I am the founder and CEO of HistoryIT, a rapidly growing software and services company that works with institutional clients in various markets to help them develop and implement strategies to create truly accessible digital archives. I sincerely believe I have the coolest life. It’s a life I never would have dreamed of in graduate school or the few chaotic years following it. As a doctoral student ten years ago I couldn’t have envisioned spending my weeks jetting around to review various historical collections and being a part of making them really meaningful to the broader public.
In graduate school I had a vague sense that there was something amiss in the archives world, but felt disconnected to any sort of solution, focused instead – as we all are at this stage – on my own education and interests. Doctoral research is truly a privilege. I had the time and training to dig into archival records and to draw conclusions about our history based on the evidence discovered there. I worked in a world that pretty much saw archival records as only being of use or meaning to researchers. But the more I interacted with these materials, the more I understood that this great wealth of content would be incredibly meaningful if the general public – the big, wide world of non-researchers – could search it in the same way that they search Google. Given my previous life as a database and web developer, I knew what it would take to make these materials available to the broader public. I also realized that, despite the slow adoption of digital plans by a variety of institutions, the direction was not tending toward broader access, but rather just replicating online an environment that still required training to navigate and draw meaning from.
My journey from graduate student to CEO wasn’t an easy or direct one. I absolutely loved being a graduate student and continue to cherish the deep friendships formed during that time. My years as a PhD candidate, though, clarified for me that I had no desire to spend my life as an academic. The pace made me nervous; the focus unsettling. I wanted to work on lots of projects at once. I wanted to start and complete a project in the same week. I knew I wanted something else. But knowing you don’t want to be an academic when you’re in the academic world, or even recently departed from it, is not a comfortable place to be. No matter how supportive your academic community (and mine was very supportive) nor how confident you are in your desire to leave academia (again, very), nor how many articles and blogs and panels exist about alternative careers or the “b-plan” (a term I continue to find deeply offensive). It is just plain hard. Everyone finds this difficult and I was no exception. But I pushed on.
I received my PhD in 2008 and then spent a few years exploring the world of academic publishing. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was looking for connections between historical sources and the technology necessary to make them available. My business developed organically. I officially founded HistoryIT in 2012. Initially, I created a general consultancy to build technological solutions for humanities projects. The “tech geek meets humanities geek” was central to my approach to our projects. As I started to grow a team of super smart, dedicated people, we worked together to focus the company more directly on the world of digital archives.
I’m excited to take you through this week in my life. At this stage, every week is pretty different. Monday usually finds me in a different location – either one of our offices in Portland, ME, Chicago, IL, Indianapolis, IN, or Washington, DC – or else on the road exploring collections in archives throughout the country. This week, as it turns out, is a relatively low key one with minimal travel. It’s Sunday night and I’m traveling from our Portland, ME headquarters to the Chicago office. It’s a busy week of new business pitches, recruiting advisory board members, checking in with project managers about the state of current projects, getting new management staff set up and running, general PR activities, and conducting research for next week’s collection reviews. You know… the typical, fast-paced life you never dream of as a doctoral student in U.S. History.