“What is Digital Humanities?”
I asked myself this question three years ago as a Communications Studies major at UCLA. The name itself seemed to be a compound of two paradoxical words, considering our general understanding of humanities studies. Many people I encounter to this day continue to ask me this same question. At the time, all I knew was that it was a novel field of humanities, rich in technology, yet without the intimidation of computer science and engineering classes. As I came to learn, it allowed me to delve into the kind of social, historical, artistic, and literary work I loved. Yet, it also introduced exciting modern toolsets I had been yearning to dabble in for years. Finally there existed a synthesis of digital, logical left-brain, techniques mastered with humanities, emotional intelligence and right-brain activity. By the end of my minor certification, I had completed two research apprenticeships, six projects, one published work, and worked with groups of students from all disciplinary backgrounds. It was no surprise that I felt ready for my embarkation into the workforce. In the midst of my senior year, I signed an offer to become an Oracle Sales Engineer. From that moment, I knew I owed much of my selection for the position to the skills I had acquired in the DH program.
I was selected to be in a group of Technology Sales Engineers, dedicated to specializing in products related to hardware, databases, and middleware. Most of college hires in this group had varying experience with these topics, yet I was one of the very few that lacked either an engineering or science background. I inferred from this that the research and skills I acquired in the DH program must have given me a leg up. Oracle is primarily a database company, yet many universities do not offer a wide range of database classes for undergraduates. The opportunity with Oracle, however, seemed to favor my background due to the database skills I had gained in DH courses. It was in these classes that I first learned the fundamentals of database structuring. Through my study of Chicano artwork and the visual topology of Los Angeles (2012), I learned the techniques of how to maintain a centralized repository of historical artwork, images, maps, timelines, and narratives. I learned to pull SQL queries from a live Twitter feed of the 2013 Kenyan Presidential Elections. I studied the frequency of violence-triggering language in order to predict whether social media could engender violent or peaceful collective action. These two examples convey precisely how Digital Humanities provided me with a logical understanding of databases and applications. Now as a humanist, one devoted to humanities and literary culture, DH also allowed me to apply these technical skills to highly impactful real world scenarios. As a result, I gained both technical dexterity and social awareness, a combination I believe our tech-driven world at times lacks.