Digital Humanities and the Future of my Academic “Work”

Black face caricature circa 1928. Publisher Seibundo Shotenkaisha 誠文堂商店界社  [From the Japanese Commercial graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection]

Black face caricature circa 1928. Publisher Seibundo Shotenkaisha 誠文堂商店界社 [From the Japanese Commercial Graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection]

Although, I have problems with David Bell’s tendency to over essentialize an issue against print monographs in the academic sphere, I do find the conversation about new ways to view academic “work” exciting.

I’m especially interested in bridging the knowledge and accessibility gap between academic research with the public, so some of Bell’s arguments for the Internet’s democratizing potential resonates. But I don’t buy that digital tools are as democratizing or decentralizing as the authors of From Counterculture to Cyberculture suggest; however, the conversation about increasing public access to research and knowledge, and the notion that academics should consider a larger audience is appealing.

Bell’s essay also questions the value and feasibility of printed monographs. This is quite unnerving for a humanities academic.

“They are also passing the cost pressures on to those authors they do accept; it is becoming routine in some fields for university presses to demand subsidies of $5,000 or more to publish a book, and to insist on strict limits on length. In some fields, the printed academic monograph seems dangerously close to extinction.”

Before taking this Digital History course the notion that the academic monograph is in danger didn’t register on my radar. Isn’t this a cornerstone for tenure? I definitely want to be part of a larger dialogue within my department and the university to understand the direction in which we’re headed. My professional well-being relies on what the academe constitutes as “work.”

But how do we begin to redefine the notion of “publish or perish”? Will it look different in different fields? Arguably, digital projects vary to a far greater degree than books and printed work, so is it necessary to establish some sort of standard or protocol to submit non-monograph work? Is the notion of a standard counter-productive to the digital age’s “decentralizing potential”?

“[S]cholars are, after all, professional readers” Bell asserts. But according to this essay it seems as though “reading” is taking on new meanings as well.

I started browsing the University of Hawaii’s digital collections to get a sense of this new kind of work humanities scholars are moving toward. This project on Japanese commercial graphic designs from the 1920s caught my attention; I love looking at early 20th century advertisements and never had the opportunity to look at a collection of them from Japan.

In addition to the 1920s graphic designs, what interested me about this digital archive was this tiny little link at the bottom of the home page. I wanted to know more about the open source software the collection works with.

From the Japanese Commercial graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection

From the Japanese Commercial Graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection

This hyperlink lead me to another set of interesting digital archives and projects formerly inaccessible to the public. Streetprint.org’s goal “is to make formerly inaccessible texts and other artifacts available in an exciting new way to researchers, students, and the general public alike.”

These are the kinds of projects that make me excited about where humanities work is headed within the digital evolution. My venture to other sites via hyperlinks also speak to Bell’s (among other scholars’) argument about non-linear and infinite learning potential guided by the reader’s interests. This project also brings up questions about open source work, which seems to be a hotly contested issue within this larger conversation about academic work in the digital age.

As I addressed in my post last week, I’m overwhelmed with more questions than a definite understanding of what digital humanities is and what it means for my professional future as well as my stress level.

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