New Mellon Postdoc in History

unnamedThis past week I had the opportunity to interview Cameron Blevins, a new post-doc here at Rutgers University.

Where and what did you study?

I’m a California product. I was first an undergraduate at Pomona College, in southern California, and then went to graduate school in the Bay Area, at Stanford. I received a PhD in U.S. History at Stanford, with a focus on the late nineteenth century and the American West. I was also a member of the Stanford digital humanities community – I was a lead researcher at the Spatial History Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, and was one of the early graduate students who helped get the Stanford Literary Lab off the ground.

What is your role here at Rutgers?

Here at Rutgers I’m a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the History Department and the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis. I’ll be teaching a course in the spring that offers an introduction to the practice of spatial history, or using questions and analysis related to space and geography to study the past. I’ll also be participating in workshops, presentations, and seminars within the larger digital humanities community.

Could you describe your current research?

I’m currently working on my book project, The Postal West, which studies how the American West was integrated so quickly in the decades after the U.S. Civil War. It argues that the U.S. Post played a foundational role in that process by providing the underlying infrastructure for western integration. Part of this project involves a digital analysis of the U.S. Post’s geography. [This can be seen at http://cameronblevins.org/gotp/]

In your opinion, what’s the most interesting and recent development in digital humanities?

One recent development in the digital humanities is how quickly the field has expanded and some of the growing pains that come with this. Five years ago there was this cheerful optimism about DH, whereas now I think you’re seeing a more sober attitude towards the field. A lot of “non-DH” people – administrators, faculty, and graduate students, mainly – are skeptical of, not necessarily DH, but the hype that has come to surround it, and they’re still waiting to see its payoffs in terms of scholarship or teaching. Then within the field, there’s a growing acknowledgement of its limitations and cleavages – the ways it’s being co-opted under a corporate model of higher education, or how broader power systems are getting magnified within the field. I actually think these are all healthy signs of a maturing field, one that needs to keep thinking self-critically about what it wants to be.