Alumni Spotlight: Phillip Howells

Phillip Howells (MA ’18, left) visits with fellow K-State English alum Gavin Colton (MA ’18, right) in Washington, DC while in town for the Popular Culture Association Conference ~ 18 April 2019

When I started taking classes at K-State, I decided to focus on Cultural Studies because I felt that it was the area that I had the most yet to learn about. While taking theory classes with professors like Dr. Tanya Gonzalez and Dr. Cameron Leader-Picone, I learned to pay attention to the beneficiaries of research. I became interested in making scholarship more accessible to people inside and outside the university, so I decided to focus my Ph.D. studies on creating and disseminating digital tools for studying the humanities.

After graduating from K-State, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the Ph.D. program at the University Nebraska-Lincoln. At first, I was offered a position as a teaching assistant, but shortly before the semester started, a position for a graduate research assistant opened up in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH).

The CDRH is a department housed in UNL’s Love Library that facilitates and maintains digital research projects for faculty members as well as partners that are not affiliated with the university. Members from disciplines across the spectrum of humanities can submit requests for help with their projects. In the short time that I’ve spent in the Center, I have helped to edit an archive of historical artifacts from civil rights movements of the 60s, a poetry website for Nebraskan poetry hosted by the Nebraska State Poets, a magazine that has been in print since the 1920s, and several other projects.

Digital Humanities can seem nebulous or hard to define, but it doesn’t need to be. I remember a class session of ENGL 801 “Introduction to Graduate Studies” in 2016 in which Dr. Mark Crosby described his work on the Blake Archive to me and the other members of my cohort. The utility of having digital representations of Blake’s works made perfect sense, but the sheer complexity of the website was overwhelming at a glance. Later, when I worked with Dr. Crosby on my master’s project, I realized that, yes, building a website is a complex task but, more importantly, it absolutely requires practice and help. The product of my digital project is a web essay that uses both form and content to pursue a four-part argument without sacrificing the content and rigor of a traditional paper and can be accessed anywhere and anytime.

Digital Humanities is not a roster of skills that you need to learn; it’s a network of projects and people who want to do them. In my case, I have learned how to use WordPress to create a free website and how to use Oxygen software to edit XML code. That’s pretty much the extent of my explicitly digital skills. The rest of what makes my work so exciting is the collaboration involved. If I have a problem but I don’t have the materials to solve that problem, I need to ask someone else for those materials. Digital Humanities is all about access to information, both inside and outside the university, so by all means, reach out and ask to see our work.

– Phillip Howells (MA ’18)

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