Q&A With ODH Intern Essah Díaz

September 1, 2022
Headshot of a smiling Black woman wearing glasses in a black turtleneck in front of a white background
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Office of Digital Humanities intern Essah Díaz

Essah Díaz is a Liberian-American poet, organizer, and Ph.D. candidate specializing in African and Caribbean women’s literature at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, and one of two ODH interns for the summer of 2022. Learn about intern Alexus Hunt.

Why did you want to intern with NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities?

I imagined that the opportunity to intern with NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities would advance my understanding of digital humanities ever since I was introduced to the field as a fellow in the 2021 Migrations Initiative and the Mellon Just Futures project at Cornell University. As someone who has been a graduate student for the past seven years at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, I was eager to expand my knowledge and network of digital projects as well as gain insight into the grantmaking process.

I have established many connections throughout the Caribbean, West Africa, and Europe, which encouraged me to believe that this experience would help connect me to scholars in the United States. Though I have worked on various digital projects and applied for dissertation grants, I hoped that I could improve my experiences by getting mentored by experts at the agency.

After my initial phone interview with ODH team members Hannah and Jen, I got excited about transitioning into alternative careers, which I had never considered before. There were so many possibilities waiting for me that I could not miss out on this phenomenal opportunity.

What are your responsibilities as an ODH intern?

This summer I have been responsible for conducting a research project that analyzes NEH-ODH’s role in funding multinational digital projects. The study was divided into four phases: data collection, interviews, analysis, and writing/visualization.

For phase 1, I had to identify all Global South projects among the international collaboration programs from 2009-2023 and all Digital Humanities Advancement Grant (DHAG) projects with Global South participants among the last five years. To schedule the interviews, I reached out to six program directors. Three were selected from the international programs and the other three were from DHAG programs.

After gathering data and conducting the interviews, I began to analyze my findings to look for trends in the partnerships. I am currently working on the last phase as I write my internal report and external summary, which will include a visualization of the international collaborations.

I have also had the task of working on a metadata project where I learned how to tag, classify, and analyze digital humanities projects. In addition to my key responsibilities, I have participated in a bi-weekly intern reading group as well as attended various staff and working group meetings. I also presented on the Office of Digital Humanities and the Puerto Rican State Humanities Council.

What’s something you’ve learned about NEH or about digital humanities that you didn’t know before?

Can I say pretty much everything? I have learned how to swim in the world of data, familiarize myself with all things digital, and recognize trends in the field.

In all honesty, I have realized the significance of collaboration in digital humanities. Watching the way ODH staff tackles tasks together is very inspiring. Everyone has a voice, and their contribution is valued. I admire the team for being open to change and diversity in ODH.

Throughout my research this summer, I have noticed patterns in the field that reflect colonial influences, but ODH is creating guidelines that level the development and production of knowledge across borders, which makes me proud to witness.

What skills or experiences have you gained as an intern that you think will be helpful in your studies or career?

Over these few months, I understand now that my possibilities are endless! I have been able to enhance my skills relating to project management and program evaluation while juggling a fellowship with the Diaspora Solidarities Lab, editing my poetry manuscript, and producing podcast episodes.

As I continue writing my dissertation, I hope to use my experience exploring the digital humanities and grantmaking process to lead me to sustain my international communities. Career-wise, the sky’s the limit. On top of my many titles, I can also call myself a digital humanist. I can create and educate anywhere in this world, and I don’t have to do it alone!

What I know for sure is that many universities have students and professors who are like me. We come from many places with interdisciplinary interests and experiences that don’t fit in traditional boxes. I am one of many examples of what happens when someone believes in another person, no matter how differently they dream.

We live in a time and place where we can digitally and even physically connect and cross borders to explore the world beyond single narratives. Therefore, wherever I go it will be with ease, thanks to NEH.