Alumni Profiles Series: Amanda Starling Gould
Dr. Amanda Starling Gould received her Ph.D. in Literature from Duke University and is currently the Digital Humanities Specialist for the Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI). She collaborates with scholars who want to pursue Digital Humanities research, uses her expertise to show them how to realize their visions, and works to bring the Humanities to the public by means of digital technology. She also teaches environmental humanities classes for the Literature Department.
Let me start by asking you what your job title is and what your work entails.
I’m the Digital Humanities Specialist and Project Coordinator at the Franklin Humanities Institute. I was hired to work on Digital Humanities projects with our Humanities Labs, including the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge, the Story Lab, the Health Humanities Lab, the Social Practice Lab, and the new Social Movements Lab. Since I have a master’s degree in publishing, I’m also a consultant on digital publishing projects and help manage digital projects such as the FHI Humanities Futures website. In addition to those things, I’m on the communications team and I consult on web development. I also work with the FHI Digital Humanities Initiative, for which I update the website and keep track of Digital Humanities projects at Duke, all of which I log on the site. One really exciting aspect of my work is that I consult with Digital Ph.D. Lab Scholars. Lab members will come in with a vision for a project and I work with them to realize it. I’m also collaborating on the Story+ Summer Research Program for undergraduates which allows me to combine pedagogical, research, digital, and project management skills to help facilitate this project-based program.
Finally, starting in May I will also be consulting on digital and public humanities projects for a Duke-affiliated program called The Partnership for Appalachian Girls' Education (PAGE). All of this is possible because my job has so much flexibility. I also have the support to publish and conduct research on my own time, and I’ve given three or four presentations this year as an independent scholar.
What was it like to go from the often solitary work of writing your dissertation to this new kind of work that’s so collaborative and social?
I loved it. I was surprised, because even though I had group projects through the Ph.D. Lab and the S-1 Speculative Sensation Lab during my doctoral study, a lot of my work was at home in my office. I didn’t know that I was going to love having meetings but I really do. I like coming in to work and I like having people around, and I love being a consultant. I love it when people come in to see me and they say, “I have this idea, how do I do it?” and I have the resources of the FHI and Duke to help them. And there are also people who come to me who are digital-curious, so I get to do the interesting work of articulating how the Digital Humanities is using digital tools to ask Humanities questions, or how we can ask Humanities questions of our digital tools, and how that might manifest in their work. That’s a lot of fun. In fact, in an effort to make the Humanities more collaborative I work with a series of working groups for faculty and their modus operandi is to do or make something.
Can you give me an example of a project you’ve worked on?
The scholars of the new FHI Social Movements Lab came to me because they wanted to create a map of social movements, and so we worked with a developer, Brian Norberg, IT Analyst for Trinity Technology Services, to build a platform. I served as a consultant on that project, and then I suggested that we get our students involved. This semester my students will be mapping environmental social movements in conjunction with Eli Loren Meyerhoff, the Program Coordinator for the Social Movements Lab, and his current students. This is a project where I was able to help coordinate and consult on the digital aspects but then also consult on how to use that in the classroom, i.e., how to get students involved, how to get graduate students involved, and ultimately how to make the project self-sustaining.
Would you say that your job is typical of positions in the Digital Humanities?
Well, my position is new and I am new to it. The roles I play and the projects I work on dynamically shift as needs arise. I am therefore gifted with a job that is flexible, creative, and intellectual but also not entirely prescriptively defined. It is in fact great fun to adapt with this emerging position. And I leverage my environmental expertise as a university employee through my involvement in the Healthy Duke initiative, which allows me to broaden my scope beyond even the parameters of my evolving job description. So in a way it’s typical in that many of these jobs are in the process of being defined and they offer an important role in the university, but in other ways no two Digital Humanities jobs are really alike since many of these positions are relatively new and therefore somewhat protean.
Do you have any advice for people interested in working in the Digital Humanities?
You have to keep an eye on a variety of types of positions. Pay attention to the National Humanities Institute, for example. Consider communications work with NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] focused on issues of social and environmental justice. There are a lot of opportunities in the Triangle, like the Southern Oral History Program at UNC. I would also encourage current students to participate in the PhD Lab, which is a great way to create opportunities.
Ph.D. candidate, English; Graduate Student Affairs Administrative Intern, The Graduate School
Phillip Stillman is an intern in the Office of Graduate Student Affairs and is preparing to defend his dissertation on biology and British fiction in the nineteenth century. He studies the work done by novelists to manage the contraction between Enlightenment notions of personhood and the modern science of human biology, arguing that in the nineteenth century, it fell to fiction to imagine the human being as both autonomous individual and a biological organism at once. You can find out more on his LinkedIn page.