Where Have All the DH Jobs Gone?

The ominous Friday the 13th was the day all academic job seekers in MLA fields await with nervous anticipation: the annual opening of the Job Information List (JIL), a repository of job ads updated weekly for another, ever-lengthening, season of job searches. A quick search of Twitter keywords “JIL” and “MLAJIL” indicates unsurprising dissatisfaction for the number of jobs available, unsustainable numbers for a pool of job seekers still recovering from the post-2008 job market meltdown, to say nothing of the challenges that existed before 2008. Conventional wisdom and personal experience suggest that more job ads will be forthcoming, given delays in administrative approval of lines that seem to get longer every year. Yet, if the first round of posted jobs is any indicator, it’s business as usual in the 21st-century corporate university.

Reading through the tweets, I happened on Ryan Cordell’s observation on digital humanities (DH) jobs on the JIL:


Ryan’s tweet alludes to recent narratives (myths?) of the job market: DH jobs outpace literature jobs, becoming a DH-er is a hedge against the academic job market, and DH is the way of the future. Generally finding Ryan’s perspectives on the job market spot-on (see: Ryan’s advice post, which is one of the reasons I’m employed), I decided to do a little digging on the JIL into the state of tenure-track DH jobs currently advertised.

By way of disclaimer, we will likely see more job ads forthcoming, though as Rebecca Schuman has noted, “more jobs” doesn’t mean much when starting with such small numbers. Also, there probably are (or will be) other jobs floating about, documented on the Academic Job Wiki, Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, DHNow, and Higher Ed Jobs. Since DH jobs appear in a wide range of incarnations (tenure-track, contract, temporary, admin, etc.), I limited my query to tenure-track jobs to facilitate comparisons between DH and literature jobs.* This post is simply intended as a quick and dirty look at the shape tenure-track DH jobs are taking on the JIL and the kinds of conclusions we may tentatively draw about the first batch of job ads.

How Do We Find DH Jobs?

If memory serves, this year’s JIL features new search capabilities and categories. Despite perceptions that digital humanities is “in” on the job market, it isn’t actually one of the categories. The “Technology and Digital Media” category, however, yielded 24 tenure-track jobs. These breakdown as:

  • 8 Media Studies (running the gamut from Film to New Media to Francophone and Hispanophone Media);
  • 8 Rhetoric and Composition (everything from Digital Writing to Technical Communication);
  • 6 literature with DH welcome as a secondary interest (2 Spanish, 1 Shakespeare, 1 Francophone Caribbean, 1 20th Century American, and 1 Very Long 19th Century British); and
  • 2 primarily DH positions, one branded “DH” and another “Digital Studies.”

So, the search continues.

After “DH” didn’t return any results in the search function, I entered “digital humanities,” which also yielded 24 tenure-track jobs. Yet, only 7 of the 24 jobs were repeats from the “Technology and Digital Media” category. These 24 appeared in the following formulations:

  • 17 literature jobs with secondary DH interest (2 Literature and the Environment, 2 German, 2 18th Century British, 1 Poetics, 1 Victorian, 1 Shakespeare, 1 Italian, 1 Japanese, 1 Latin American, 1 Francophone Caribbean, 1 British generalist, 1 Very Long 19th Century British, 1 English Medieval, and 1 Narrative);
  • 3 primarily DH positions, two branded “DH” and the other “Digital Studies” (two of these appeared under “Technology and Digital Media” but one, oddly enough, did not);
  • 3 Rhetoric and Composition (heavy on Digital Writing and Technical Communication); and
  • 1 Film and Media Studies job.

Both searches suggest that DH seems to go hand-in-hand with Rhetoric and Composition and literature positions. Curious exactly how the language of job ads reflects this relationship, I ran the search results from “Digital Humanities” through Voyant Tools. Most job ads have a similar format: an initial paragraph describing the particulars of the position and a second one with credential requirements and application boilerplate. I only used the paragraphs with the job descriptions. Additionally, I edited the English stop words list to eliminate verbs describing the search process (e.g. seeks, includes, etc.).**

When I generated a word cloud using the Cirrus tool, here’s what happened:

Screen shot 2013-09-14 at 11.12.23 AM
Right away, the comparable size of “digital,” “humanities,” and “literature” stands out. By occurrence, “digital” logged 35, “humanities” 34, and “literature” 33. “English” is another sizable word, logging 19 occurrences. Both “media,” “rhetoric,” “comparative,” and “culture” also stand out, with 13, 10, 9, and 9 appearances, respectively. Seems like narratives of DH dominance crumble under the lens of Voyant – for this data set, at least.

Whither DH Jobs?

My very cursory look at the earliest incarnation of this year’s JIL suggests a firm link between literature and DH jobs. It shows some overlap as well between Rhetoric and Composition and DH, primarily in Digital Writing. We find a less solid relationship between Media Studies and DH. And that worry about DH jobs taking over that Ryan alluded to in his tweet? Not a real concern in this round of JIL jobs. As a subfield, DH seems to have fewer standalone jobs than any other subfield.

As such, a few key trends emerge from the jobs currently listed on the JIL, trends that may only hold until next Friday, when the list is updated:

  1. There is no single, effective way to find DH jobs on the JIL.
  2. Rumors of a DH takeover are greatly exaggerated.
  3. The explicitly DH job is perhaps the most endangered species on the JIL.

These trends, however, are instructive, because they lead to further questions about the status of DH jobs within MLA fields. Why, for example, do DH jobs appear subsumed to literary field designations in job descriptions? Is DH fraught by its own novelty and perhaps too difficult for search committees to fit within established hierarchies of disciplinary knowledge? Is it because tenure requirements for Very Long 19th Century British are more straightforward than DH? Because article off-prints fit more easily into tenure binders than pages of code? Or that it’s easier to peer review an article than a website or digital project? Or, will we see greater representation of DH jobs as the weeks progress?*** And if so, do we credit delays to administrative approval or HR processes? Are these delays just business as usual or do they reflect institutional uncertainty about where DH fits within a larger picture of academic knowledge production and pedagogy?

Among these questions is a larger one that gets at the heart of some of the contentious and meta debates with which the DH community grapples: who is a DH-er? Yet, in the context of the job market, the question is less about how any of us define “DH” and really how search committees, many of which will be composed of non-specialists, will identify and legitimate who and what “counts” as DH. If the current ads on the JIL are any indication, academic hiring and the sources where we find jobs are engendering very specific (and limited) definitions of what a DH-er is: a field-specific literary scholar with a secondary interest; a Rhetoric and Composition specialist with digital or technical leanings; and only rarely, the DH specialist.

No, we’re not taking over. We’re hiding in the shadows behind more calcified specialties (literature fields, Rhetoric and Composition, Media Studies). We’re concerned about how our DH fits within these descriptions and the tenure requirements that accompany them. We’re wondering where all the DH jobs have gone. And, like everyone else, we’re realizing that the jobs probably were never there in the first place.

*The emphasis on tenure-track jobs is not intended to suggest they are more desirable than temporary, non-tenure-track, or alt-ac positions. There simply are not enough data points beyond DH on the JIL right now to make meaningful comparisons.

**The corpus is available here for anyone who wants to jump in and play around. I saved the data and stop words list, and the image above is a screenshot, so go wild.

***Ideally, someone (or I) could test this out closer to MLA and/or at the end of the 2013-2014 academic year. The option to search expired jobs on the JIL will be critical to anyone who wants to have at it.


  1. sharonmleon says

    We might do well to remember that not everyone who does digital humanities is a literary scholar. There are lots of us who are historians–academic and public–, archaeologists, and interdisciplinarians.

    • Roopika Risam says

      Very good point – I am sorry if I didn’t make that clear. Not sure how it works in other fields (and for a range of types of jobs) but in English there’s this narrative of DH as the hip, new way forward. I was looking specifically at jobs from MLA fields to talk about that particular narrative and did not mean to suggest those are the only kinds of jobs (hence why I noted that other kinds of DH jobs exist and links to some places to find them!).


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