Open Access News

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Digital scholarship in the humanities

Lisa Spiro, Becoming a “Digital Scholar”: Digital Discovery 2008, Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, March 27, 2008. Presentation at Digital Discovery (Houston, March 27).

... I’m fascinated by the question of how the abundance of digital information and the development of new technologies will affect humanities scholarship, and it seemed to me that the best way for me to understand these transformations would be to undertake a major research project myself. By revisiting my dissertation, I could build on my existing knowledge and compare my research process 5+ years ago to what’s possible today. Thus I decided to remix my dissertation as a work of digital scholarship.

... My work is still very much in process, but here are three preliminary observations:

  1. A vast amount of information is now available online. ...
  2. As we deal with the abundance of information, we need tools to find, organize, manage, analyze and share our research materials. Fortunately, those tools are beginning to be developed. ...
  3. Although the journal and monograph still dominate the humanities, new means of scholarly communication are emerging, enabling the faster dissemination of ideas, more community dialog, and the use of multimedia. ...

Lest I seem naďve, I should acknowledge that significant challenges face digital scholarship. ... As the digital environment constantly shifts and tools come and go, it’s overwhelming trying to keep up. In any case, the system doesn’t really reward faculty for experimenting with new technologies. ... Then there’s copyright: For my remixed work on bachelorhood, I’d love to provide links to the full-text of every work that I cite. I’d also like to remix those original sources to produce new works. But what I can do is constrained by copyright.

... What effect will the computer revolution have on humanities scholarship? It’s really too early to say– in a small way, that is what I’m trying to figure out in my project. In the sciences, we’ve seen the rise of new sub-disciplines and methodologies made possible through computation and data archives. In the humanities, I believe that being able to access the full text of millions of books will bring about significant changes in how research is conducted. ...