prism, for play

This week marks the release of a new version of Prism, a web-based tool for “crowdsourcing interpretation,” constructed over the course of two academic years by two separate cohorts of graduate fellows in our Praxis Program at the Scholars’ Lab.


Praxis fellows are humanities and social science grad students across a variety of departments at UVa, who come to our library-based lab for an intensive, team-based, hands-on experience in digital humanities project-work, covering as many aspects of DH practice as our practiced Scholars’ Lab staff can convey. Continue reading “prism, for play”

lazy consensus

[This is a roughly-edited version of a keynote talk I gave last month at #code4lib, a fantastic annual conference for software developers and systems folks working in libraries. If you want to hear my bad jokes and attempts to pander to the crowd (or at least to let them know that I was conscious of the back-channel), or if you’d like to see what happens when I indulge my nerdiest tendencies in slide production, I recommend the archived livestream. I’m skipping a long pre-amble that included the Super Friends, hostile IRC bots, and a description of my own professional background – in which I slowly moved from literary and bibliographical scholarship to working with independent DH projects in scholarly think-tanks and projects that sat alongside libraries, to working in and for a library, and as a part of the blended digital humanities/library community that many of us inhabit now.]

The biggest surprise I had about my emigration to Libraryland will be of no surprise to those of you who have been here longer, or who came out of an I-school, or otherwise basically grew up in the culture. And that is that the shift radicalized me. Coming to the Library woke me up: on matters of privacy, on labor conditions and class issues in higher ed, on the sucky practice of training of humanities grad students for non-existent jobs, on free & open access to information, and (especially for those of us who work at publicly-funded institutions) on the rights of taxpayers to expect quality work for the public good out of what they help pay for.

So it may sound like I’m going to give an activist talk. That’s true to some degree, but I’m mostly going to give an impatient one — a talk that comes from where I am now. Although I used to be on the design and development side of things, I am now a soulless administrator, and therefore I thought the most useful function I could perform at code4lib would be to bring something back to you from that perspective. My title will therefore not immediately suggest an activist agenda.

Welcome to… “Lazy Consensus.”

Continue reading “lazy consensus”

two & a half cheers for the lunaticks

The 2012 convention of the Modern Language Association saw two deeply thoughtful #alt-ac roundtables — one on jobs in the digital humanities and another on systemic, corporate, and institutional responses to a broader “future of alternative academic careers.” I moderated the second panel and participated in the first. Both, in their ways, spoke to a remarkably changed environment: to altered employment conditions in the academy, to the humanities as they have entered the digital age, and to a moment in which hybrid scholar-practitioners and non-traditional academics are becoming more visible, and more desperately needed. This is a rough blending of remarks I made in the two sessions.

By “alt-ac,” a growing community speaks not of “alternatives to academic employment,” but rather of “alternative academics” – “alt-academics,” that is, in the way that alt-country music has a bit of rockabilly and folk mixed in – or old Usenet discussion groups would signal a fringe twist on their subject-matter with an “alt.” preface. I chose #Alt-Academy as the title for a recent MediaCommons publication — a collection of essays and personal narratives on the subject — because, taken together, our 32 authors were really gesturing at “an alternative academia” in the way that writers create speculative fiction or works of alternative history. Continue reading “two & a half cheers for the lunaticks”

where credit is due

This is the unedited text of a talk I gave today at the NINES Summer Institute, an NEH-funded workshop on evaluating digital scholarship for purposes of tenure and promotion. It references and builds on a (considerably less obnoxious) essay I wrote for a forthcoming issue of Profession, the journal of the MLA, and which was provided to NINES attendees in advance of the Institute. The cluster of articles in which the essay will appear includes work by Jerome McGann, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Tara McPherson, Steve Anderson, and Geoff Rockwell and was edited by Laura Mandell, Susan Schreibman, and Steve Olsen.

Evaluating Collaborative Digital Scholarship (or, Where Credit is Due)

So, as you’ll divine from the image on the screen, [SLIDE: awkward family photos] today I’m addressing human factors: framing collaboration (an activity that often happens across class lines in the academy) within our overall picture for the evaluation of digital scholarship.  I’m pulling several examples I’ll share with you from my contribution to the Profession cluster that Laura and Susan made available, and my argument may feel familiar from that piece as well.  But we thought it might be useful to have me lay these problems out in a plain way, in person, near the beginning of our week together.  Collaborative work is a major hallmark of digital humanities practice, and yet it seems to be glossed over, often enough, in conversations about tenure and promotion.

I think we can trace a good deal of that silence to a collective discomfort, which a lot of my recent (“service”) work has been designed to expose — discomfort with the way that our institutional policies, like those that govern ownership over intellectual property, codify status-based divisions among knowledge workers of different sorts in colleges and universities.  These issues divide DH collaborators even in the healthiest of projects, and we’ll have time, I hope, to talk about them.

But I want to offer a different theory now, more specific to the process that scholars on tenure and promotion committees go through in assessing their colleagues’ readiness for advancement.  [SLIDE: skeleton reading Baudelaire] My theory is that the T&P process is a poor fit to good assessment (or even, really, to acknowledgment) of collaborative work, because it has evolved to focus too much on a particular fiction.  That fiction is one of “final outputs” in digital scholarship. Continue reading “where credit is due”

DH down under (state of play; why you care)

For the past two weeks, I’ve had the great privilege of presenting ideas (ranging from the institutional and professional to the scholarly and creative) in a series of six public lectures in four cities across New Zealand and Australia. These were invited talks and keynotes at events as diverse as: a project-specific and infrastructure-oriented workshop at Victoria University, Wellington; a joint DH and library Information Futures forum at the University of Melbourne; two gatherings geared toward archivists, curators, and arts and design faculty at schools and cultural heritage institutions in Canberra; and a thought-provoking digital editing symposium at Sydney Uni. The visit was was break-neck, whirlwind, and a great deal of fun, mostly thanks to my splendid hosts Sydney Shep, Craig Bellamy, Tim Sherratt, and Mark Byron. It didn’t hurt that it was summertime and end-of-term in the southern hemisphere, with the journey framed by a sparkling harbor in Wellington (which, it’s true, you can’t beat on a good day) and another in Sydney.

Happily, the visit afforded me an opportunity to learn from and better understand the values and working conditions of the Antipodean digital humanities community, members of whom I had only met before as exotic and sometimes jetlagged creatures out of their natural habitat. I considered it excellent timing and came to care about these folks, because they show a great deal of energy just now, not only for enlivening humanities scholarship through digital tools and methods, but for organizing — creating stronger local networks and a broad, new Australasian professional society for scholars and practitioners of the digital humanities: the first in the hemisphere. This could be an initiative that partners with ACH, which I represent, and stands on par with SDH-SEMI as a vibrant regional DH organization and potential ADHO collaborator. You should care, too. Here’s why.

Continue reading “DH down under (state of play; why you care)”