What You Should Know About HASTAC

By Brianna Marshall and Anna-Sophia Zingarelli-Sweet

HASTAC, or the Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory, was founded in 2002 to serve as a community of “humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists and technologists working together to transform the future of learning for the 21st century.” It’s an incredible online portal that manages to encompass all the odds and ends related to digital scholarship and alt-ac careers. As two current HLS writers who have been involved with HASTAC, today we wanted to share our experiences with the community and tips for getting involved!


I was lucky enough to be selected as a HASTAC Scholar during the 2012-2013 school year. The HASTAC Scholars program focuses on bringing together undergraduate and graduate students working with digital scholarship projects across all disciplines. Scholars must be sponsored by their home institution, which will provide a small honorarium to the Scholar.

I first heard about the program through my boss, who had received an email through a digital humanities group on campus. He forwarded it to me and I applied to a group on campus who sponsored Scholars. Soon I found I wasn’t accepted, but the professor who had agreed to recommend me offered to see if my LIS program would sponsor me. They agreed, and in this roundabout way I became a Scholar.

As a Scholar you are encouraged to be active on the HASTAC website: to contribute content and give feedback to others. I found that I didn’t do this as much as I could have, though there is a lot to benefit from on the site:

The main way I ended up participating as a Scholar was through the 2013 conference held in Toronto, Ontario. When the conference was initially advertised, I decided to brainstorm possible proposals. I ended up submitting a panel proposal with two other LIS types as well as a panel focusing on digital publishing with a group of non-LIS Scholars.

As it turned out, both proposals were accepted and I went on to present at HASTAC 2013. You can read a bit more about my experience here. It was unlike any conference I’ve been to before, bringing together people of all disciplines, interests, and levels of experience. This conference more than any other helped me recognize how important it is to break free from the library silo to find innovative ideas and perspectives. The 2014 conference is in Peru, with the 2015 conference slated to return to the US (to my knowledge).

I hope you’ll consider exploring HASTAC. I came to library school preparing to be a librarian and aiming to work in an academic library, but over half the jobs I have applied for don’t have librarian in the title; instead it’s coordinator or curator or specialist, with a lot of the requirements being skills I would never would have even heard mentioned in a classroom. HASTAC is valuable because of the multitude of perspectives it draws together and for the welcoming, open arms toward all of us who aren’t quite sure where we fit. Library students can use it to grow a much-needed non-traditional skill set befitting the needs of modern librarianship – and any of the other alt ac careers we may find ourselves in.


To save the humanities, we need to get out and bust some moves pal.

— Save the Humanities (@SaveHumanities) December 10, 2013

Like many other parody Twitter accounts and bots, the Save the Humanities bot occasionally drops some serious truth bombs.

As our social horizons expand and our economic horizons contract, reinvigorating the academy, traditional scholarly disciplines — and indeed the library and information professions — is going to require busting a big move. Plenty of ink has already been spilled arguing that we (insert academics/ librarians/ humanists/ alt-acs here) are important for society. What we need now are strong, persuasive examples of exactly how we are deploying digital tools to change scholarship, and the world around us, for the better.

Luckily, there are communities of support for incubating and showcasing this kind of work — and HASTAC is a premier example. Like Brianna, I’ve found that the blogs and communities are an extremely important aspect of HASTAC for me, and these are things you can benefit from even if you aren’t a Scholar! The HASTAC website functions almost as a “world-brain”, with the collective knowledge of scores of bright people who are thinking and working around the scholarly use of digital tools. While the site is not easily searchable and the floods of content can be overwhelming, I subscribe to several groups and receive blog posts and comments in digest form. This helps me keep my finger on the pulse of emerging trends, vocabulary, and projects without feeling the need to constantly comb through the whole site. I probably miss a lot of great stuff that way, but this approach keeps it manageable. I haven’t been a very active commenter, but I am writing a book review for the Digital History group and have been interacting with fellow HASTAC scholars quite a bit on Twitter (follow the current HASTAC Scholar Twitter list here!)

One important aspect of the HASTAC community that’s a special perk of being a Scholar is the formation of interdisciplinary Working Groups, or “research nodes”. For example, I am a member of the Archives and Art History working groups; other working groups run the gamut from Critical Code Studies to Post-Colonialism to 19th-c English Literature. Each working group completes a collaborative digital project, which can include an online exhibition, a digital edition, an app, a robot, or anything else the group members can devise! The 2013-2014 Working Groups are just getting started, so I don’t have much to report yet, but I am really looking forward to this opportunity to work with other scholars across the country and develop a different type of project than I might otherwise create for an LIS course or internship.

In his introduction to the outstanding collection Switching Codes: Thinking Through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), Thomas Bartscherer writes that “[t]o understand how digital technology is transforming thought and practice in the humanities and the arts, it is necessary to cultivate cross-cultural communication, to establish points of reference, and to develop a shared vocabulary. Given the globalized and decentralized nature of digital culture, this cannot be mandated from the top down, as it were, but must be cobbled together from the bottom up and on the fly.” At HASTAC, this kind of cross-communication is the name of the game. Sooner or later, what we now call “Digital Scholarship” will simply be the way we do scholarship, and the conversations that will get us there are happening right now among academics, programmers, poets, and students — with or without us. I firmly believe that library and archives professionals have an important role in shaping this critically engaged future, and I would love to see more LISers get involved. If you want to bust a move and save the humanities, pal, consider joining HASTAC, start participating in the site now, and apply to be a Scholar around August-September of 2014!

Are you involved with HASTAC or another DH-related group? What has your experience been?

Categories: Digital Humanities

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