Surveying the Digital Landscape Once Again

May 17th, 2010 |

This is how I started my proposal for THATCamp:

I admit that my first priority at ThatCamp is to learn rather than to present.

That said, there are several areas of particular interest to me. First, the infrastructure challenges of doing digital humanities outside of R1 universities. And more generally, the landscape for the pursuit or support of digital humanities scholarship. I’d like to learn more about both ends of the equation for digital humanities projects: how to create compelling new projects and second how to sustain projects for the long term.

Pretty vague perhaps. I come to that area of interest from two directions. First, I am helping to develop what we are calling the “South Jersey Center for Digital Humanities” at Richard Stockton College. The Center is part support group for Stockton faculty interested in digital projects, part publicity center for those projects. We are members of CenterNet — indeed, as far as I can tell, the only center at a SLAC that is a member. So I would be eager to discuss with my fellow liberal arts college colleagues what they think a “digital humanities center” should be and do in the small college environment. In discussing this, I think we could also follow up on Tanya Clements’ attempt to create a listing of undergraduate programs with digital emphasis and individual scholars doing digital projects.

At the same time, I am working on digital projects of my own. I am very interested in the issues Rob Nelson raised about the role of argument in digital scholarship. But I want to begin with a more pragmatic question that connects my role in South Jersey Digital to my role as a scholar doing digital work. What are the plusses and minuses of the various currently existing options for creating and hosting scholarly digital projects? I can imagine the following “publishers” of digital projects: self-created independent site on hosting service, site attached to a personal home page, site attached to the home page of an academic department, site attached to a digital humanities center, site attached to a college or university library electronic resources collection, site attached to a home page of a traditional academic professional society like the AHA, site at the home page of a non-university based research center like the National Humanities Center or NYPL, site attached to a funding organization, site attached to an emerging digital community like MediaCommons, site published by a digital imprint of a university press. Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s book Planned Obsolescence focuses on the latter two. But I would say that independent sites and sites attached to digital humanities center predominate among academic digital projects. Basically, if you are affiliated with a university that has a digital humanities center, you create and publish your projects there, if you don’t, you publish them as independent sites. Is that right? Can or should anything be done to change that?

Semi-related to the above… A while ago, I gently challenged Tom Scheinfeldt’s post about Soft Money by arguing that there was a pretty strict limit on how much digital work could be supported just on the basis of grant support. Soft support could congregate in a few powerhouse digital centers like George Mason, Virginia, Nebraska, Duke enough to keep them going. But if it does, what should the obligations of those centers be to the rest of us? Or, to pose the question more closely to how we did at the time: how many digital humanities centers do we really need and what can we do to build as many of the ones we need as possible?

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One Response to “Surveying the Digital Landscape Once Again”

  1. briancroxall Says:

    I love the thrust of this last question and the problem it brings up of, for lack of a better term the Ivies of the DH community. I know that the upcoming Humanities Gaming Institute at the University of South has the specific goal of working to bring in scholars from less established, less funded institutions. The hope is that the cohort of scholars who attend the HGI will stay in contact and help one another while at their own, underfunded institutions.

    I see some commonalities between this idea and Julie Meloni’s proposal to begin a an open-access DH curriculum for mid-career scholars otherwise untrained. How, in other words, do we build digital humanists out of those who haven’t attended UVa, UMD, or UCI? We shouldn’t have to wait for a whole new generation of scholars to grow up to begin pushing further.


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