Digitizing Research Interests for the Classroom and the Job Market (D-Ped Seminar Topic for 9/14/11)


Katy Hanggi, Jennifer Holley, Kate Tanski, and Chris Weedman

Evaluation and Academic Tension Between Traditional and Digital Scholarship (Katy Hanggi)

“Digital Humanities” is a term I have heard frequently, but I have not given it much consideration. My familiarity with it was limited to teaching resources, such as the Postcolonial Studies Website and multimedia peer-reviewed articles at sites such as Southern Spaces. Yet, my research into this field in preparation for this week’s discussion has introduced me to a much broader definition of digital scholarship. In particular is the scope of these projects, and how their forms challenge traditional, written scholarship. Some of the digital research I came across included Virtual Jamestown, the first video book published by MIT Press, Learning from Youtube, and the Homer Multitext Project.

These different resources begin to represent the range of digital scholarship and its possibilities, but they also pose questions about the form of scholarship, its audience, and how it is evaluated. In many ways, these sites highlight the importance of the question with which we began: Is digitization a matter of translation, transformation, transference, remediation, or representation?

This question of form then leads me to a second set of concerns regarding the disciplinary implications of digital scholarship. Much of the discussion on digital humanities highlights the difficulties of these modes of scholarship in an environment that is resistant (or slow) to change. This tension affects us as junior scholars because we must consider whether our efforts in digital scholarship will carry the same weight as traditional forms of scholarship in the departments where we (eventually) land tenure-track positions.

Questions for Discussion:

  • How do the different aims of these projects broaden our notion of what scholarship is?
  • Should they be valued (and evaluated) in the same way?
  • What is the role of the peer-review process in the digital humanities?
    • See: NINES, an organization for peer-review in 19th-century digital scholarship
    • How does the collaborative nature of much digital scholarship affect the individual nature of traditional scholarship and the model of individual evaluation?
    • How will our departments, tenure committees, and publishers view this new form of scholarship?

Assigned Readings:

Web Sites to Consult:

Intellectual Property and Web Identities (Chris Weedman)

The web possesses exciting new avenues for distribution of research, but there are serious issues concerning the possible depreciating value of intellectual property, which junior scholars need to consider. One of the most relevant to Brittain Fellows, particularly those reconfiguring their dissertations into books or journal articles, is the “Open Access” policies regarding the electronic housing of dissertations. In order to help cut down the cost of storing print copies of dissertations, many universities now require graduates to submit an electronic version instead. As discussed in Jennifer Howard’s article “The Road from Dissertation to Book Has a New Pothole: the Internet,” which was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education in April 2011, these open access policies are making university presses concerned about publishing material from dissertations that are already available for download from university databases. Whereas some presses such as University of Iowa Press see open access as a way to gauge the potential readership of dissertations, others such as Texas A&M University Press are hesitant to publish a manuscript based on a dissertation unless there is a significant difference between both versions. The inability of publishers to estimate the potential market value of these dissertations put recent graduates in a precarious situation, particularly when many graduates hope to publish material from their dissertations in order to secure tenure-track positions.

These concerns about the value of intellectual material disseminated on the web might also be applied to those junior scholars with a blog. I am particularly interested in this subject as a beginning film scholar. Although some important film critics and scholars maintain a blog—notably David Bordwell, Professor of Film Studies in the Department of Communication Arts at University of Wisconsin, Madison—it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the difference between academic film blogs and those maintained by very knowledgeable film enthusiasts. This sharing of ideas is very intellectually stimulating, but, at the same time, junior scholars might run the risk of having their critical work stolen or redisseminated in ways that they did not intend.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Should we be concerned about disseminating our scholarship in online databases? Does it diminish the chances of publishing it in a traditional print publication later?
  • Should we be hesitant to contribute to blogs and online forums, particularly when on the job market? Since members of hiring committees are known to Google search potential faculty hires, what are the benefits and drawbacks of having your writing (both formal and informal) so easily accessible?
  • What are the ramifications of having an active web presence for scholarship on film, television, comic books, and other areas of popular culture, particularly when the boundaries between academic and non-academic criticism is becoming increasingly blurred?

Assigned Readings:

Web Sites to Consult:

Digital Poetry (Jennifer Holley)

The poet has been called “the seer,” “the knower,” “the shaman,” “the maker,” and “the unacknowledged legislator of the world,” among other things. While “digital poetry” once meant simply putting print poems online, some of the most interesting innovations in digitized poetry involve transformations of verse that rely on a network of experts—including but not limited to writers, filmmakers, animators, musicians, Web designers, and financial backers. As poetry becomes increasingly present in digitized forms, the status of the poet as a unique and isolated genius is called into question. Rather, as Matthew G. Kirschenbaum claims, “digital humanities is…a social undertaking.”

Questions for Discussion:

  • What are the pluses and pitfalls to taking poetry “off the page”?
  • How do we define “the author” in the digital age?
  • How does the multimodality of digital poetry change one’s perspective on the individual poet’s literary achievement?
  • Does digitized poetry “dumb down” verse for the masses?
  • Is easy, free access to poetry desirable? (Should poets get paid?)
  • When a print poem appears in a collaborative, digital form, is it still a poem?
  • How does digital poetry stretch definitions of genre?
  • How can poetry in its digitized form be used in the classroom? What can non-poets learn from digitized poetry? How can they contribute to digitized poetry?

Web Sites to Consult:

  • The Poetry Foundation (has a number of digital resources for poetry, one of which is this link to videos produced in the “Poetry Everywhere” series) <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/video?show=Poetry%20Everywhere>
  • University of Connecticut—Poetic Journeys (poetry posters displayed on campus transportation and archived online) <http://poeticjourneys.uconn.edu/>

Theory and Praxis…and Theory (Kate Tanski)

Noted public intellectual Scott McLemme credits the continued interest in Kenneth Burke and the continued creation of young Burkeans to the strong interest in archival scholarship, and the move towards digital media in Burkean scholarship more generally. As one of these young Burkeans, I can speak to how digital scholarship is a part of this scholarly community, both from the position of a scholar who uses digital media, but also as a scholar who created digital media for the Burkean community. I started a digitization project as a graduate student in 2007, which was to digitize and subtitle a 15-minute documentary about Kenneth Burke that had previously only been available on VHS. The project garnered attention from the Kenneth Burke Society, and I was asked to present a Plenary Session on the KB: A Conversation with Kenneth Burke digitization project at the 2008 Kenneth Burke Society Triennial conference.

Resources to Consult:

Questions for discussion:

  • What can we, as scholars, learn from the model of the Burkeans in regards to digital scholarship?
  • What prevents other scholarly communities from being as successful as the Burkeans?
  • How do you begin a digitizing project? What are potential problems (technical, financial, institutional) that you may face?
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Christopher Weedman

About Christopher Weedman

Christopher Weedman is a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow and Assistant Director of the Communication Center. He received his Ph.D. in English at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale where his research focused on intersections between Film Studies and 20th-century British Literature and Drama. His dissertation examined the relationship between exile, collaboration, and social politics in the films of Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter. He has published articles on the films of Losey, Howard Hawks, Roman Polanski, and Jerzy Skolimowski in film journals such as "Quarterly Review of Film and Video" and "Senses of Cinema." He has taught courses in film studies, 20th-century British and American literature, and composition, including a multimodal composition course this semester on contemporary British film and literature critiquing Thatcherism and British culture of the 1980s.
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