Monday, December 6, 2010

digital scholarship: explaining the concept

With our sponsored research officer, I'm putting together a short workshop in January to explain to humanities and social sciences faculty the concept of digital scholarship and how it might intersect with their work. Recent articles in the New York Times on "Humanities 2.0" may provoke some interest in this. We've seen some pretty big initiatives on this front at peer institutions like Occidental and Hamilton and are thinking about possibilities on our own campus.

I'm thinking through a good way to explain digital scholarship. It's such an amorphous concept. On the one hand, its tempting to think of our common forms of print scholarship online as digital scholarship: electronic journals and now increasingly, electronic books. Projects that involve the digitization of primary print sources also come to mind. Then there is the whole movement towards open access journals and open repositories of scholarly work.

I would say that digital scholarship happens when digital technology can enhance research methodologies and provide new, useful ways of presenting evidence as well as intellectual or artistic output. These new practices often engage students in the research process and promote collaborative research.

Here are some projects that fall along these lines.

Oren Kosansky's NEH funded Genizah project supports digital capture, encoding and analysis of a cache of documents from Jewish Communities in Morroco with help from the library and at least one student on the Morroco program; while digital technologies will enable the collaborative analysis by a global group of scholars interested in the archive, they will also stimulate some challenging ethical and legal questions.

At Wheaton College, a historian has her students doing similar types of transcription and encoding of historical documents related to the founders of that College.

Students from Furman University have contributed to the Center for Hellenic Studies Homer Multitext project by transcribing medieval manuscripts of the Illiad and Odyssey, some of which had never previously found their way into print.

Our own Environmental Studies Situated Research initiative utilizes social bookmarking technologies and concept maps to allow students to collectively build archives of research resources around geographic sites.

The History Engine, a project out of the University of Richmond is a platform on which undergraduate students perform primary research a topic in 19th century American history and compose a brief "episode" about that topic in a globally accessible database, thereby allowing students to publish their work in a widely accessible forum.

Bob Goldman and Bryan Seboks Adea project challenges students to convey some of the "big ideas" in the liberal arts via the 21st century "short form."

The New York Neighborhoods project out of Columbia University has students taking to the streets of various NYC neighborhoods to produce histories from interviews, walking tours and photographs, all organized and curated on a wiki platform that incorporates web mapping and geolocation. There are many variations on this concept of location based research projects, with Hypercities being an emerging platform.

Our own Ted Vogel's accessCeramics project curates and exposes recent work in the field of contemporary ceramics. The collection allows artists and their students visual access to the latest and best work in this global, quickly evolving area of art.

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