Failing Gloriously and other Essays

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Shawn Graham. Failing Gloriously and Other Essays. With a foreword by Eric Kansa and afterword by Neha Gupta. 2019. Grand Forks, ND: The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, 2019.

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Please, you gotta help me. I’ve nuked the university.

Failing Gloriously and Other Essays documents Shawn Graham’s odyssey through the digital humanities and digital archaeology against the backdrop of the 21st-century university. At turns hilarious, depressing, and inspiring, Graham’s book presents a contemporary take on the academic memoir, but rather than celebrating the victories, he reflects on the failures and considers their impact on his intellectual and professional development. These aren’t heroic tales of overcoming odds or paeans to failure as evidence for a macho willingness to take risks. They’re honest lessons laced with a genuine humility that encourages us to think about making it safer for ourselves and others to fail.

A foreword from Eric Kansa and an afterword by Neha Gupta engage the lessons of Failing Gloriously and consider the role of failure in digital archaeology, the humanities, and social sciences.

Reviews and Comments

Quinn Dombrowski, Academic Technology Specialist in the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at Stanford University. (Read her full review on the Stanford Digital Humanities blog).

“I intend to keep a copy on my office bookshelf, and a second under my desk, in order to promptly replace the bookshelf copy when it’s been given away to a grad student, staff, or faculty colleague who happens to come by. If you’re a digital humanities “veteran”, you’ll laugh and cry and shudder alongside Graham’s tales of failure. If you’re a grad student or newer to digital humanities, Failing Gloriously and Other Essays provides a rare, honest, inside look into many facets of doing digital humanities. … There is much more work that needs to be done, on many fronts, to encourage, support, and reduce the personal risk associated with thoughtful analyses of failure, for everyone […]Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays is one step towards that better future.”


Eric Poehler Associate Professor, Department of Classics, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Director, Five Colleges Blended Learning and Digital Humanities Programs

Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously is, in so many ways, the antithesis of a story about “failing up.” In it, Graham offers us a frank and sometimes painful story of his years in the academic wilderness, his struggles with imposter syndrome, and his desire to find purpose in ‘success’. While it would have been easier to side-step his own mistakes or to find excuse in a broken system of Higher Education (or not write this book at all!), Graham embraces both his failures and his inherent social privilege as a “white guy on the internet”. But this embrace positions his experiences and his privilege in the service of the precariat, who can least afford to fail, gloriously or otherwise. Still, Graham does not write himself a hero, more of a breakwater; his prose is not a “how to”, but a “why to”. The arc of Failing Gloriously is thus the paradata of an academic career, bending towards morality.


Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Digital Humanities and Professor of English at Michigan State University and author of Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University (2019). Read her full response here.

“Sharing these stories of failure is a radical act, a generous act, one that requires a willingness to be vulnerable so that others can learn from your failures. Doing so, as Shawn has done, can create the potential for helping others through the failures we all inevitably encounter. And that vulnerability likewise creates the potential for connection, for solidarity, for our ability to talk to one another, for a good that reaches beyond the self.”