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Digital Media to End "Academic Cannibalism"?


Last weekend, I attended a conference hosted by the Midwest Modern Language Association in which a conglomerate of graduate students, professors, and independent scholars came together to address the theme of the conference, “Play…No, Seriously.” This theme garnered paper and panel topics ranging from food and sustainability to child’s play to the body’s representation in literature, but the panel of particular interest to this community was “Diversions, Digressions and Usual Connections: New Media and Narrative Practice.”

Presenters for this topic addressed how new media technologies affect the creative and critical practices of academia. The panel I attended focused on the fusion of academic publishing and digital media, citing the need to end, as presenter Jennifer Dorsey jest, academic “cannibalism” and “tyranny.” That is, excessively flooding the market with book projects out of the necessity to survive professionally. Dorsey and, the other presenter in this panel, Michael R. Mauritzen, though differing in their approach, posited the need to revamp the academic publishing models by including digital media.  The issue, they argue, with academic publishing, especially with the monograph, is that it is no longer financially sustainable because the guidelines for publishing monographs no longer are based in the merit of the work, but on its “economic viability.”  This in turn, weakens the clout afforded to the monograph in promotion and tenure decisions, which are already problematic for those producing work in the field of digital humanities. 

The proposition is that new media should be included in the academic business model to maintain academic integrity and offset cost. Dorsey proposed that books, monographs, etc. should be provided through alternate means such as online library-based subscription systems, print-on-demand, or e-text formats. This change will expand the market for tenure-securing book projects to new generations while maintaining the peer-review process. Both presenters agree that digital media cannot be used as a replace for print, but as supplementation. It appears that academia would be remiss not to acknowledge that the two are interdependent especially as we continue to navigate the waters of the digital age. Who will pay for these changes? How will it solve the problems he describes?

With that said, I must commend the MMLA conference for including such panels. This topic, in comparison with the others, is in the minority and we must take every opportunity to subvert exclusion. Of course, it would seem as though I am preaching to the choir, however what I would like to reinforce with this community with my perceptions about this conference is two-fold. First, is to encourage continued thought about the current system of academia and the ways in which innovative technologies can breathe new life into the humanities. Second, and most importantly, is the importance of taking every occasion to share, explain and showcase digital work with those still unfamiliar with the ways in which digital media is of substantial value to the humanities.


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