Readings, Part III: The Second Three Articles

Note: This is part three of the readings. Click here for part one. Click here for part two.

Rutner and Schonfeld, Supporting the Changing Research Practices

This article looks at different facets of the historical profession, how the do their work, and recommendations for change. A personal interest describes ;]p..the lack of training in actual archives for graduate students. They feel similarly unprepared to organize research or handle non-document sources. Is this a sink or swim experience being offered by academia?

Have we spent sufficient time in this class looking at tools for research? Especially tools that might help organize the abundant research required by historical writing?

Does this graduate program facilitate learning how to access information?

Does this program facilitate collaboration and cooperation between students? With faculty?

Guidelines for Professional Evaluation

This post by the American Historical Association sets guidelines and recommends best practices for digital historians, and history departments looking to update to or work with digital scholarship or employing and evaluating digital scholars. The relationship depicted requires communication between the two, and encourages collaborating with technically minded institutions, like the friendly neighborhood/campus library.

What responsibilities does the AHA place on digital historians? On universities? Is this enough to foster a productive relationship between traditional departments and digital historians?

To what extent do the AHA guidelines respond to and work with this week’s other readings?

Rebecca Conrad, Historians in Public

Here Rebecca Conrad reviews Ian Tyrell’s Historians in Public. This work looks at the changes in the historical profession in the twentieth century, including the New History movement, the effect of the World Wars, and the genesis of public history. Tyrell’s work is largely a critique of these movements. He also makes the claim that public history is “an extension of academic history.” While a useful retrospective on developments in academia, Tyrell’s work has several problematic blindspots.

Are historians specializing to find audiences? Or are they specializing to stay relevant and employable?

Is all history public history? Is it the same as doing history in public?

How does Tyrell’s work show his biases?

Does academic historian maintain any fruitful connection to K-12?

What relationship does history have to activism and social change?



Congratulations y’all. That’s the last of the readings for this class. You did it, fam.

Practica: PressForward and Scalar

The practica for our final week, PressForward and Scalar, are tools for organizing digital intellectual properties.  Both platforms embrace a non-linear, born-digital approach to scholarship.  While PressForward is a means to collect and curate existing scholarship, Scalar is a platform on which to publish one’s own work in an innovative way designed to incorporate all the best aspects of born-digital projects.  Both platforms take advantage of the flexibility and the power of digital media to empower both the consumers and creators.


PressForward is a free plugin of the WordPress blogging site.  As such, its functionality compliments the blogging format.  It is, essentially, a curatorial tool for storing and subscribing to articles and blog posts from other WordPress users.  It’s analogous to Tumblr or Pinterest, but for scholarly works.  In one’s profile, one can collect media from others’ blogs and categorize it in ways which make sense to the WordPress user.  In addition to collecting individual articles, one can also subscribe to others’ profiles.  This is useful in the case, for example, that another blogger has similar interests to yours and you want to see what they post in case it’s something you’re interested in curating.  From a consumer standpoint, PressForward can be very useful for finding pre-collected information on various topics by experts in the field.  This tool would, I imagine, be very useful during the early phases of a research project as one gets familiar with the historiography and wants to keep their materials in order.  Likewise, it could be a very powerful tool for later reference, as the organizational tools allow each user to tag and categorize their materials in the way which is most intuitive for them.


Two examples of the PressForward blogs are Digital Humanities Now and DH+LIB.  The Digital Humanities Now mission is “refining processes of aggregation, discovery, curation, and review to open and extend conversations about the digital humanities research and practice.”  Part of this mission is achieved by collecting works on this topic and sharing them through the PressForward platform. Digital Humanities Now collects “Editor’s Choice” articles and publishes them for their readers.  If one enjoys an author’s work, they can follow links to the author’s other works, to the author’s reading lists, or to posts with similar tags.  DH+LIB takes even further advantage of this platform “to provide a communal space where librarians, archivists, LIS graduate students, and information specialists of all stripes can contribute to a conversation about digital humanities and libraries.”  Their highlighted articles—originating also from a variety of sources—are organized under several categories, such as “Data Praxis Series” and “dh+lib review.”  These allow users to explore similar content by a variety of creators, pre-curated by those working at DH+LIB.  This plugin, in short, takes advantage of the digital media capabilities of sharing, storing, and organizing information in a way which is best suited to each unique user.


Scalar also capitalizes on the strongest aspects of digital media, this time with regards to the creation of digital scholarship.  Scalar creates digital “books” either from existing print scholarship or as a born-digital work.  These books are multi-media, non-linear, and highly collaborative.  Scalar publications are serial in nature; these projects have separate pieces, which can include text media, videos, audio, photographs, and any other media plugins.  Each of these projects can be consumed either in a sequential order or through tags.  This offers the audience the choice of following the posts in sequential order, in alternate sequences, or following tags to find related information.  This organization allows a wider audience to use Scalar books.  Because the content can be tailored to different people’s interests and used as the audience wants, Scalar projects can appeal to either a popular or scholarly audience.  The audience also has the option the write comments on any part of the Scalar project.  These comments become a living part of the Scalar book and the ensuing conversation.  This impetus on collaboration also extends to other Scalar authors.  Every project in Scalar has the potential to be collaborative and works from a place of connecting people and ideas and from the power that lies in these connections.  Other powerful connections offered by Scalar are the metadata about projects.  This feature allows a content creator to see what works about their projects and on what they can continue to do or continue to improve.  Scalar takes advantage of all the strongest aspects of digital media—connectivity, multi-media, collaborative, non-linear, available metadata—and has created a very powerful publishing tool for born-digital and adapted works alike.


Historians are in the business of telling stories.  These stories are told with the information attainable and the resources available to the audiences who want to listen.  With tools like PressForward and Scalar, access to scholarship is increased dramatically.  This means more dynamic projects with more authors and greater context.  This also means that the projects can reach larger audiences, essentially anyone who would take an interest.  These platforms take advantage of curatorial and organizational practices to allow audiences the freedoms to collect articles they’ve enjoyed, to subscribe to creators in whom they’re interested, and to explore scholarly projects on their own terms.  They also empower creators to make content with the audience’s expectations and needs in mind.  What truly impresses me is the potential both within the scholarly community and for the public audiences who has a more hobbyist interest in these subjects to aid in the dissemination and consumption of history projects.


Some questions:


  • Where do you see the most potential in either (or both) of these products?
  • In the hypothetical scenario that you ran a PressForward page, how do you imagine others would benefit from your work? How would you benefit?
  • In what ways is a Scalar book more useful than a print book? Can you imagine any drawbacks?

Readings, Part II: The First Three Articles

Note: Part 2 of the readings, looking at the first three articles. Click here for Part I.

          Dan Cohen, The Ivory Tower

This rough draft of an introduction chapter has been posted online to facilitate discussion and feedback, as modeled in Planned Obsolescence. The Content of the article is like the book read for this week, so let’s instead focus on the comments. A few readers noted the long introductory narrative of Nate Silver as seeming not totally connected to the greater point. Others found issue with lack of disciplinary definition. Yet another had thoughts on grammar and sentence construction. Cohen responds to these commenters to explain himself, offer further insights, or even explain how the draft has already changed.

  1. Does this seem like a productive discussion?
  2. How does this mirror the examples given by Fitzpatrick in Planned Obsolescence?

          Sue Baughman, Transformation of Scholarly Communication

This introduction by Sue Baughman presents an article by Rikk Mulligan. Mulligan provides an overview of the history of the article and scholarly monograph, as well as problems and potential solutions to the form in the digital age. This article is presented in a super weird format I’ve never seen before, and after initial hesitation was actually pretty cool, though there’s little functionality beyond a traditional pdf. There is a social sharing options on the side, which is kind of cool if you have friends who are overtly concerned with the state of scholarly monograph.

  1. What did you think of the reader this article used?
  2. What value does the monograph have?
  3. What are some solutions offered by Mulligan? Are they feasible?

Griffiths, Dawson, and Rascoff, Scholarly Communications

As a graduate student, reading this article was very strange. It clinically breaks down the ways in which historians use specific types of sources, why, and their feelings on the digitization of those sources. Their conclusions are that historians will be remarkably slow to push for better coordination with the digital age (with the exception of Africanists and public historians). There’s a lot to digest for short article, especially concerning the enshrinement of the monograph (considering journals are more widely used and written), and the concern that undergraduates won’t seek out non-digital works. This was written in 2006. They’re talking about us.

  1. Does it exist if it isn’t digital?
  2. How has this been reflected in your own research?
  3. Does this twelve year old article reflect the current situation?

Readings, Part I: Planned Obsolescence

Planned Obsolescence

Note: This is part one of the readings, just the book. Click here part two for the articles.

The system of academic publishing doesn’t need to become digital, it needs to undergo a digital revolution. Looking at the different stages of academic publishing from peer review, to authorship, to texts, to preservation, to the university as publish, Kathleen Fitzpatrick offers models to learn from and experiments to attempt. Using a variety of horror and monster metaphors, this work looks at the inherent flaws in academic publishing, and that the clinging to of prestige and authority is slow suicide by scholars.

              Peer Review

Peer review has not only become a critical part of publishing but affects the tenure and promotional tracks of professionals. This tradition is not as old as many would think and comes from a state censorship attempts in the 18th century. Fitzpatrick offers models including Slashdot, Philica, and MediaCommons to suggest physical ways in which the process of peer-review could be updated and improved by moving to digital formats. But ultimately, the cusses of these models depend on experimenting effective ways to create quality review made by quality reviewers, but an accompanying change to the mindset: “not simply on being smart, but on being helpful.”[1]


Fitzpatrick begins this chapter by looking at what an author is, using Barthes and Foucault. The chapter examine how digital formats, especially the blog, have already being to change the meaning of authorship. Fitzpatrick asks readers to consider the malleable nature of blogs, that show the process of thinking and the interactive nature of comments and updates, as productive avenues to the future. Remix culture is also brought in as a new possibility for scholarly work, as well as looking at multimodal scholarship: audio and video among others. Again, a change in attitude is suggested away from the individual, and towards a productive collective, and “to understand the collective not as the elimination of the individual, but rather as composed of individuals.”[2]


Text serves as the basis for digital scholarship now and for the past six hundred years, but eh way in which scholars use text has not caught up with the times. This chapter opens with a critique of current electronic reading mediums: chiefly PDFs and e-books. Both of these mediums can be essentially summed up as “pages under glass,”[3] in which active reading and reader interaction is impossible. Fitzpatrick also notes the potential of hypertext, of decentralizing the structure of books to reflect natural thought progression. This can be confusing for readers used to traditional structures, and also takes away some of the authority of the author (which, as explored in the previous chapter, may be a good thing). This chapter ends with a case study on CommentPress, which sought to bring the social activity of reading to the forefront. While it ultimately failed due to technical concerns, CommentPress set up important lessons:

“CommentPress grows out of an understanding that the chief problem in creating the future of the book is not simply placing the words on the screen, but structing their delivery in an engaging manner; the issue of engagement, moreover, is not simply about locating the text within the technological network, but also, and primarily, about locating it within the social network.”


This class has discussed before the issues of digital preservation. Data can become corrupted or glitched, but there is also a materiality to data that makes it muss less fragile than many think. Yet the preservation of digital materials is a serious consideration that will only become more difficult and time consuming the longer we wait. Scholars need to understand the standards by which data is maintained and the metadata that keep it from becoming lost. Two case studies, LOCKSS and CLOCKSS are two models for preserving large amounts of data. But for these to be successful, there is a significant amount of communal investment that needs to occur.

              The University

Finally, Fitzpatrick looks at ways in which the University publishing system can adapt to the changing times. The first suggestion is to allow open access to work, or to shift away from profit-driven models. The case study on a multimodal journal, Vectors, is used to show the potential of a digital-age journal, but it constantly struggles with funding issues. For new modes of publishing to be found, at some point Universities are going to need to invest in experimenting. They might also re-consider the relationship presses have with institutional libraries, scholars, and how their mission fits in with their parent institution. Fitzpatrick’s hope is that university presses “must be treated as part of the institution’s infrastructure, as necessary as the information technology center, as indispensable as the library, organizations increasingly central to the mission of the twenty-first century university.”[4]

              Some Questions

  1. Why is peer review important? What benefits come from this tradition?
  2. Does co-authorship or communal feedback really remove the authors authority? Does Foucault seem like a super pretentious person?
  3. What is to gain from creating texts with interactive elements? What are potential dangers?
  4. How can scholars contribute to the process of preservation?
  5. Do Fitzpatrick’s suggestions for the future of the university press seem feasible?

[1] Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, New York: New York University Press, 2011. 46.

[2] Ibid, 74.

[3] Ibid, 93

[4] Ibid, 187.

Practicum: Innovative Scholarly Communication or Just the More of the Same?

This week’s practica are all about scholarly communication! We’ve talked a bit in this class about how the entrenchment of the traditional journal article or monograph format can be a hindrance for digital humanists trying to get their work recognized, so I was excited to take a look at some projects that might be disrupting that paradigm.

MLA Core

Unfortunately, MLA CORE disappointed me in some ways. The basic premise of the site is promising. It provides a repository where scholars in the humanities can share their work, whatever form that work might take. They can share articles and manuscripts, but also syllabi, works in progress, digital projects, and more. The goal here is twofold. First, it fosters collaboration by giving scholars a chance to work together and share what they are currently working on. Second, it provides a repository for works that might not easily get published in a traditional format, ensuring that those works are preserved and that scholars have a stable DOI to link to to share their work (and allow others to cite it properly).

On a given work, you can look at tags, topics, related work, and the number of downloads, which gives scholars a clear way to measure how widely access their work might be. You can also see related groups. MLA CORE was built on to the existing MLA Commons, a sort of social network for MLA members, so the groups and user profiles are drawn from there.

On a typical “deposit,” the information looks like this:

This concept sounded extremely promising, and there’s definitely a place for it, but unfortunately it does not seem to have attracted the type of innovative formats I was hoping to see. When you browse by item type, you can see that the overwhelming majority of deposits are book chapters, articles, conference papers, and essays – still the standard works you might expect to find in a print journal or library.

Here’s the full breakdown of deposits by category:

Still, this platform is only a few years old, and it does note that it’s a beta release that is looking for feedback, so perhaps that bias toward traditional forms will change over the next few years. Or maybe a platform like this has to come first for people to feel empowered to try new forms of scholarship.

The Programming Historian

If digital scholarship is going to grow, humanists need to learn how to use those new digital tools, and that’s where The Programming Historian comes in. This site offers “novice-friendly, peer-reviewed tutorials that help humanists learn a wide range of digital tools, techniques, and workflows to facilitate research and teaching.” The interface is simple, with three basic sections: Learn, Teach, and Contribute.

The “Teach” section does not offer much, just a space to give feedback on lessons if you use them for teaching in a class or workshop. So we’ll focus on the other two.

The “Learn” section of the website offers a wide range of lessons on a number of different types of digital humanities tools. Some of these will be familiar to our class, like the series of tutorials on Omeka – in fact, the “Up and Running with Omeka” lesson was assigned back in week 5. Others go deeper into less user-friendly tools, like text mining using Python. The length, complexity, and difficulty of the lessons varies, but they are all free, all contributed by volunteers, and all text-based. There are plenty of screenshots and commands in the lessons, but no videos as far as I could tell, which I did find surprising. It’s certainly a contrast with the ubiquitous Youtube tutorial, which has become a common way for many people to try to learn new digital tools.

The other thing that sets The Programming Historian apart is that the lessons are all peer-reviewed, although not in a conventional way. In the final section, “Contribute,” users can propose, write, and submit new lessons. However, they are not just accepted or rejected like in a traditional journal. Instead, review is a collaborative process, a “thorough exchange with the lesson editor” to make revisions and ensure that the final product is the best and clearest it can be. This approach may actually be the most groundbreaking thing about the website, as it genuinely disrupts the standard academic review process.


What do you think of MLA CORE? Am I not giving them enough credit for taking an innovative approach in scholarly communication?

What about The Programming Historian? Would you use these tutorials to learn a new digital skill? Do you think video or other multimedia formats would be more effective than just text and screenshots?