Get to Know Your Instructors: Michael Gavin

Michael Gavin and Stanley Dubinsky (U of South Carolina) will teach the “Global Ethnolinguistic Conflict: An Internet Encyclopedia Project” course. We are excited to have Michael—a digital humanist—in our #lingstitute2019 faculty roster, further proving the interdisciplinary nature of Linguistics! Michael’s dream job in college was to be a member of the Flipmode squad. He also gives the best advice: “Don’t ask digital humanists for career advice.” You don’t want to miss this fun Q&A:

1. Can you please tell us about your digital humanities background?

I’m a literary scholar by training. My dissertation was a very conventional history of literary criticism during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While revising the manuscript for publication, I became interested in digital humanities as an extension of that work. I had studied the history of criticism, so it made sense to study digital methods as the future of criticism. Luckily, it took several years for my book to reach publication, so that gave me a lot of time as an assistant professor to learn new skills while always being able to reassure my department that my research productivity was on track. During this period I experimented quite a bit and just would pick a method I was interested in and decide to write an article that forced me to learn that method. It was a five-year self-directed study in computational humanities. I was first interested in the epistemology of simulation and wrote a couple pieces about that. The problem with simulation, though, was simply that it remained too far afield of language and literature. I became interested in the science of social networks and used them to, essentially, tell the story of my dissertation in a new way. Distributional semantics has been key to a lot of my most recent work, which combines corpus linguistics and GIS to look at the spatial distribution of conceptual forms.

2. When did you first join the LSA?

Just last month!

3. Can you tell us about the course you are teaching at the Institute?

I’m co-teaching a course with Stanley Dubinsky on ethnolinguistic conflict around the world, and in particular about how we’re using digital methods to present and conduct our research. Our course will focus on an online encyclopedia we’re building that will provide a central hub for research about language rights and language conflicts. We’ll also experiment a bit with corpus-based methods and look at how some political scientists have used textual data to model civil conflict.

4. What research are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on a book, Language of Place, a Digital History, that combines corpus linguistics and GIS to better understand the relationship between language and space.

5. What is your favorite hobby or pastime?

Not sure if this counts as a “hobby,” but I’m very active politically. I’m actually a delegate to the South Carolina Democratic Party and do a lot of Get-Out-The-Vote work in my home county.

6. In a parallel universe in which you are not a digital humanist, what would you be?

As a college student in the 1990s, my dream job was to become a member of the Flipmode Squad.

7. What are you most looking forward to about Davis?

As somebody very new to linguistics, I’m really looking forward to getting to know the field. You have such interesting questions and extraordinary methods, and your jargon is as baffling and beautiful as any I’ve encountered.

8. Ice cream or Cake? Cats or Dogs? Quarter system or Semester system?

Ice cream. Dogs. Quarter system, for sure.

9. What advice would you give to graduate students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?

Don’t ask digital humanists for career advice.

Learn more about Michael Gavin here.