something that has been perpetuated over time when it might no longer serve its intended purpose. At the same time, it can create a huge lift because a new person in a new role is having to create everything from whole cloth.

    As far as mentorship goes, though, I think that it can take many different forms and doesn’t necessarily need to be a pairing of two people with similar roles/trajectories. Some of the best mentors I have had have been people who helped teach me how to think about my work, rather than people who taught me how to DO my work, if that distinction makes sense. Mentoring, for me, is much more than skill development. Still, the question of how mentorship is built into a new position is a good one, because as Jen notes it’s not always a given that someone will know how to seek out that support (or if they’ll feel that they have the right to do so).

  4. Tuka Al-Sahlani

    Yes! Great questions.
    1. The sentence you cited captured me as well, but to recall my privilege (and affordance). I am in DH because of my mentor. I took an introductory to DH course with her a few years ago, and she has been my mentor ever since. Having been in DH, I am continuously grateful to have a mentor. I don’t know if I could have been in DH without a mentor, to be honest.
    2. Thank you for mentioning Community as Rebellion: A Syllabus for Surviving Academia as a Woman of Color (sadly I will not be able to attend the talk). I would think to compare both fields from the perspective that women needed to be “the chain” for each other to speak of and stand “within” and “outside” the chain to support each other.

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