Bethany Nowviskie

DH wonks, step this way.

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Here’s a post meant for the pretty small audience of people who care about the inner workings of digital humanities professional societies. The rest of you may carry on talking about the Emmys, or badges, or honeybadgers. Or honeybadgers at the Emmys. Or badges for honeybadgers. DH wonks, this way.

The Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH) was founded in 1978 and is the primary US-based professional association for practitioners of the digital humanities. I’m currently serving as vice president of the ACH, and am a new steering committee member of the umbrella group to which it belongs, the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO). ADHO consists of three aligned, international societies: ACH, ALLC (the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing), and SDH-SEMI (the Society for Digital Humanities/Société pour l’étude des médias interactifs). Soon, a fourth organization will join us: centerNet, an international consortium of digital humanities labs and centers.

I’ve been a member of ACH for much longer than I’ve been active in its leadership or involved in the ADHO umbrella organization — so my encounters with its budget sheets and expenditure records are recent enough, perhaps, to make me conscious of how opaque its doings must seem to the larger DH world. This is exacerbated by the explosive growth (since 2005, when ADHO was incorporated), of the broad humanities computing community these associations aim to serve. I’m hoping to share some information here that will help members and potential members understand how these organizations fit together, and what — particularly from the ACH point of view — we’re up to, in an era of great expansion (and not a small amount of navel-gazing) for the digital humanities.

I’m writing this post as an individual member of the ADHO organizations — seeking clarity (like you, maybe) on what it means to join a radically interdisciplinary professional association, watching how ACH works with its international partners, and (most of all) wanting to know exactly where my membership fees go. I hope that others who have a deeper history with the ADHO orgs will jump in to correct any mistakes I make or add their views. Needless to say, this is not the official word from ACH or ADHO. It’s just me, wanting to codify what I keep finding myself trying to express in 140-character tweets in response to questions on Twitter! It’s also an offer to open up the comments section on this post to fresh ideas and help them get heard.

The joint ADHO financial model — which strengthens our work and helps to coordinate and maximize the value of DH initiatives internationally — makes the last of that series of questions (“where does my money go?”) a little more complicated than it might be for other smallish professional societies. But it’s important to ACH that we answer it, because we’re a community-driven organization, supported by volunteer effort and membership fees. Our most important activities seek to cultivate and strengthen the digital humanities through our advocacy work and support of presentation and conversation venues, publications of various sorts, awards, and events. We are also known for focusing a great deal of energy and material support on people new to the field — through mentorship activities (like social events and and our long-running mentor-matching program), subsidies to training workshops and unconferences, contributions to allied initiatives, and the hosting of sites for dialogue and problem-solving. A lot of this runs on love, but it also takes money.

ACH and ADHO finances work like this:

The primary monetary transaction between individual members and the ADHO organizations is handled by Oxford University Press, publisher of one of our journals, LLC: the Journal of Digital Scholarship in the Humanities. Individual subscribers to LLC are asked to indicate which of the three organizations they would like to identify with. They are also given the option to join all three societies — therefore becoming eligible to vote in elections and receive communications or other specialized membership benefits — by increasing their base payment. (For instance, to move from an ACH-only membership to a joint ADHO membership, your fee will bump up by $14-25, depending on your student status.) The current rate for ACH-only student or senior citizen members is $69/year and other members pay $139.

The cost for individual memberships is kept in balance with significant registration discounts offered for the annual DH conference (next year, in Hamburg). This means that, if you plan to attend DH, it is cheaper to become a member of an ADHO organization than to pay the non-member’s price.

Our arrangement with Oxford UP allows us to add institutional or library subscription fees for LLC to the overall funding picture for ADHO, increasing its financial stability. [Edited to add: these institutional subscriptions to LLC are far and away the largest revenue stream for the ADHO orgs.] Seventy percent of the total profits on LLC (profits from institutional and individual subscriptions combined) are returned to ADHO. These form almost 100% of ADHO’s income, not including the considerable in-kind contributions of its all-volunteer councils and committees. (I am not certain how the other groups handle this, but ACH does not subsidize travel or other costs incurred by its officers and executive council members in conducting the organization’s business.)

ADHO is governed by a steering committee representing all three constituent organizations, and this committee authorizes disbursements to the organizations according to an established (partly geographical) formula, after taking off a “top slice” from our income to cover those operations that ADHO funds jointly. The disbursements to individual societies are meant to allow us the independence to serve our somewhat distinct (but increasingly shared) constituencies and to undertake local projects. Meanwhile, the ADHO top slice funds: web hosting; training and conference attendance bursaries that make it possible for new people to get engaged in our work; support given to standards bodies; awards like the Fortier, Busa, and Zampolli Prizes; a small subvention for local hosts of the annual DH conference; and costs related to our other publications.

Other publications?

A desire to broaden in scope and serve a larger community motivated Literary and Linguistic Computing‘s adoption, several years ago, of the “LLC” moniker and its new, more general subtitle. (Apparently the wholesale changing of journal names — with both their historical associations, ISSNs, and institutional subscribers’ lists — is a sticky affair.) I often hear concern that a perceived focus on text-based digital humanities limits LLC’s penetration into that larger community. LLC is changing, but for many this remains a valid concern.

Unlike many similarly-sized professional organizations, however, ACH sponsors more than a single journal. We are aware that our members come from many different disciplinary perspectives and have just as many needs and requirements for their publication venues. In some DH professions, traditional print journals published by respected presses and participating in established citation ranking systems are critical (career-making or -breaking) publication venues. To others, newer and more interactive online publication venues are key. Different segments of the international DH community have differing relationships to Open Access publication. Sharp disciplinary focus is more and less important in different corners of DH.

To that end, ACH and its partner organizations in ADHO sponsor:

These come in addition to less formal communications venues:

  • the Humanist listserv (a long-standing “online seminar on humanities computing and the digital humanities”);
  • Digital Humanities Questions and Answers (or @DHanswers, an open Q&A forum for all things DH);
  • ADHO’s website;
  • and the websites of the three constituent organizations: ACH, ALLC, and SDH-SEMI, including whatever blogs, news-feeds, or initiatives they might individually host there.

(An example is ACH’s 15-year catalog of digital humanities-related sessions at the annual MLA Convention, or an ongoing ADHO effort to create a searchable database of all presentations at DH and ACH/ALLC conferences dating back to the 1980s.)

This is a big list of publication initiatives, and it is very possible that I’ve missed something! I’ll trust to readers to offer additions or corrections.

What’s my point? Although we often say that membership is “by subscription to LLC” (and we’ve been working with Oxford UP to make that subscription and renewal process easier!), what we really should say is that LLC is one of the benefits of your membership in one or more ADHO associations. That the other ADHO publications are largely open-access does not mean that they are free. Neither are many of ACH’s other services and initiatives — and the other ADHO orgs do similar good work with their slices of the pie. At the risk of sounding like public radio fund drive, your membership dollars (or pounds or euros) make all these things possible.

We need to get better at communicating with our members — bringing in new ideas and clarifying the broad range of activities we undertake. I think ACH has made great strides in the past few years — and a newsletter that will shortly go out to members may be a big help in articulating this. We’ve rolled out a new website, redoubled our efforts at mentoring, created DH Answers, become much more active as an advocacy group, and taken valid and helpful criticism to heart. I hope this explanation, albeit in the roughest terms, of how the ACH and ADHO membership model works and what we do with members’ fees, is a further step in the right direction.

What did I miss or misunderstand? What do you want to know? Where should we go from here? Please comment.

Creative Commons License This site uses a heavily modified version of Bryan Helmig's Magatheme. Work at http://nowviskie.org by Bethany Nowviskie is always CC-BY. Want to know why? The falling letters are by Wayne Graham. He kindly made them to replace a set I designed in Flash in the late 1990s and had in place for more than 17 years. Not a bad run! Ave atque vale.