Since its beginnings in 2001, the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) at the University of Victoria has grown to become a leading institute for training in the digital humanities (DH). This year, more than 600 participants flocked to Victoria, BC for an intensive week of DH workshops and extracurricular activities. I was there among the multitudes, attending for a fourth time, so DH@Berkeley, now a sponsor of DHSI, invited me to offer some advice for interested students looking forward to the summer of 2015.

Starting next year, DHSI will expand again, offering 40 week-long courses divided among three weeks, from June 1-19. Given all of these offerings, even DH veterans might feel a bit overwhelmed. For newcomers, I would give the following advice:

  • Research the courses, beyond just the titles and descriptions. Courses at DHSI are often changing, and many of them are new—some might still be in production. Become familiar with the background and research areas of the instructor(s). This will be a good indication of whether the course will be helpful for you. Meanwhile, the more established courses will have plenty of alums, so ask around, and by all means, tweet.
  • Pick a course that teaches skills. This is a point specifically for newcomers to DH, who are looking to learn something new but don’t necessarily know what they should be learning. There are plenty of people who have projects that require fluency with specific tools, but for those that don’t, I think it is better to learn skills than tools. (For a longer explanation of this point, see my blog.)
  • Check to see whether the course teaches something you can use. Whether your course teaches a tool or a skill, make sure that what is being taught is useful for your research area. This is especially relevant for those of us who work with materials in non-Western and classical languages. For me, the question "Is it Unicode compliant?" has become something of a mantra.

Participants at DHSI can attend a rich variety of extra-curricular activities. For newcomers, these offer a chance to learn more about the variety of DH research, projects, tools, and skills, and they are also a great chance to meet people.

  • Curated Presentations. The Institute Lectures, Colloquium talks and poster session, and Birds-of-a-Feather round-table talks bring dozens of researchers and scholars to present in a variety of formats. This year, I presented a poster at the colloquium, and I highly recommend that other young scholars do this. Though poster sessions are rare in the humanities, and a poster doesn’t carry the same prestige as a talk, presenting a poster at DHSI is a great opportunity; you will have a chance to share your work with many people, and you can have more in-depth and more personal conversations than would be possible with a typical 10 or 20 minute paper presentation.
  • Unconference Sessions. Typically held during the lunch hour, DHSI hosts an unconference during the week, modelled after The Humanities and Technology Camp (THATCamp). Selected by the participants on the first day, these session focus on sharing ideas, brainstorming, and sampling new things, and often include quick workshops on popular topics like regular expressions and using the command line. Though it is difficult to give up your lunch break during an already intensive week, I highly recommend participating in these.

With so much happening at DHSI, the most important advice I can give to newcomers to DH is to speak with others. And toward that end, I would suggest using Twitter, if you don’t already. The DH community includes many active tweeters, and the best way to learn what is going on is to follow some of them. For DHSI, Twitter is also useful for finding housing, forming pick-up groups for extra-curricular activities, and asking questions about course contents and materials. If you have a question about DHSI and can phrase it in 140 characters (including the hashtag #dhsi2015), I can all but guarantee that you’ll get a quick answer.

Scott Paul McGinnis 馬吉寧 is a PhD candidate in early Chinese history, and an active participant in digital humanities groups at UC Berkeley, where has led workshops, coordinated lectures and events, and blogged on DH topics. He was the chief organizer of THATCamp Bay Area 2011, and is currently forming a group to organize THATCamp Taipei 2015. Scott also maintains a DH-themed blog at, and you can follow him on Twitter: @majining.