Discussing the Digital Humanities: An Interview with Hannah Scates Kettler

In commemoration of Women’s History Month, Dorris Scott, GIS librarian and social science data curator with Washington University Libraries’ Data Services unit, spoke with Hannah Scates Kettler, head of Digital Scholarship and Initiatives at Iowa State University. Kettler has spearheaded a number of endeavors involving the preservation of 3D data. She holds a master of arts degree in digital humanities from King’s College London. Prior to her current position, she served as Digital Humanities librarian and Digital Collections Project librarian at the University of Iowa, among other roles.

How did you become interested in the digital humanities? I got interested while going through college. I have a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a focus on cultural anthropology and archeology, and I minored in art history and classics. A lot of the things I was reading and learning talked about space and structures and stratification in text, and it was difficult for me to follow. I’m much more of a visual learner and having all these walls of text and trying to scribe spaces was really frustrating.

I had some 3D background that I picked up in high school, so I started visualizing what I was learning. I found that I really enjoyed doing that and figured that there was a space within archeology, art history, and cultural anthropology to really build that out and into a way of not only doing research but presenting it so that more people could learn about it. For people like me, who were visual learners and had issues with text learning, it was a way to support differentiated learning within that space.

At that point, I didn’t know digital humanities was a thing. In thinking about a graduate program, I was looking specifically for programs that allowed for some flexibility and interdisciplinary work. I wanted something that encouraged or allowed digital expression of research, and I honestly just Googled “digital” as a concept and “humanities” as a concept in looking for graduate programs. That’s how I got into digital humanities. It was by both necessity and accident.

Can you describe your day-to-day work on the job? I was a digital humanities research and instruction librarian for eight years. My job was to support digital research projects across all kinds of disciplines. That’s “support in collaboration,” because that’s what it ultimately was. It’s not a support role, by any means. A lot of the work that I did was coordinating different components of a lot of different projects. This could look like project management for staff, faculty, and students, scoping projects, a lot of consultation work. There was development work, such as database development.

In addition to teaching, training, and building workflows and infrastructure, I made sure the public sides of these projects were forefronted, or the curricula aspects, so the initiatives did not seem like vanity projects. They were made to be public and reach people beyond the four or five people who happened to know the subject matter.

As head of Digital Scholarship and Initiatives, my role now is supporting people who are doing that work. A lot of the work I mentioned takes time, necessary infrastructure, constant learning, and re-learning and making sure that there’s space for that. My role transitioned to more of an advocate for that kind of space so that kind of work can be done. |

You’ve been involved in work with 3D data preservation. Can you talk about that? 3D data represents all kind of data types. It also represents a lot of methodologies. All kinds of disciplines use it or employ it in some way, and that work entails understanding what that ecosystem looks like. Once we have a more solid understanding of what 3D data is, we can start building out a way to effectively curate, manage, and preserve that data and find the links between that data.

I’ve worked with Jennifer Moore (head of Data Services at the Washington University Libraries) and Adam Rountrey (research museum collection manager at the University of Michigan) on developing a cohort to answer the question of what 3D data is and how we can support that ecosystem and make sure that the work that we do in this area is validated, supported, preserved, and is something that is elevated to the same kind of importance as a monograph.

Can you speak to issues within the digital humanities community regarding diversity and inclusion? There was this line of research that was done to articulate how Eurocentric and how white digital humanities is. It took statistics about attendance from the main digital humanities conference. It’s overwhelmingly white and is overwhelmingly done and spoken about in English. In a lot of cases, it’s underpinned by our cultural heritage institutions. The most well-funded and sought-after collections are housed by predominantly white and traditionally elitist institutions.

In a lot of cases, what we do in the digital is just replicate what the physical is, and the recording, cataloguing, and stewardship of the physical is in itself marginalizing. It elevates a white, Eurocentric perspective. It’s a self-replicating problem that you see in the projects themselves and in conference attendance.

What trends do you see in digital humanities in the area of diversity? There are a lot of social justice-focused projects and initiatives out there like the Colored Conventions Project and the Cultural Assessment Rubric for Reflection (Digital Library Federation) project. There are also specific programs that are trying to make explicit and alleviate compounding racist inequities by addressing training and funding like Design4Diversity out of Northeastern and the Council on Libraries and Information Resources hidden collection grant program, which I think are both really inspirational and impactful.

What advice do you have for women who are interested in pursuing a career in digital humanities? Find your allies (in all people), claim your space, and be sure to adequately balance self-care. Be kind and gracious with yourself and be firm and resolute in your convictions.

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