How to present work

One of the problems with digital humanities work is that much of the work is invisible by design. Metadata, for example, can be handled transparently. Users typically see none of the code that makes a program or site function unless they go out of their way to do so; code which must be compiled may not even be viewable by users. In addition, digital humanities work does not transparently present itself as scholarly, nor does it automatically situate itself in the way that a monograph may and a journal article typically does. Being published in Shakespeare Quarterly means being contextualized for Shakespeare scholars within the context of peer review, revision and presentation of work which goes along with that journal. The advantage of being published in a top journal is that this context for your work implies its quality and scholarly merit. Self-publishing an article, by contrast, brings along with it none of those external contexts or elements of outside review.

Peer review and the digital humanities strikes me as a large topic. We’ve engaged with it secondarily (from Digital Humanities Now to a range of other sites) and primarily (our Project Reviews), but especially for collaborative DH projects, peer review is an ongoing process. I think we must take it as such here, too, although not all of you will continue your work on these projects.

How, then, can you make a case for the scholarly value of the work that you are doing? In part, the answer must be dictated by that work: a program is distinct from a textual analysis is distinct from an online edition or archive, and all these may differ from a tool or commons or journal or procedure or the like. In addition, DH work may be indirectly productive in the sense of bringing about scholarly work of various sorts, or it may be directly productive, the object in question itself.

I suggest three elements involved in presenting and justifying your work:
1. Context.
2. Document what went into the project.
3. Credential the project as scholarly.

Context involves situating whatever work you’ve done within the framework which produced it. Having that context when learning calculus would probably help students, for example, by explaining that calculus was developed initially to help model physical interactions between objects in motion. Context here involves understanding how your work situates itself within an existing project or within what has been done–or what has yet to be done–in digital humanities more broadly. Your main concerns should be to explain your purpose and establish that you are doing digital humanities, to the extent that is possible.

Documenting your work will help you address the common (and I suspect, large) problem in DH projects that they often appear, when functioning, to be quite simple, but they all take levels of effort not obvious or visible. There are some possible exceptions (as with “straight text” work where you simply type in a bunch of words without including pictures or links, like this post), but you want to be certain that you get credit for the blood, sweat and tears invested in your project, even (or especially) if what you end up with doesn’t look like much yet.

Credentialing the project can prove difficult, as we’ve seen. I think your best approach, especially for the work you’re doing for this seminar, would be to think along one of two lines:
A. Value added. With the caveat that this approach fits the neoliberal/capitalist criticisms laid upon DH, I suggest you sketch out how what you have done makes a contribution, however small, to scholarship or the scholarly community. This will be easier if you’re a small cog in a big machine, as you only really need to establish that you contributed to the big project and point to that project’s own scholarly justification/engagement. For a new project, you’d need to identify who it serves and explain how it does so. (Copy/pasting an existing site under a Creative Commons license wouldn’t qualify as adding value, to provide an example of something NOT scholarly.)
B. Scholarly content. While necessarily nebulous, the “scholarly” can nevertheless be distinguished from that which is not. One of Roger Ebert’s film reviews would be more scholarly than me tweeting “That movie sucked!” to a personal Twitter feed; a critical analysis of a film or group of films would be scholarly; a Youtube video talking about a film could be. Generally speaking, your approach, audience and content will all help you to describe your work as scholarly (or not). Your best example here would be to think of a post to a personal blog. One post might be clearly unscholarly, which another might be clearly scholarly, and a third might be ambiguous, reflecting mixed audiences and mixed purposes. I think it in some ways unhelpful to be dogmatic about what is or is not scholarly; that said, if you want your DH work to be treated as scholarship, you need to be able to make a case for it, whatever form it takes.

Both credentialing options involve identifying your audience and what you expect your audience to get out of your work. Again, if you’re contributing to an existing project, this part of your task should be easier as that project has implicitly or explicitly answered these questions already.

For your projects this semester, I’d aim for a 1-3 page reflection on your work. Feel free to include analysis of various sorts (what went well or poorly, what you learned from the experience), as I think these help to establish the scholarly productivity of the experience.

One thought on “How to present work

  1. Pingback: Digital Humanities @ University of Alabama – Lots of Resources and Happenings | laurie n. taylor

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