2018 Year-In-Review

"Library" by Coco Berkman (a black-and-white print of a man reading in his library with his dog)
“Library” by Coco Berkman (Brianna bought me this print in 2018: get your own here!)

For the last few weeks I’ve been reading The Terror (2007), a work of historical fiction about a doomed nineteenth-century Arctic expedition. This deeply flawed but engaging novel spans almost a thousand pages and features a range of characters reflecting on the circumstances that brought them to their current state, literally frozen in place on a sea of ice, with little hope of escape or rescue, with little company but their memories and inner demons.

I don’t regret my time with The Terror, but it’s a tricky book to manage for someone who tends the view the end of one year and the beginning of the next through the lenses of his reading and viewing choices. Most of mine these last few weeks have been a bit on the bleak side: The Terror, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (another work preoccupied with mortality and cruelty, a funhouse mirror reflection of popular images and narratives of the American West), The Office (particularly the third season, where its characters start to realize that there are no search parties out there looking to bring them to a better world), My Sister, The Serial Killer (a hypnotic and funny novella about the ways dramatic scenes of violence reveal more mundane horrors we surround ourselves with daily).

The other day I was talking with a friend about the threat of “death by a thousand cuts,” a cruel fate arrived at not immediately but slowly, almost invisibly, over time, until we find ourselves weakened to a point of exhaustion by the constant presence of minor threats. 2018 has felt at times like a year spent enduring and recovering from these sorts of injuries. But some of these wounds in my case have been self-inflicted, or created by imagining a more severe blow has been dealt when in reality I’ve encountered a minor inconvenience, a worry not worth having, a voice better left unheard.

In taking stock of the mood of 2018 and my plans for a better 2019, I thought about all the work I was proud of finishing over these twelve months, and I realized that I’ve actually had one of my more productive years as a person doing work at the intersection of digital humanities and public humanities. In 2019 I hope to remind myself more regularly that I have many things in my personal and professional worlds to be thankful for, that many of the traps in the dark are ones I’ve set for myself, and that I’m not resigned to a life stuck on the ice. There’s a lot to learn from my 2018, and some things to do differently, but I’m proud of what I’ve collected below as some of my accomplishments.

Our Marathon: Five Years Later

In April 2018, we marked the five-year anniversary of Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive with the launch of a new project site. I wrote about the project for NCPH’s History@Work blog, was invited to join a panel on “Storytelling, Archives, and Resilience” at Northeastern University, and spoke about our work in a radio interview with PRI’s The World.

You can also find Alicia Peaker and I reflecting on our work as Co-Directors of Our Marathon in Digital Humanities, Libraries, and Partnerships, a book published this year (a preprint copy of our chapter can be found here).

2018 Publications

In addition to the book chapter mentioned above, a few other pieces I’ve written have seen publication this year:

The SAGE Handbook of Web History, which includes a chapter I’ve written on “Memes,” has just been published! Please email me or send a DM on Twitter (@JimMc_Grath) if you’re interested in the chapter and you’re not able to get a copy of the book at your local institution or library.

If you’d like more from me on memes, check out my contribution to the National Council of Public History’s Twitter Miniconference here (and thanks to Digital Humanities Now for naming this post one of its Editors’ Choice picks this year!)

-In American Quarterly, I co-authored a piece on “Precarious Labor in the Digital Humanities” with Christina Boyles, Anne Cong-Huyen, Carrie Johnston, and Amanda Phillips.

I wrote about the technologies of “the tour” and location-based digital storytelling for the 2018 issue of Preservation Education and Research.

I reviewed Lori Emerson’s fantastic Reading Writing Interfaces (and wrote at length about the magical technologies seen in the Tom Hanks movie Big) for Digital Humanities Quarterly.

After a few outstanding current writing commitments I have get wrapped up, I’m going to focus on writing for open access publications or for paid compensation, in addition to stuff I freely circulate here on my blog. One of my goals for 2018 was to write and publish more, so seeing five things in print this year was pretty great. I’ve learned a lot from all of these experiences (and from the work I hope to see published in 2019!).

Conference Highlights

Two quick conference highlights, followed by one note on some local programming I helped organize here at Brown in 2018:

-This was my busiest DH conference ever: I chaired a panel on “Public Humanities” and presented short papers at panels on “Digital Humanities Pedagogy and Praxis” and “Precarious Labor in The Digital Humanities.” You can read my Pedagogy and Praxis contribution here.

-In October I attended the Digital Library Federation (DLF) Forum for the first time, and I presented on “Hyperlocal Histories and Digital Collections.” Thanks to Digital Humanities Now for naming this post one of its Editors’ Choice picks!

-Not a conference, but a small series of events! In November, I had the pleasure of co-organizing a series here at Brown called “Reading, Resisting, and Reimagining The Map” with Ashley Champagne and María Victoria Fernández. We wrote about the interests inspiring this series over at the JNBC’s blog.


I only taught one course in 2018: a course for high school students attending Brown’s Summer Leadership Institute called “Media Literacy In The Age of Fake News and Big Data.” Here are some reflections on teaching this challenging and exciting course.


Last but certainly not least, Amelia Golcheski and I created a podcast named Public Work and ended up producing and releasing twelve (!) episodes, which you can find at our project site (as well as on Soundcloud and on iTunes). I’ve got some podcasting plans in the works for 2019: stay tuned.

So yeah, it was a pretty busy and ultimately successful year! Looking forward to 2019!

Questions, comments? Feel free to email me at james_mcgrath@brown.edu or get in touch with me on Twitter @JimMc_Grath.