Alt-Ac: The Jobs We Want?

tags: jobs, alt-ac



Miriam Posner is coordinator of the digital humanities program at the University of California at Los Angeles.

As digital scholarship takes hold at steadily more universities, I want to raise a few questions about a discourse about labor that has emerged from and become identified with the digital humanities. The term for this work is “alt-ac,” which stands for “alternative academic.”

Jason Rhody, a senior program officer for the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities, coined the term in 2009 to describe the scholarly work performed by many of us in and in the orbit of the academy who do not hold traditional faculty jobs but do perform scholarly labor. The neologism touched a nerve. Since 2009 we’ve heard the voices of a great many people who identify with the term, and we’ve seen steadily more interest in the alt-ac job market from universities, philanthropic organizations, and scholarly societies. “Alt-ac is the future of the academy!” declared Elliott Shore, Bryn Mawr College’s library director, in 2012.

Alt-acs need not be digital humanists, but digital humanists have found the term to be particularly congenial, since many of us happen to hold these hybrid jobs, and since a founding principle of digital humanities work — that one can think through and articulate humanistic principles in unconventional ways — complements the nontraditional, praxis-based scholarship that many alt-acs perform. Alt-acs need not be Ph.D.s, but given the current status of the academic job market, many Ph.D.s have seized on the alt-ac movement as a beacon of hope in an otherwise fairly depressing situation....



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