The Issues of Digital Scholarship

This week’s readings on digital scholarship encompassed many different topics: digital articles, evaluation, dissertation embargoes, open access, copyright, and more. So what is digital scholarship and what are the main issues surrounding it?

Ed Ayers defines digital scholarship as “discipline-based scholarship produced with digital tools in a digital form.” According to Will Thomas, digital scholarship can be divided into three separate entities. Interactive scholarly works (ISWs) are hybrids of archival materials and tools which are situated around a historiographically significant topic. ORBIS is one example of an ISW. Digital scholarship can also be digital projects or thematic research collections (TRC), which usually deal with large investigations into a complex problem, such as the Valley of the Shadow project. Digital narratives make up another section, and these works typically feature a historical argument supplemented by evidence and provide multiple entry points for readers. Sheila Brennan writes that grants provide another entry point for understanding what comprises digital scholarship, as grants have to include intellectual motivations behind the digital project, proposals are peer-reviewed, are written without technical jargon, and produce specific deliverables. In short, grants allow outsiders to understand digital scholarship (in whatever form it might take), its purpose, and its significance. The Journal of Digital Humanities is one model of how digital scholarship can be collected, curated, disseminated, and accessed, as Joan Troyano details in her article.

Digital scholarship comes with a lot of baggage. To begin with, there is no universal definition of what digital scholarship is and what that term encompasses. Will Thomas writes that “the forms, practices, and procedure of creation in the digital medium remain profoundly unstable and speculative.” Since there is no established definition, there are no standard conventions and no set rules for evaluating such scholarship. Professional organizations, especially the American Historical Association, have not been especially pro-active in promoting digital scholarship and helping to establish a set of guidelines for evaluation. Despite not having codified instructions for assessing digital scholarship, several DHers have suggested some, which should help in generating a larger conversation on this topic. Trevor Owens, Geoffrey Rockwell, Todd Presner, and James Smithies have all come up with their own recommendations. There is a debate among scholars about what form digital scholarship should take: should it be traditional scholarship in a digital form, or should the digital be completely different and only do things not possible in an analog form? Tim Hitchcock asserts that historians need to ensure that digital scholarship is as rigorous as its analog counterparts, otherwise the study of history, like the book, will be “dead.” Other scholars have argued against this, and Will Thomas questions whether or not digital articles should conform to the conventions of print. Collaborative work done in the digital realm is important, and tenure and promotion (T&P) committees need to acknowledge it as such. Tenure and promotion committees are another can of worms–often they do not see digital scholarship as being as important or significant for the tenure and promotion process as traditional scholarship. Digital scholarship presents particular obstacles to junior scholars and grad students who are digital scholars and have digital work. In order to be successful going forward, Ed Ayers says that digital scholarship needs to have a greater focus, purpose, and sense of collective identity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *