On May 11th, Stanford University created a buzz by hosting the Bibliotech Conference that brought together both industry and academic professionals to discuss, among many things, the value of a Humanities PhD.
The conference was live-streamed (available through June 2011) and brought together industry professionals from Google, Deloitte Center for Edge, TED, Overstock.com to name but a few, with academic professionals who have Humanities PhD’s.
Ruth Starkman’s title for the Huffington Post article announcing this conference read in part, “Humanities PhD s Hope to Storm Silicon Valley.” As an educator who has spent most of her career on the administrative side of education, I tried to imagine what it would look like if traditional academics physically stormed into the Silicon Valley with rumpled tweed blazers and bow ties askew. Would they have what it takes to help re-imagine and humanize the fast paced technology sectors?
Imagination aside, the streamed session that I saw showed me none of that. Instead, there were statements about passion not being a solitary pursuit; that long term trust is needed to expose vulnerability; that given their education, Humanities scholars have a deeper understanding of human relationships.
From the corporate side, there was talk of the way one might bridge the divide between technology and humanities. Folks with Humanities PhD s who now work on the corporate side said that the humanists bring an intellectual curiosity to the table as well as the ability to write with finesse using metaphor and storytelling skills. This combined with the ability to research creates candidates for the corporate sector who are nimble enough to explain that technology is meant to facilitate our human experience.
One of the most interesting questions came late but drove home an important issue: “How can the humanities methodology improve so that we can innovate?” This issue of innovation in education is a question that the Digital Humanities initiatives are addressing by creating labs where innovation can happen quickly, be brought in and tested. And even in this new way of educational research, the difference between the academy and the corporate world lies between scale and speed. What would it be like if, rather than having the Humanities storm Silicon Valley, if Silicon Valley came knocking? What kinds of innovation would break out? Perhaps there’s more to come at the upcoming Digital Humanities 2011 hosted by Stanford University Library.
[Photo of painter and etcher, Henry Ernest Schnakenberg by Paul Outerbridge, Archives of American Art]
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