Bethany Nowviskie

charter-ing a path

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[Cross-posted from the Re:Thinking blog at CLIR, the Council on Library and Information Resources, where I’m honored to be serving as Distinguished Presidential Fellow. Check out all the great content at CLIR!]

In recent years, we’ve guided four separate cohorts of the graduate fellows who participate in the Scholars’ Lab’s Praxis Program through an unusual exercise. Praxis is a team-based fellowship, in which six students, from a variety of humanities and social science disciplines and in varied phases of their graduate careers, spend two full semesters working together to design, create, and launch a digital project—either “from scratch” or by building on and refining the work of the previous year’s group. They do this with the benefit of careful mentorship, smart technical instruction, and lots of free caffeine and therapy from University of Virginia Library faculty and staff.

Our fellows’ first challenge, though, is not the daunting one of formulating a scholarly question that lends itself to exploration through building. Nor is it the challenge of learning a new digital production method (or four, or five), nor even of designing a system that can make a meaningful technical or intellectual contribution to humanities teaching and research (like the 2011-13 cohorts’ Prism project, or the past two groups’ revival of the Ivanhoe Game). Instead, our fellows nervously draft a project charter. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Published: May 31st, 2011
  • Category: higher ed

where credit is due

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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. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Published: May 11th, 2011
  • Category: higher ed

why, oh why, CC-BY?

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Last night, I joined the tail-end of an interesting conversation on Twitter about the utility of NC (“non-commercial”) clauses in Creative Commons licensing. Some time ago, I quietly dropped the non-commercial specification from my own blog and Flickr stream, switching my license from CC-BY-NC to CC-BY. Yesterday’s exchange of viewpoints has prompted me to explain why.

The CC-BY-NC license I first adopted permitted attributed use of my content but restricted that use (without further, explicit permission from me) to non-commercial republication venues. CC-BY, on the other hand, means I’m only asking that my name appear in some way attached to my words (or images, or other intellectual property). US law asserts that the moment I have “fixed” my thought into some expression I have tacitly copyrighted it — meaning that any republication (beyond fair use and without my explicit permission) is pretty much a form of theft. Unattributed re-use of my intellectual property would be plagiarism.

Baby, I’m givin’ it away.

When it comes to scholarly communication, I stand in Jeffersonian discomfort with the notion of “monopolies of invention” (a subject I’ve addressed before). In the humanities — where we are constantly and rightly concerned with our ability to reach broad audiences and articulate the public good of investment in the liberal arts — assertions of exclusive ownership may well “produce more embarrassment than advantage to society.” Commercial exploitation? We should be so lucky. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Published: Dec 14th, 2010
  • Category: higher ed

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

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Published: Oct 14th, 2010
  • Category: higher ed

the #alt-ac track: negotiating your “alternative academic” appointment

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[In late August, I wrote this post for the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s “ProfHacker” column. Because the enlightened Profs Hacker have ensured that all PH content is Creative-Commons licensed and I may, I’m re-posting it here! You can still read the original article, along with the comments it received, on the Chronicle‘s site.]

By now, avid ProfHacker readers will have encountered the cipher “#alt-ac:” a neologism and Twitter hashtag that marks conversations about “alternate academic” careers for humanities scholars. Here, “alternate” typically denotes neither adjunct teaching positions nor wholly non-academic (what-color-is-your-parachute, maybe-should-have-gotten-an-MBA) jobs — about which, in comparison, advice is easy to find.

Instead, the #alt-ac label speaks to to a broad set of hybrid, humanities-oriented professions centered in and around the academy, in which there are rich opportunities to put deep — often doctoral-level — training in scholarly disciplines to use. Recent #alt-ac conversation online additionally tends to focus on the digital humanities, a community of practice marrying sophisticated understanding of traditional disciplines with new tools and methods. The digital humanities constitute, in my opinion, the best gig in town — attracting scholars who exhibit restless, interdisciplinary curiosity, mastery of relevant research tools and methods (old and new), and uncommon comfort — in a world that defines expertise like this — with a general assumption that practitioners are jacks-of-all-trades.

If they are to serve us well, academic IT, libraries, publishing, humanities labs and centers, funders and foundations, focused research projects, cultural heritage institutions, and higher ed administration require a healthy influx of people who understand scholarship and teaching from the inside. That our culture for many years has labelled these people “failed academics” is a failure of imagination. Those who gravitate toward #alt-ac positions during or after completing graduate study are often driven to set things in motion in the academic environment, and to set things right. Couple the attractive #alt-ac mission of building systems (social, scholarly, administrative, technical) with an exceptionally sorry academic job market, and it becomes clear that more and more graduate students, post-docs, junior faculty, and underemployed lecturers will be stepping off the straight and narrow path to tenure. Read the rest of this entry »

Creative Commons License This site uses a heavily modified version of Bryan Helmig's Magatheme. Work at 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.