Desiderata for A Digital Humanist: My Ada Lovelace Day Tribute to Elli Mylonas

So I always forget about Ada Lovelace Day.  Maybe it’s because my childhood hero was Marie Curie . . . and Madeline Albright — clearly I was always going to end up in DH.

But this year is important, because I want to highlight a woman I have worked with for three years, and who has taught me more about Digital Humanities than I ever thought I could (or still had to) learn.  I have been especially fortunate in DH, I’ve had many mentors, and despite other trends in the community, they have almost all been women.  But if Holly Shulman got me started, Bess Sadler taught me to code, and Bethany Nowviskie became my grownup heroElli Mylonas taught me how to be a professional Digital Humanist.

I met Elli completely by chance.  In the final hours of the 2010 Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities we found ourselves suddenly united in the face of a common enemy: the completely clueless (male) desk clerk who did not believe us when we told him we had already downloaded the new printer drivers AND restarted the machine, so all we required of him was to enter a user name and password so the computer could restart.  We eventually persuaded him to log onto the machine and thus achieved our ultimate goal: printing our boarding passes and getting out of Chicago.

As we headed into the final session Elli said she had enjoyed my talk and started rummaging around in her purse.  She eventually found a business card and handed it to me saying “If you ever find yourself in New England, let me know and I’ll set up a talk for you at Brown.”

When I wrote 2 months later to say I would be in Boston, Elli was as good as her word and better.  She organized my talk, gave me a tour of the campus (beautiful in the snow), and took me around to meet her colleagues — many of whom were already heading home before the blizzard really hit.  Within hours she had completely sold me on Brown University, and I vowed that if I ever had the chance to work with her,  I would take it.

That chance came just 3 months later, and I had the good fortune become the first Digital Humanities Librarian at Brown.

When I started at Brown, I had four years of DH project work under my belt, but only as a graduate student.  Elli offered to meet with me every Wednesday at 8:30am for coffee and conversation.  She told me about what she was working on and then answered any (and really all) questions I had about the university.  She brought me to all her DH project meetings, and graciously attended the few lined up for me.  And when it all became overwhelming, she told me about the early days of the Perseus Project or just talked about the avant-guard music/noise/multimedia concert she had attended the night before.

Have I mentioned at this point that she was never my boss?  And originally was in a different department?  No one asked her to do this, and when I have thanked her for keeping me afloat that first year, she was genuinely surprised that anyone wouldn’t offer this level of mentoring to a new, junior colleague.  Imagine a world where she was right.

From watching Elli (and receiving her advice), I learned not just how to ‘do’ DH, but how to manage DH projects.  She showed me how to write an agenda.  The importance of action items, how to learn the feel of a campus, how to engage stakeholders, how social contacts cut across bureaucracy, and what to do when a faculty member decides they want to apply for a grant that’s due in less than 2 weeks.  How to write a grant quickly, and how to write a grant well (but never in only 2 weeks).

I wish every new DH alt-ac could work with Elli.  And I know I am not the only person she has helped succeed.

One final note of awesomeness — Thanks to her Classics background, Elli refers to Project Outcomes as “Desiderata.”  And, really, what could be better than that?

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