RRCHNM Graduate Students Organize Inaugural Rails Girls DH

Guest post by RRCHNM Graduate Research Assistants, Jeri Wieringa and Celeste Sharpe

As women graduate students working in digital humanities, we know first-hand the gender gap in our field. With few women programmers working in the digital humanities, and a lack of opportunities generally for women learning to code, there is a serious need for creative solutions to these systemic problems. Building on current conversations about the cultural and structural obstacles that make it difficult for women to learn to code, we decided to organize a workshop where women interested in programming could come together and learn.

rails_girls_dhOn September 7, forty-five people came together and participated in Rails Girls Digital Humanities at George Mason University. This one-day, intensive workshop combined the intellectual pursuits of humanities scholars with the structure of Rails Girls, an international movement of free workshops that introduce women to technology and programming through Ruby on Rails. This combination offers both an entry point for understanding the technology behind web applications as well as an opportunity to grow a community of academic women interested in the code that powers digital humanities scholarship.

Thirty women–undergraduate and graduate students, librarians and archivists, scholars and professors–from the DC metro area, Virginia, Boston, and California comprised our inaugural group. Nine coaches guided the participants throughout the workshop: Annie Swafford, Brandon Walsh, Jeremy Boggs, and Wayne Graham from the University of Virginia’s Scholars’ Lab; Jim Smith from University of Maryland’s Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities; and Patrick Murray-John from Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media along with local professional developers Jason Wieringa, Karen Gillison, and Sean Marcia. Together, the participants and coaches hacked their way through a day of talks and coding sprints, building a mapping application and discussing various way to incorporate code with humanities scholarship.

We are very grateful for the enthusiastic support we received from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, the Association for Computers in the Humanities, George Mason’s History and Art History Department and Provost’s Office, the American Association of University Women, and GitHub. Their support, as well as the positive responses from both participants and coaches, has reinforced our commitment to this approach for creating coding opportunities for women in the humanities. Building on this experience, we will further refine the model of Rails Girls and plan to offer additional workshops to continue to expand the opportunities for academic women interested in code.