Evaluating Digital Scholarship

This week’s readings covered numerous issues in digital scholarship. Similar to the on-going discussions on the definition of digital history, digital scholarship can take many forms. Trevor Owens outlined suggestions for digital exhibits and even games as scholarship. The digital scholarship must also simultaneously make an easily accessible and clear argument, as Edward Ayers points out in his article, “Does Digital Scholarship Have A Future?” In “Living in a Digital World: Rethinking Peer Review, Collaboration, and Open Access,” Sheila Cavanaugh discussed the difficulties and limitations of creating digital scholarly projects, specifically the need for institutional resources and collaboration across institutions.

It was also evident from the readings that there is a need for sufficient guidelines and evaluation for creators and peer reviewers of digital scholarship. Digital historians need to effectively defend their digital scholarship, like a grant proposal does in Sheila Brennan’s piece, and collaborators should be credited in every case. Tenure and promotion committees, the AHA, and even dissertation committees need to follow some set of guidelines for evaluating the intellectual rigor and field innovation that that scholarship can bring, and several articles and blog posts proposed guidelines. There is also a need to develop a better peer review system for online work, specifically in journals, in order to promote open scholarship, as in the Writing History in the Digital Age, Press Forward, and Journal of the Digital Humanities. Lastly, Melissa Terras discussed the digital presence that scholars need to cultivate in order to share ideas and disseminate their research beyond publication.

This topic of digital scholarship involves many people in and outside of academia, but it is critical for graduate students who want to pursue the digital humanities in their careers. As discussed in previous class sessions, digital humanities is about building something, or creating digital scholarship. If a graduate student is claiming to be a “digital historian,” then he or she should have something to show for it, right? This something can take many forms, as said, such as a game or an online exhibit. A “good” piece of digital scholarship shows committees and employers that you can design, research, implement, collaborate, and contribute something innovative to your field, both in the form and content. The work must contain many of the elements discussed in the articles, such as a clear and advancing argument, an effective interface for a defined audience, and maybe a conference presentation or two.

The digital scholarship also allows you to articulate and defend what makes that scholarship “good” and a worthy endeavor when standing in front of a dissertation committee and/or job interview. A set of guidelines on the reviewing end is helpful, but it’s better if the candidate is proactive in this regard, as Brennan points out. A lot of the authors stressed how much of a risk it is for emerging scholars to engage in digital humanities, because they do not yet have stable jobs and reviewing committees usually do not have set guidelines for evaluation. It seems more fruitful for the candidates in these cases to bring the guidelines than have a set of guidelines drawn up by the institution, because the digital scholarship can take so many forms. Being prepared in this way is not that different from a regular dissertation defense. A graduate student must be able to clearly articulate the digital scholarship in the project itself and to reviewers.