I've been thinking more generally about the digital humanities and how one might go about developing them on a campus. In particular, I was thinking about the familiar formula of innovators, early adopters, early majority, and late majority that Gladwell employs. The digital humanities represents a constellation of technologies and practices that are iterative. As such, some digital practices, like using a CMS in some minimal way are reaching the "late majority." Others like email are obviously well embedded among the late majority. On the other hand, some technologies like virtual worlds or mobile technologies are in the innovator or early adopter phase. (Social media fwiw mostly range in the early adopter to early majority phase in my view.)
When I look around at digital humanities centers and such, I read them as being concerned with identifying and moving practices into the early majority phase. As such, one way of approaching supporting digital humanities is to identify faculty who are innovators and early adopters and support their activities in these areas. What do digital humanities researchers and teachers need that print humanities faculty do not? Two general things, I think. First, they need more technology (duh). Second, because digital projects tend to require a team approach (as opposed to the traditional model of the solitary scholar), they may require support to facilitate collaboration (hiring grad students and tech specialists, travel, meetings, and other management-type costs–even though social media might help to reduce these if properly used). Same things are true for digital humanities teachers. They need more technology in the classroom and accessible for their students. They also likely will require more/different external support (e.g. if you are going to ask your students to do a video project, you'll probably want there to be staff who can support student tech questions… I can't figure out how to upload my video onto my computer, etc. etc.).
Out of that, I get one thought, which is that if you want to support innovators/early adopters, you have to offer grants that are designed to help them get the things they need.
Another way would be to identify digital humanities practices that are growing among early adopters and publicize/support them to tip them into the early majority phase. I suppose the latter would mean imagining that a digital humanities agent has a missionary goal. And maybe it does, maybe all disciplinary practices have some aspect that seeks to grow and reproduce. As I see it, this approach means the following:
- Identify a technology/tech practice poised to tip toward the early majority.
- Recruit innovators and early adopters already using it for research/teaching.
- Support and publicize their activities on the campus.
- Make it easier for more early adopter types and early majority folks to get on board.
Just for sake of argument, I'll use the closest horizon technologies from the 2010 Horizon Report: Mobile Computing and Open Content. For brevity, I'll just use the first. So you first identify humanists who are doing research into mobile computing, using mobile computing to do research, or teaching with or about mobile computing. You write a targeted RFP for research in mobile computing. You create a speaker series around mobile computing. You get someone to offer a graduate course or two on mobile computing with support. You encourage faculty to develop courses using mobile tech by offering some workshops and other support (and maybe offer them an iPad or something). The goal is to move from a situation where maybe 5% of faculty are using mobile technologies to one where maybe 10% are.
Mobile computing is just an easy example and maybe it isn't the right choice. That's not the point. The point I'm interested in is the strategy behind the example. It's great to support innovators and early adopters. I put myself in that category and I'm happy for the support. But I think it is also necessary to consider how that support leads to wider adoption of digital humanities practices among faculty.