Bethany Nowviskie

  • Published: Nov 12th, 2011
  • Category: higher ed

it starts on day one

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Here’s a modest proposal for reforming higher education in the humanities and creating a generation of knowledge workers prepared not only to teach, research, and communicate in 21st-century modes, but to govern 21st-century institutions.

First, kill all the grad-level methods courses.

Kill them, that is, to clear room for something more highly evolved — or simply more fruitful — to take their place. Think: asteroids clobbering dinosaurs. Choking weeds ripped from vegetable gardens. The fuzzy little nothings and spindly cultivars in this scenario, squinting cautious eyes or uncurling new leaves into the light, are:

  • those research methodologies and corpora (often but not exclusively gathered under the banner of the “digital humanities”) that address hitherto unanswerable questions about history, the arts, and the human condition;
  • and the new-model scholarly communications platforms we can already recognize as promising replacements to our slow and moribund systems for credentialing and publishing humanities scholarship and archiving the cultural record on which it is based.

What do these critters need to grow up? The same thing our colleges and universities so desperately need: a generation of faculty and alternative-academic scholar-practitioners who have been trained to work in interdisciplinary contexts and who can not only take advantage of computational approaches to their own research, but who have been instilled with enough of a can-do, maker’s ethos that they feel empowered to build and re-build the systems in which they and future students will operate.

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  • 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 »

eternal september of the digital humanities

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Here’s where I am. It’s nearly Hallowe’en, and kids have settled into school routines. I have little ones in my own house and big ones in the Scholars’ Lab — the youngest of whom are newly, this year, exactly half my age. Other kids are dead, and it’s still bothering me a good deal. Mornings in Virginia feel cold now, and acorns are everywhere underfoot. We’re tracking leaves inside.

It’s a melancholy way to begin a post, but it situates us.

It’s October 2010 in the social scene of the digital humanities, and (yes, I’m feeling wry) our gathering swallows Twitter in the skies.

I tweet a lot. It’s a mixture — the writing and the reading — of shallow, smart, and sweet. I answer lots of email, too, lots of messages from strangers asking questions. We’re doing a good job, my team, and people are asking how. I stuck my neck out on a thing or two, and people are asking why, or for more. This fall, I worked with friends to launch a website that I’m proud of — which is for strangers, asking questions. I’ve stopped answering to the phone.

There’s a bit of a joke around the SLab, about the degree to which the boss-lady is not service-oriented. It’s funny (as they say), because it’s true. But it’s only true insofar as I let it be — and most local colleagues realize that I put on this persona consciously, as a useful corrective or (at least) a countering provocation to that strong and puzzling tendency I have noted as a scholar come to work in libraries: the degree to which the most beautiful quality of librarianship — that it is a service vocation — becomes the thing that makes the faculty, on the whole, value us so little. Service as servile. The staffer, the alternate academic, the librarian, the non-tenure-track digital humanist, as intellectual partner? Not so long as we indulge our innate helpfulness too much. And not so long as we are hesitant to assert our own, personal research agendas — the very things that, to some of us once expected to join the professoriate, felt too self-indulgent to be borne.

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  • Published: Jun 9th, 2010
  • Category: higher ed

fight club soap

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There’s a scene, in the filmed version of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, in which Tyler Durden leads our Everyman narrator on an expedition for biomedical waste. They’re raiding the trash bins of a liposuction clinic for lipids that can be rendered into soap. This is expensive soap, boutique soup — value-added soap. It’s the kind of soap probably only bought by the kind of woman who frequents a liposuction clinic.

“It was beautiful,” we hear. “We were selling their own fat asses back to them.”

This week, a powerful letter was distributed to all faculty of the financially-imperiled University of California system — the libraries of which are now faced with a 400% price increase if they would like to continue to provide access to 67 important scientific journals distributed by the Nature Publishing Group. One of these is NPG’s flagship journal, Nature. The price increase would bring the annual cost of a single NPG journal from approximately $4500 to over $17,000. When, in conversation today, I’ve shared this number with my librarian colleagues at home and abroad, I’ve heard a lot of incredulous laughter. But laughter turns to quiet musing (“would that work here?“) when I go on to say that the California letter threatens complete boycott, in clear terms and with the support of a system-wide advisory group on scholarly communication, of all UC faculty involvement in the production machine of the Nature group, if the costs for these journals cannot be brought in line with reality. Read the rest of this entry »

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.