Contributing Editor Interview

Featured Researcher Spotlight On: Hannah Scates Kettler

LibParlor Contributing Editor, Suzy Wilson, interviews Hannah Scates Kettler about her work with the digital humanities and her interdisciplinary research.

Hannah Scates KettlerHannah Scates Kettler is a Digital Humanities Research & Instruction Librarian in the Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio at the University of Iowa. In her role, she leads digital humanities projects from inception to preservation, managing the process of creation as well as providing research, development, and instruction support.

Scates Kettler is active in areas regarding 3D creation and preservation, and diverse representation in cultural heritage collections. Scates Kettler is the current chair of the Digital Library Federation Cultural Assessment Interest Group, and upcoming Chair Elect for ACRL’s newly formed Digital Scholarship Section.

She received her B.A. in Anthropology with minors in Art History and Classics from the University of Iowa and a M.A. in Digital Humanities from King’s College, London. When she is not working, she spends her time gardening, reading and playing video games. Her website is hannahscateskettler.com and you can follow her on Twitter @hskettler.


As a librarian, art historian, archaeologist, designer, web developer, and more, you take on a lot of different roles in your work. How did you develop the identity of “researcher?”

“I always thought, ‘of course I’m a researcher.’ You have a question and you investigate to find the right information to answer it. That’s research.”

I started my career as an art historian in undergrad at the University of Iowa. I ended up broadening that focus and graduated with a degree in Anthropology with minors in Art History and Classics. I knew I have always been a visual learner and I was interested in 3D representations of cultural materials. I wanted to continue to study that in grad school, so I went to England to study in one of the few digital humanities programs in the world at that time. After graduating with an MA in Digital Humanities from Kings College, I came back to the US and began working at the University of Iowa in the Digital Publishing and Scholarship Studio. I have been here in various capacities ever since. As far as developing an identity as a general researcher, I donned that hat pretty early, though not without my fair share of imposter syndrome. I always thought, “of course I’m a researcher.” You have a question and you investigate to find the right information to answer it. That’s research.

What are some of the unique challenges you face with an interdisciplinary research agenda?

I would say time is a major challenge. Working with a team of researchers is different than working by yourself on a project. I have had to learn how to adjust my time management strategies and expectations from personal research to fit group research. I find that I have to move slower and allow people time to provide input and participate.

Another challenge is language. People use different words to describe the same thing so coming up with a common vocabulary can be challenging. Likewise, people’s vocabularies depend on their areas of expertise so what I can say to someone in IT in two words may require extensive explanation to a different audience.

Also, differing agendas can be challenging. You can have multiple groups of people working on a project, all with different motivations and views on what an ideal outcome looks like. It can make it hard to determine a clear direction for a project. For example, in a 3D project , people from the arts may be concerned with the preservation of the experience of an object. A 3D digital representation can mirror the tangible experience of handling an artifact, more than a simple photograph. However, the library folks on that project could be more concerned with simply deciding if 3D representation is a viable preservation standard for objects in their collection. In that case, one group is concerned with the preservation of the experience and the other is concerned with the preservation of the actual object. People have different goals for interdisciplinary work that can hinder or support the progress of the overall project. It is possible to wrap up multiple and different agendas into a shared project goal, it just takes work.

You have worked on a wide variety of digital humanities projects. Do you have a favorite project or one that especially resonates with you?

I would have to say my favorite project is Coffee Zone, which is a project run out of the University of Iowa. Coffee Zone is a digital archive project that preserves oral histories of coffee workers in Puerto Rico. It also documents the unique dialect spoken in the coffee region of Puerto Rico that is currently disappearing due to shifting demographics. It is an interdisciplinary project and I really like it because it is centered around themes of social justice, looking at linguistic development in marginalized communities, as well as exploring economic and political power dynamics in Puerto Rico focusing on social capital, mobility, and climate change. This also is one of the few digital humanities projects at the University of Iowa that is not solely English language based. Of course there is English involved, but the bulk of the documents are in Spanish. I also loved working on this project because our PI [Principal Investigator] was fantastic to work with.

As part of your work with the Internet Archive’s Libraries 2020 initiative, you developed a model called “Inclusive Curation.” Can you explain what “Inclusive Curation” means for your work and how you see that model moving forward?

Inclusive Curation started as an annotated bibliography featuring a collection of resources to help digital collections managers navigate cultural bias within their work. It evolved to include the Digital Libraries Federation’s (DLF) involvement with the Internet Archive’s Libraries 2020 grant proposal to the MacArthur Foundation, which was ultimately unsuccessful, but the project has continued on since. Inclusive Curation is meant to transform the selection processes for digital collections. So asking how does bias and privilege come into play when creating digital collections and how do those factors vary between institutions. In 2017, we began collecting data and sent out a survey asking information professionals about their selection processes and how they saw bias affecting their work. From that small dataset, we began drafting the Selection Workflow Framework which is a part of the overall DLF Toolkit dedicated to the “Cultural Assessment: Rubric for Reflection”. The project is still on-going with a team of 20+ people working on this globally. The next step, and one we are currently working on, is to revise the survey and resend it to gather more data.

You have noted that defining digital humanities is limiting when we should be thinking expansively about the possibilities of what digital humanities could be. What do you see in the future for the digital humanities?

“I see the digital humanities field becoming more reflective in practice where we ask not just how can I do this, but why am I doing this.”

I think the future looks beyond the text, beyond computational linguistics and text mining, which is where most of the conversation centers. I see the digital humanities field becoming more reflective in practice where we ask not just how can I do this, but why am I doing this. I see the digital humanities becoming more geared towards access and reach as opposed to relevancy. Often times people will justify the digital humanities as making the humanities “relevant” again. The humanities have always been relevant and will continue to be. Digital humanities projects can increase exposure and reach users that may not otherwise be able to interact with the information at hand. As this field moves forward, I see an increased emphasis on access and the co-creation scholarship outside of the typical players.


Featured image [CC0], via Pexels


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