johannes factotum & the ends of expertise

[This—more or less—is the text of a keynote talk I delivered last week in Atlanta, at the 2014 DLF Forum: the annual gathering of the Digital Library Federation. DLF is one among several stellar programs at CLIR, the Council on Library and Information Resources, where I have the honor to serve as a Distinguished Presidential Fellow. I began the talk with the following slide…]

johannes-factotum

You’re probably wondering who Johannes Factotum may be. Let’s start with a story.

Grad school in English, for me, began with a scavenger hunt. I am deeply sorry to report that this was not as much fun as it might sound. In 1996, the University of Virginia Library’s OPAC had been online for only a few years, and for most, the physical card catalog reigned supreme. Journal collections were almost entirely in print or on microfiche, but above all were in the building—shared and offsite storage being mostly a thing of the future. Search engines, which were poor, were supplemented by hand-coded indices, many of which were made and maintained by individual enthusiasts. These folks were a mix of established and self-proclaimed experts who had newly gotten their hands on the means of production. What they produced were largely pages of blue and purple links on Netscape-grey backgrounds, punctuated with little icons of shoveling dudes—lists of this and that, labors of love, some of which aimed to be comprehensive. Continue reading “johannes factotum & the ends of expertise”

asking for it

A report published this week by OCLC Research asks the burning question of no one, no where: “Does every research library need a digital humanities center?” The answer, of course, is of course not.

Of course, I’m being rude. The click-bait question, as posed, had a foregone conclusion — but there’s much to recommend in the report, even if it fails to define a “DH center” in any clear way, makes an unwarranted assumption that “DH academics” and librarians exist in mutually-exclusive categories, and bases too much of its understanding of faculty and researcher perceptions on the inadequate sample of some conference-going and a couple of focus groups (however carefully convened and accurately reported).

The chief value of the report may lie in its stated and implied purposes: providing library directors with a set of options to consider (stated) and an easy citation — a bit of OCLC back-up — (implied) for the local arguments they must formulate in the event their provosts or presidents catch Library-based DH Center-itis and seem completely unwilling to entertain a model customized to the needs of the institution. Wait a minute. That will never happen.

Okay, the chief value of the report is in its clear reinforcement of the notion that a one-size-fits-all approach to digital scholarship support never fits all. Continue reading “asking for it”

toward a new deal

A New Deal for the Humanities[This is the cleaned-up and slightly expanded text of a talk I gave last week, at a University of Illinois symposium on the future of the humanities at state-funded, US-based research universities. My paper was called “Graduate Training for a Public and Digital Humanities.” The organizers of the symposium, Gordon Hutner and Feisal G. Mohamed, framed its goals in a New Republic essay and positioned the event deliberately between two significant anniversaries: of the Morrill Act, establishing land-grant universities in the US, and the GI Bill, extending higher education to the American under-classes.]

Today, some 20 years after its first formulation, there is little question of the validity of Jerome McGann’s core and repeated argument: that we humanities scholars and publics stand before the vast, near-wholesale digital transformation of our various and shared cultural inheritance. This transformation – more properly, these remediations – are fully underway. They open new avenues for the work of the liberal arts in all of its spheres: for our ability to gain access to, to analyze and interpret, and most importantly to vouchsafe to future generations, the words, images, sounds, and built and material objects that crystalize in our archives and which we so carefully position to refract little, mirror-like understandings of what it has meant, for the blink of an eye, to be human.  Continue reading “toward a new deal”

what’s next

As we end an amazing 11-year run of the Mellon Foundation-supported Scholarly Communication Institute (the last six years of which it was my privilege to witness, learn from, and help to engineer at UVa), I am looking forward to new chances and challenges. Today, CLIR, the Council on Library and Information Resources, announced my appointment as a Distinguished Presidential Fellow. (I’m still a little stunned.)  A couple of days ago, I accepted an invitation from our wonderful Provost to join his office in the part-time role of Special Advisor, assisting at the institutional level in the advancement of digital humanities scholarship at UVa.  And on Tuesday I turned forty!  Quite a week.   Continue reading “what’s next”

cats and ships

I‘m writing just ahead of the main deadline for proposals to DH 2013, the primary conference of the international digital humanities community. It is my great privilege to chair the program committee for this year’s conference, which will be held in Lincoln, Nebraska. The PC are the stalwarts who design and coordinate peer review for the conference, pitch in to cover for delinquent reviewers, make final decisions on its intellectual program, and partner with local organizers in selecting invited speakers (we’ll look forward to a keynote from David Ferriero, chief Archivist of the United States, and it’s a Busa Award year, so we’ll honor and hear from the wonderful Willard McCarty).

“DH” is a new name for an old gathering. When I first encountered it in the 1990s the conference was called ACH/ALLC, after two professional associations (themselves dating to the ’70s) that had been sponsoring a joint meeting on computer-assisted humanities scholarship since 1989. The Digital Humanities name came in the mid-aughties, with the formation of a broader Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations. ADHO has expanded, over time, to include Canadian and Australasian DH associations, as well as an international consortium of digital labs and centers. Shortly, we’ll welcome a Japanese association to the fold as well. (For a whirlwind history of big moments in DH, see John Unsworth’s “What’s ‘Digital Humanities’ and How Did It Get Here?“)

DH is my home conference — the (only) one I look forward to all year, and have attended most religiously since I was a grad student. This event, and the welcoming, rollicking, inventive, pragmatic, learned, egalitarian, global humanities computing community that coalesces around it, are without a doubt the reason I finished my doctorate, stayed in the field and in the academy (not, interestingly, self-identical in DH), and do all the things I do at places like the Scholars’ Lab, ADHO, ACH, NINES, SCI, RBS, MediaCommons, and MLA.

So, I’m pretty invested in getting things right as conference chair.

I’ve reviewed for DH since I was a child (well, almost), served as a program committee member for the conference twice before, was its vice-chair in 2010, and have had helpful conversations with several of our past smart, thoughtful, hard-working chairs — so I know this weekend, as proposals flood in and I gear up the system for the next phase, is one of several moments in the process when I can expect to be biting my nails. To assuage my nerves, communicate some of the good work the PC has been doing so far, and to make things a little less opaque for everybody, I’m writing this post. The cats in my title need herding. The ship is a slow one to turn around. Continue reading “cats and ships”