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?

3 Replies to “Practicum: Innovative Scholarly Communication or Just the More of the Same?”

  1. The Programming Historian looks like a great resource and I would definitely use some of the tutorials if I ever needed to. It is great that the tutorials not only offer in-depth step by step guidelines but that they also answer questions about each skill or resource and how or why it is useful. This makes it so much easier to determine which resources to use in a digital world of over-abundance of services that to the digital partially-literate, like myself, seem to blend together. That said, I think sticking to text-based tutorials is best. Video tutorials may be helpful in providing basic overviews but often become difficult to follow once you are into the nitty-gritty of something like building a website and may need to look up vocab or troubleshoot as you go.

  2. The Programming Historian looks like it has a lot of potential. The only shame is the lack of video tutorials. Though I understand that text articles are significantly easier to produce, it would make the site more accessible. There’s no substitute for being able to just see how something works.

  3. I think MLA core has the fundamental problem that it’s working with academia, and academia can be a very dry, bloodless, uncreative place. The heart of artistry is not in academic journals, as we all know. So perhaps MLA Core was a good idea that is hampered by the biases of the people who use it.

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