Ben Schmidt

I am Vice President of Information Design at Nomic, where I am working on new interfaces for interpreting and visualizing embedding models. For several years before that, I was a professor in the history departments at Northeastern and then NYU, where I worked with and led digital humanities groups deploying new approaches to data analysis and data visualization to help people think about the past. I have also write about higher education (teaching evaluations and humanities policy), narrative anachronism and plot structure, and political history.

I live in Manhattan.

For a third-person bio or photo, click here.

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Recent Blog Posts

I attended the American Historical Association’s conference last week, possibly for the last time since I’ve given up history professorin. Since then, the collapse of the hiring prospects in history has been on my mind more. See Erin Bartram, Kathryn Otrofsky and Daniel Bessner on the way that this AHA was haunted by a sense of terminal decline in the history profession. I was motivated to look a bit at something I’ve thought about several times over the years: what happens to people after receiving a PhD in history?

Hello again, RSS Jan 01 2023

The collapse of Twitter under Elon Musk over the last few months feels, in my corner of the universe, like something potentially a little more germinal; unlike in the various Facebook exoduses of the 2010s, I see people grasping towards different models of the architecture of the Web. Mastodon itself (I’ve ended up at @benmschmidt@vis.social for the time being) seems so obviously imperfect as for its imperfections to be a selling point; it’s so hard to imagine social media staying on Rails application for the next decade that using it feels like a bet on the future, because everyone now knows they need to be prepared to migrate again.

New Directions Oct 26 2022

I’m excited to finally share some news: I’ve resigned my position on the NYU faculty and started working full time as Vice President of Information Design at Nomic, a startup helping people explore, visualize, and interact with massive vector datasets in their browser.

When you teach programming skills to people with the goal that they’ll be able to use them, the most important obligation is not to waste their time or make things seem more complicated than they are. This should be obvious. But when I’m helping humanists decide what workshops to take, reviewing introductory materials for classes, or browsing tutorials to adapt for teaching, I see the same violation of the principle again and again. Introductory tutorials waste enormous amounts of time vainly covering ways of accomplishing tasks that not only have absolutely no use for beginners, but which will confuse learners by making them

It’s not very hard to get individual texts in digital form. But working with grad students in the humanities looking for large sets of texts to do analysis across, I find that larger corpora are so hodgepodge as to be almost completely unusable. For humanists and ordinary people to work with large textual collections, they need to be distributed in ways that are actually accessible, not just open access.

I’ve never done the “Day of DH” tradition where people explain what, exactly, it means to have a job in digital humanities. But today looks to be a pretty DH-full day, so I think, in these last days of Twitter, I’ll give it a shot. (thread)

A Rose for Ruby Feb 27 2022

Ruby Logo There are programming languages that people use for money, and programming languages people use for love. There are Weekend at Bernie’s/Jeremy Bentham corpses that you prop up for the cash, and there are “Rose for Emily” corpses you sleep with every night for decades because it’s too painful to admit that the best version of your life you ever glimpsed is not going to happen.