11/08 – 17/08 Matthew Smith

‘What constitutes the humanities?’ is a question inherent in the @wethehumanities project and one that @krisreadsbooks and I have discussed many times.  At no point did we think they might include a software engineer/web developer – until, that is, we Twitter-met @smiffy.  We’re so pleased to have a guest curator who’s coming from the perspective of a ‘user’ of the humanities rather than a researcher and we’re looking forward to hearing how he sees the discipline.
Hello, and thank you for for your forbearance in having a technologist at the helm of We The Humanities! My name is Matthew Smith, more commonly known as @smiffy (my real nickname) – you may remember me from such WtH blog posts as STEM > STEAM.

“Technologist,” I hear you say, “what are YOU doing here?” Which would be a very good question. I am neither an academic, nor do I work in the humanities; my work encompasses the ‘T’ and the ‘E’ of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths,) I am an ‘S’ groupie, and trying to get my head around ‘M,’ but would like to show you how integral the Humanities are to in the life of an incorrigible techie.

Academically, I guess the last contact I had with the Humanities would have been ‘O’ level English Literature. (‘O’ levels were the basic secondary/high school exit examinations in the UK, more years ago than I would like to admit.)

I guess you could say that I have worked in the Humanities, all but briefly – if you count sticking yellow spots on the spines of library books undergoing their first electronic cataloguing. This was my first job after dropping out of ‘A’ levels due to having completely lost the ability to see any point whatsoever in education. And I was a student librarian at school, although it was a non-stipendiary position. (Not without benefits, though; great for getting out of activities that weren’t to my taste.)

After my library stint, I spent the next sixteen years working for a pump company, initially in technical sales, moving gradually into the world of IT.

The sixteen years ended with a number of significant and simultaneous changes – I quit my job to follow my heart and left England for Australia, to marry my (Australian) fiancée.  (Long-distance relationships are painful, believe me, especially when going through onerous visa processes.)

Moving to rural South Australia didn’t put me in a position where I could find regular employment, so these last thirteen years, I have been freelancing as a web/software developer and technology consultant. Technologist is as good a label as any, if you really feel the need to apply labels.

The last few years have been disrupted by chronic ill-health, so I have had to re-think how I work, what is needed to work – and many issues relating to working with a disability. That I have a strong focus on social inclusion, and that I was working in the web accessibility sphere before this all came to pass has been interesting and given me real-life experience and a much better understanding of the issues that people with a broad spectrum of issues face, when interacting with the web, and computer systems in general.

I am now working in a development role for four wonderful clients, one of these being the creation of a Learning Management System (that’s Humanities isn’t it?) Despite impairments, which include not being able to get more than about sixteen working hours in a week, I’m not doing too badly with my business.

So, where do the Humanities fit into my life, what with me being a technologist? I think the answer to that is that being a technologist is my profession – the Humanities are integral to my life, staying sane, and being – just me. [Sidenote: some academics might not agree with this but, for the purposes of this discussion, I am treating the Arts as a subset of Humanities; if it makes you feel any better, I can simplify to “not STEM.”]

It is my goal this week to show just how important the Humanities can be to an academically non-Humanities person. In addition to this goal, I also have a personal agenda – getting people in STEM and people in the Humanities talking to each other; I’ve been reasonably successful as a facilitator between disparate groups in the past – if I can pull this one off, I will be a very happy person indeed. I guess the underlying theme is inclusion – but I will try to cover a mix of topics, to keep things interesting.



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