Every generation has to kill the dragon, or so the saying goes.
I may be starting a new chapter in my life, but I refuse to slam the door behind me.
If I am privileged, then I owe that privilege to my teachers — female and male — who took time out of their busy lives and frantic production schedules to answer my questions, critique my data models, debug my programs, and tweak my code.
I am lucky. By the time I got to the Scholars’ Lab, I was on my fifth dissertation prospectus. Feelings of isolation and unworthiness, those constant companions in graduate school, were beginning to reach critical levels. I have a vivid memory of meeting Bess Sadler (then head of R&D), talking with her, and then watching her turn to Joe Gilbert and say “She is one of us!” No one had said anything like that to me in . . . well . . . years.
When I started my fellowship, I hadn’t written a computer program in seven years. Bess started to teach me Ruby on Rails, and when she realized that I didn’t know HTML and had never even heard of Information Design, she gave me books on those topics as well. When Bess left the Scholars’ Lab for another position in the library I panicked, until I realized that the new head of R&D, Matt Mitchell, was just as happy to work with me and so was his successor, Wayne Graham.
And behind it all was Bethany Nowviskie. Triple-booked most days of the week, tweeting intriguing project links and encouraging words faster than I could follow, and always working on some new way to bring more people under the big tent of DH, Bethany fostered community wherever she went.
And she is still doing it. The Scholars’ Lab has undergone an almost complete staff turnover since I started my fellowship in the Fall of 2008, but it remains the same welcoming and challenging community where I found my intellectual home.
Programming was the least important skill I learned in those years hanging out on the 4th Floor of Alderman Library. I learned how to work collaboratively, not just with software developers, but with Archeologists, Musicologists, and Literary Theorists. My fellow fellows challenged my assumptions about evidence and argument and helped me craft a rhetoric that (hopefully) breaks out of my own disciplinary boundaries.
Sixteen months ago, I knocked on Bethany’s open door to ask if she had any time to meet with me in the next week. I had come to the realization that I no longer wanted to be a history professor and had been freaking out. A huge, gentle (though slightly mischievous) smile spread over her face, and for the first time since I had printed out the job postings from the AHA website, I relaxed.
Last summer, surrounded by boxes in my new apartment in Boston, I saw Bethany’s offer to include in her Tenure and Promotion Dossier any and all DMs sent in before the deadline. I cleared off a chair, thought for a while, and then wrote the following:
D nowviskie is my model for scholarly creativity and collaboration. With wisdom and kindness she creates safe spaces for people to flourish
To quote Charles Dickens, “May that be said of us, and all of us!”