Pixels and Print: Redefining Academic Publishing & Scholarly Communication

Pixels and Print: Redefining Academic Publishing & Scholarly Communication

Today marks the second day of the MLA 2012 Convention, and one of the largest events happened yesterday morning: a 3 hour workshop called Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates. The workshop was quickly filled to capacity and the wait list has been full for months. It is one of the first large-scale and inter-institutional workshops on this topic, and it comes at a time when many universities are trying to develop best practices for considering digital work while hiring new professors, evaluating digital dissertation projects, considering how to make these works accessible in library systems and how they can be published and developed. With the acknowledgment that academics are committed to producing digital scholarship, the question has shifted from "Does digital scholarship even count as academic publishing?" to “How do we evaluate, publish and support digital work?” The latest issue of MLA's Profession announces that there is "a growing consensus that humanities disciplines must find ways not simply of evaluating but also of valuing digital scholarship as part of hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions."

Four years ago, in 2008, two Scholars hosted a HASTAC forum called Academic Publishing in the Digital Age. The conversation was extremely fruitful, and it touched on important topics including expertise in an open access world, the economics of electronic publishing, the fast pace of online scholarly conversation, collaborative authorship, making it "count" for promotion and tenure, the logistics of citing URLs and much more. As a starting point, we recommend everyone re-visit that conversation:

  • How are traditional methods of academic publishing being changed by digital and online avenues?
  • What advantages or disadvantages do these new forms of publication have over conventional means?
  • What are some of the challenges involved in translating academic research into interactive digital platforms?  
  • What new possibilities for intellectual and creative work are made possible by such platforms?
  • Should published scholarship be freely available, or is restricting access a necessary evil?
  • How might we increase the academic credibility of emergent forms of scholarship and publication?
  • How do you envision digital platforms transforming academic research in the coming years?

Instead of simply updating answers for 2012, perhaps we can consider the questions we are asking today that we didn't ask in 2008. Today, the academic and public awareness of open access and digital scholarship has vastly expanded, but to what effect? Do we feel like anything is actually different? Are these questions still the topics of active debate? Or have new, more pressing questions about digital scholarly publishing supplanted them?

What has changed since 2008? We notice the boundary between informal scholarly communication and formal scholarly publishing becoming ever more porous. Social media such as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter become increasingly more important avenues for keeping up with existing scholarly communities and building new communities across disciplines and universities. Where do blogs fit in? Can they count as "scholarship?" What about Twitter? Tweet 4 Tenure?

Several interesting and provocative works have engaged digital scholarly publishing, both in content and in form. Two that come to mind are Kathleen Fitzpatrick's book, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy, and Hacking the Academy, a crowd-sourced digital volume that has also been edited and published as a traditional book form by MPublishing.

In Planned Obsolescence, Fitzpatrick critically engages the traditional system of scholarly publishing and proposes several alternatives. One of the interesting ways she accomplished this was through her active cultivation of a discursive community around the online, comment-able pre-print of the book, subsequently published by NYU Press. Using the CommentPress publishing platform, Fitzpatrick posted chapters of her book online as in-progress works. Interested members of the public as well as invited scholars could add comments to those works, even down to the paragraph. What emerged was a pre-print peer-review of sorts, Fitzpatrick was able to incorporate the feedback she received into subsequent iterations of the project. Her success has demonstrated new ways to author and collaborate in the production of digital scholarship.

During the week of May 21-28 2010, Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeld from the Center for History and New Mediaput out a call on blogs and twitter for submissions for a rapid, crowd-sourced volume entitled Hacking The Academy. The project was a resounding success garnering over 300 entries in one week! The energy from that digital project lead to a curated selection soon to be released as a traditionally printed volume. Is this a new model for scholarship or simply a one-off experiment? What insights might we glean from Hacking the Academy to apply to other electronic publishing endeavors?

That works like these might be moving into the mainstream is evident in the most recent issue of MLA’s Profession, which contains a section on "Evaluating Digital Scholarship." It is also one of the first issues to include Open Access work. The section includes work by Bethany Nowviskie, Tara McPherson, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Geoffrey Rockwell, Jerome McGann, Steve Anderson, Susan Shreibman, Laura Mandall and Stephen Olsen.

Finally, our recent HASTAC 2011 conference was organized around the theme of Digital Scholarly Communication; many of the sessions were liveblogged, and the keynotes are now available on video. Many more sessions revisited afterwards - this conference blog round-up contains a number of references to specific digital scholarship projects, details on how other academics have made the transition from merely “considering” digital work to embracing its unique contributions to academic scholarship.

We'd like to offer a few questions to jumpstart the conversation:

  • How have you engaged with digital scholarship? Have you published your work digitally?
  • How do you see your academic work in relation to your blogging, or participation with other online spaces for writing and conversation?
  • How are the various university presses dealing with digital publications?
  • Which digital projects are most often taught in university classes? Are there some projects which have become canonnical examples of digital scholarship?
  • Has one specific project sparked some change in your department? If you could show each professor in your department one digital project, which one would it be?
  • Is the language of 'peer-review' still relevant to digital work?
  • Collaborative projects inherently challenge the humanities' notion of "the author". Yes, despite the author being dead, we still reference specific authors on c.v.'s, book jackets, bibliographies and databases. Yet, many digital projects are inherently collaborative: how can these projects be evaluated? Is the format used in many sciences of First Author, Second Author, etc., useful here?
  • How is your university handling digital scholarship? UCLA has put together a working document developed by faculty for the Academic Review Committees and university administration, and Todd Pressler has shared this draft with us for comments.


A warm welcome to our Forum Guests:

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Professor of Media Studies at Pomona College, and author of Planned Obsolescence

Sidonie Smith, Professor of Women's Studies and English, University of Michigan; 2010 President Modern Literature Association

Shana Kimball, Head of Publishing Services, Outreach and Strategic Development, MPublishing, University of Michigan

Holly Tucker, Professor of French and the History of Medicine, Vanderbilt University

Adeline Koh, Assistant Professor of Literature, Richard Stockton College; recently blogged A Report on the MLA Preconference on Evaluating Digital Work for Promotion and Tenure as a guest poster on Profhacker.


This Forum is Hosted by:

Korey Jackson, CLIR Fellow at the University of Michigan MPublishing

Matt Burton, Graduate Student at the University of of Michigan School of Information

Mariah Cherem, Graduate Student at the University of of Michigan School of Information


Join us! You are invited to register at HASTAC.org and join the conversation below.


This is such a great, challenging Forum, and I love how it is really starting to take off just as we all face, tomorrow, the Web strike against the SOPA legislation that masks intellectual surveillance, corporatizing of knowledge, political surveillance under the guise of "intellectual property" and "anti-piracy."   It's not.   The SOPA legislation is dangerous and won't do much at all for real piracy but it does threaten the interactive user-generated participatory dimensions of the Web.


There.  I've said it.  My piece.


But I get worried when we, as scholars and writers and artists who are also champions of a "free and open Web," also insist that all the products that we--scholars, writers, artists--create be free (i.e. not cost anything) when just about everything else in life costs something.   In other words, if I am an independent scholar, writer, and artist, am I really obligated to give away all my intellectual and artistic content for no remuneration----but then be forced to live in a world where I have to pay for everything else?   Is my labor then not subsidizing corporate profit?   Am I not then serving "the other 99?"


Yes, I've read just about all the arguments in favor of intellectual and artistic labor being made open---and, as someone who blogs virtually every day for free, who directs HASTAC Central as a volunteer, and who even donates royalties from my trade publications to nonprofits--I do feel commitments to making my own intellectual labor as "free" as possible.   But is that the world I want for my students?  For my junior colleagues?  For independent artists and scholars?  Actually, that answer is no:     I don't want those in academe or in the arts who have least access to capital to be obligated to give away the products of their work.  I don't want those privileged to be teaching in universities, where they have salaries, to be pirating books so that university presses (that already lose tons of money) are even more precarious--at a time when the academic profession, in general, is a precarious place, offering fewer and fewer places for new scholars.


In other words, in a utopia, I believe all information wants to be "free" in the sense that anyone can access it and "free" in the sense that it doesn't cost anything.   We live in a world where .01 percent of the population controls vast flows of capital . . . and it hardly seems to be "subversive" to have those least benefiting materially from the system of information exchange to also be obligated to be offer their own intellectual property without compensation.


Are there far, far better ways of subsidizing scholarly publishing than currently exist?  Absolutely.   This Forum is already contributing to those ideas and I'd love to hear more.   A Netflix model of scholarly publishing, with rental fees for books and journals, subscription fees?    University and public libraries offering subscriptions and open access to their archives and possibly even work-study exchanges where people can contribute tagging or transcription or other "service" in exchange for subscriptions, a barter economy working in some locations that might be tried more broadly?   A boycott against all price-gauging commercial publishing (I mean you, Elsevier and others!) including by many professional organizations (American Anthropological Association is one but there are dozens and dozens) so that the millions (literally) that libraries spend on those subscription journals could be used for subsidizing scholarship that could be offered without cost to end-users?  


Yes, there are many potentially sustainable models I can think of.   But having independent scholars, artists, and writers offering their work for "free" in a world that costs an awful lot to live in feels like exploiting the exploited.


Okay, have at it?!   I hope to stir up a hornet's next of other ideas here.   We will all profit by a free and open exchange about what counts as profit in our free and open exchanges! 


Wanted to follow-up on my previous post with this link to a conversation related to the Research Works Act on Melonie Fullick's blog. There are some challenging questions posed here to the OA community...and some equally spirited answers. 

(See here for some brief background on the Act.)



Fiona asks in her post about some of the hidden benefits of open access. One of these benefits, apart from the obvious one of a better public knowledge ecology (obvious, at least, unless you happen to be a member of Congress) is how OA reorients the peer review process (something hinted at by Trent Kays above).

Pre-publication peer review, as Kathleen Fitzpatrick describes succinctly, has a long and long-cherished history. Some of this history, interestingly, is bound up in politico-religious censorship...but it's always been about filtering: separating wheat from chaff, good from bad. The issue of course is that good and bad are relative terms--terms that everyone wants to have the privilege to define for a readership. And a lot of deep-seated fear is scared up when something threatens to take this privilege away.

And that's precisely what open access does--it takes the privilege and prestige of being the sole filter for information (the filter that transforms information into sanctioned knowledge) away from publishers and puts this power in the hands of...of...of who knows? The rabble? Philistines? Rogue scholars? Un-scholars? HASTAC Scholars!?

As Trent discusses, open access isn't anti peer review...but openness does run counter to the current culture of pre-publication review. Institutions and the people who comprise them are forced to see their review practices as self-replicating...as conferring and maintaining privilege just as much as they are about progressing cultural knowledge.

What I find most promising about OA is that it requires a completely different (though not uncritically better) filtering process: information transformed into knowledge not by a select few, but by a connected mass of rabble and rabble-rousers. The challenge that presents itself when 'published' stops being a category of privilege is not, as Clay Shirkey informs us, info overload (something many in the academy fear), but filter failure... and how to create more effective post-publication filters.

Some models are already appearing. DHNow is one: operating as a constantly updating aggregator of digital humanities work, dhnow is less gatekeeper and more first-stop info portal. Other models are the hybrid crowdsourced-then-edited collections like Hacking the Academy and Bethany Nowviskie's #Alt-Ac collection. Then there are more traditional books and edited collections like Fitzpatrick's Planned Obsolescence and Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty's  Writing History in the Digital Age that take advantage of the crowd as a way of making peer review iterative, interactive, and a part of the "lifecycle of reading," rather than closed and disconnected from the reading experience.

Here's hoping we can keep this fascinating conversation going! Open access creates just as many questions as it seeks to answer...especially when it comes to credit and credentialing. I'd love to see what experiences others have had in open or collaborative publishing projects that address these issues. 



Adeline, I've actually wondered about the conventions of authoring scientific papers too. The first author is the person who did the 'most' (however that is defined) but after that, it differs in various disciplines and even amongst institutions. I just quickly scanned some articles on authorship conventions and it seems like there are quite a few disputes, in terms of who gets included, who is excluded and of course the order itself. Certainly those are difficult situations to address, but at the foundation is an acknowlegement that more than one person contributed to this paper or study. 

It's also interesting in terms of the relationship between professors and students: it's often the path of professionalization or induction into the discipline. Graduate students work in a particular lab, take on one portion of the research (which might be assigned by the PI), organize a paper on that topic, and can be listed first author, along with their professors and fellow colleages. In my (humanities) fields, it's a big deal when a professor even thanks you in the acknowledgements. 

As a way of combatting hazy authorship conventions, at least one lab prof has layed out an entire rubric with the 6 stages of developing a project: idea, design, implementation, conducting the experiment, data analysis, and writing. The first and last phases are weighted more heavily. Project participants are assessed at each stage of the project, and those above a certain cut-off are listed as authors, and the score determines the list. Now we all know that these kinds of rubrics are not bulletproof and are not a perfect system, but at least it offers a somewhat transparent method of measuring, instead of relying on the perception of the PI. 

The ability to assess different levels of contribution also seems like a way to encourage collaboration at a number of levels, not just "all or nothing." There's no way that any one person could be the first or second author on a wide range of papers at once, but if their contribtuions can be recognized beyond the 'primary' author, it seems like it would encourage folks to get involved with varied projects, including those outside their primary field. 

The notion of 'assessing different levels of contribution' is still a bit difficult for me to comprehend. Sometimes it's the smallest perceptual corrections which can elevate a project, sometimes it's the questions by the person least familiar with a project which help to steer it in a more innovative direction. The ability to account for the "most" impact in that situation doesn't really have a satisfying answer.

The notion of a 'lab,' comprised of multiple people with different focuses and areas of expertise, is attractive for many reasons including a recognition of multiple forms of contribution, and perhaps why the concept of 'humanities labs'  is starting to catch on across college campuses and interdisciplinary centers. 

On a side note, the way we've designed these HASTAC forums is to require multiple authorship ('hosts') - each forum must be hosted by scholars in different disciplines at different schools. When trying to establish some of the most precient questions of the day, and a general introduction to a set of questions, the idea of whose narrative to include is often fairly frought, but it is the only way to ensure interdisciplinary engagement with a set of questions.


Thanks very much Fiona for this comprehensive response. From what you describe, various scientific fields are in dispute as to what "authorship" means in collaborative work. However, it seems that most fields have settled on some sort of convention for allocating credit to contributors, and that collaborative work continues to enjoy a high profile in those fields. 

I wonder if anybody contributing to this forum is from a scientific field, and if not, if we could invite some scientists to air their views on this issue. I had an interesting conversation with Tim McCormick yesterday from Stanford Highwire Press about how both digital humanists and STEM scholars are actively discussing changes in digital work and publishing, but often tend to be ignorant of the conversations taking place in the other groups. 


I just found this Op-Ed on Wired, called "How Traditional Publishing Hurts Scientific Process" and it reminded me of this conversation. The article itself is interesting enough, but the best part is actually the comment section, which is mostly discussing the function & evolution of peer review. I love this quote from one of the commenters:

The idea of peer-review is good. The notion of what is a good peer is the problem. On one side we have wikipedia. A totally open structure, where unsubstantiated claims, lies and vandalism disappears in a few minutes because the bad is diluted by the good. On the other side, we have a structure where 1) we approach 5 people to get one review, 2) the reviewer is often unknown from the editor and has no particular legitimacy for being able to provide a good, informed and balanced review, 3) we finally bless 2 people and give them powers of life and death. Which model is the best one?

It's a great introductions to the problems with current models of peer review. The best part is that most of the commenters agree that just because you change the current model of peer review (as understood by the world of traditional publishing), it doesn't mean that the pieces themselves won't be peer reviewed at all. In fact, the pieces could be subject to even more peer review, since they will be subject to more eyeballs.

Maybe instead of the mantra being "get rid of peer review" we need to reframe it as, "increase peer review opportunities!" For an example of this -- see our recent Crowdsourced Book Review project here on HASTAC!

The fact that this whole conversation happened in the comments of that piece kind of proves the point -- one can hardly say that the age of digital publishing has made people review content any less! See YouTube, Wikipedia, blogs, twitter, online communities, etc., for proof.


There are so many good questions and starting places here, but for my own curiosity, I'm fairly drawn to the last question about how various universities handle digital scholarship.  In terms of the level of support, encouragement and even general understanding that scholarship may take forms different from those we've seen in the past, there seems to be huge varation -- not only from university to university, but from campus to campus and department to deparment.

For example -- at least some scholars working at the non-Ann Arbor campuses of the University of Michigan seem to be dealing with pretty different understandings of what does and doesn't constitute scholarship and/or scholarly publication than those within at least a few UM Ann Arbor Departments where requirements seem a bit (?) more open.

When tenure review still consists of a physical print binder expected to contain only print-outs of journal articles from high impct-factor journals, where are the incentives/how do scholars find the time for more participatory online exchange as some part of the larger picture?  

I'm interested to hear specific stories about various levels of support, policies, etc. that have either helped or hindered the ability for scholars to engage in various forms of digital scholarship. 



It is interesting that you ask that question. I have been thinking the last few days about the general need for some case-studies about how scholars "made it work" in the unique particularities of their universities, departments or schools. I think one of the challenges is that everyone is groping around "in the dark" so to speak. Finding ways and means for folks to share their stories, I think, would be an important way for scholars, especially graduate students and junior scholars, to find the paths that others have paved before them. 

I know as someone actively trying to produce new modes of scholarship (really heavy emphasis on the trying) I would love to hear more from folks about their successes and failures, even if the environment in which they are operating are radically different from my own. 


Thanks for this great forum! I'm wondering if someone can give us a quick overview on the concept of Open Access. Many of us have heard the term but I'm sure the nuances aren't well known by everyone. How is the model structured? 

I've found this Open Access overview to be helpful; it was written by the Directory of Open Access Journals, and explains that 

In 2001, the Open Society Institute held a meeting in Budapest. The resulting project has been dubbed The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) and its guiding principles for open access scholarship explains its definition:

There are many degrees and kinds of wider and easier access to this literature. By 'open access' to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.

There is a common misconception that the Open Access movement completely ignores the fact that funding required to publish academic scholarship, and that the drive to 'give away' this research will bankrupt the presses. Most of the major OA movements have taken greaat pains to confirm that they understand that free access for readers does not ensure a free production costs for developing that work. Instead, these OA proponents explain that 

No serious OA advocate has ever said that OA literature is costless to produce, although many argue that it is much less expensive to produce than conventionally published literature, even less expensive than priced online-only literature. The question is not whether scholarly literature can be made costless, but whether there are better ways to pay the bills than by charging readers and creating access barriers. (emphasis mine)

So, other than inertia, what is the argument against OA journals? What are some of the ramifications of making previous posts/blogs/fourms open access? And beyond 'making journals somewhat more accessible,' what are the other arguments for OA journals? What are some of the hidden benefits?


This is a great point to raise Fiona. I think that OA does have that kind of reputation, and thanks for clarifying this. My question is: if OA feels that "there are better ways to pay the bills than by charging readers and creating access barriers" (and I believe this is true, too), what sort of better ways are there? When I was at THATCamp Publishing, I heard a JSTOR representative sigh that when journals are OA, libraries refuse to pay for subscription costs. On whom then can the burden of payment fall? 


Thanks for starting this important conversation!

In response to these questions:


  • How have you engaged with digital scholarship? Have you published your work digitally?
  • How do you see your academic work in relation to your blogging, or participation with other online spaces for writing and conversation?

I want to share a UCSD based project that I published writing through and later participated in as a contributing editor. The Version journal is a project started and conceived by Jordan Crandall which seeks to utilize the specific form of online publications, short, ephemeral, easily shared, as a starting point for works published in the journal. To quote their about page:


Version is an online journal for short-form writing and media work. It presents scenes, incidents, encounters, and sensory experiences drawn from everyday life, in which concepts are not only elaborated but enacted.


Version works in close-up, cultivating moods, atmospheres, and various forms of bodily apprehension and awareness. It aims for a quality of intimacy, presence, and affective charge: a material openness to unexpected forms of encounter. At the same time, it works laterally, conducting transversal operations across object-boundaries, attuned to the rhythms, flows, and layered ecologies that constitute the phenomenal world.

Each Version editorial item adheres to the following formal constraint: a maximum of 500 words, 5 images, or 50 seconds.

I found publishing with Version to be a pleasure and a unique challenge, to write a short piece much like a blog post but with the rigour and aesthetic sensibility of a more serious piece of writing. You can see the piece I wrote in collaboration with Elle Mehrmand here:




Zach Blas, another HASTAC contributor also wrote an amazing piece in the version journal, which I think was well suited to the format, packed with very powerful imagery, and which he later developed into longer work. 











While I appreciate the conceptualization and impetus behind Version, though, I have found that the step of having the work shared through social networks was often difficult to achieve, and often the work stays largely within the confines of the journal itself. 




This is an important conversation, especially given the progress of technology in the 21st century. 

Open access is a model of production whereby the knowledge discovered and engaged are freely available to anyone who wants access to it. (Hence, "open" access.) A good example of an open access book would be Lawrence Lessig's The Future of Ideas. This book was published in both the traditional model of publishing, which is in printed and bound copy as well as published online in open access form under a Creative Commons license. (On a side note, if you're interested in open access, copyright, and ideas, then Lessig's work is definitely worth a look.) 

So, you can have both the printed copy and the open access copy, or you can have just one version. The point is that it's available freely on the Internet for anyone to download and read. That's open access. In this way, Lessig has provided his work to anyone able to download it for free in order to encourage the flow of ideas and knowledge. 

This same model carries over into academic journals, which have long been seen as bastions of knowledge that the public isn't privileged enough to have access to. Open access can go a long way to connecting the academy to the public at large by allowing the public to have access to privileged forms of knowledge. When it comes to academics, it's important to also note that open access is not anti-peer review. It's pro-peer review; however, open access publishing holds to the idea that knowledge belongs to everyone and not just a select few who have access through a university library. 

Fiona did an excellent job briefly encapsulating the financial issues of open access, so I won't go into that, or I may post a blog entry elaborating on the concept. 

wrote about open access and public intellectualism last week for HASTAC (you might want to check it out), but judging from all the conversations at MLA and AHA, it might be good for me to do a follow-up post. 


The semester is now two days old and frustrations regarding textbooks abound. Our bookstore decided not to order enough books for the intermediate Spanish course I teach. Since the purchase of the book gives students access to online homework and tools, as teachers we’ve been scrambling to copy book pages and movies until the texts arrive. This has brought up some long held feelings about the seemingly unjustifiable position of the textbook industry in the electronic age.

As an undergraduate only 6 year ago, few, if any, students had laptops in class. I certainly didn’t. Now it seems like the norm. While publishers seem to be moving with the trend and offering electronic books, why do we, as teacher and academics, still rely on textbook companies? In theory, each department in every university is comprised of experts in a given field who should have the knowledge and ability to develop their own course materials. By making these open source, electronically accessible materials, the need for overpriced textbooks is gone.

Some universities have already done this. Last year Carl Blyth from the University of Texas, Austin spoke to a group of second language instructors and professors at my home institution.  Dr. Blyth has helped work on developing a French textbook Français interactif, a completely free online textbook (see here). UT Austin also provides online materials for learning second language pedagogy with enough information to teach a graduate-level course on the matter (see here).

So my question is, why can’t this be done across the curriculum? By removing the constraints of physical publication, not only is there increased accessibility to textbooks and relief for students already paying high tuition costs, but the quality of textbooks can improve. Through the incorporation of collaboration into the textbook process, specialists form across the country can contribute to improving textbook materials.

So who wouldn’t rather go to the campus bookstore just to get themselves a new tablet instead of a bag full of books?


How have you engaged with digital scholarship? Have you published your work digitally?

Is the language of 'peer-review' still relevant to digital work?


I have published my work digitally, and I also now work for the open access journal Southern Spaces. In my case, there was both an ideological and a practical reason--I published a short film, and there just weren't that many peer-reviewed fora for my work about memory and the civil rights movement. I'm also a big advocate for open access, so it seemed like a natural fit. (The piece I published is here, if you're really curious.)

I think peer review is still absolutely relevant. In fact, Southern Spaces is starting a blog, and we plan to post about why peer review is an important part of our process. Yes, there are elements of tenure and promotion in our justification, but as an interdisciplinary journal, we just don't always know all of the literature on any given topic.

Interestingly, we've been having some conversations about how to peer review digital projects themselves. Our journal has largely been a space for others to showcase thier work (Scott Nesbit's interesting map of emanipation and families in Virginia is one great example), but we haven't yet built anything quite like that ourselves. How do you judge a "good" or "rigorous" digital project? Has anyone else had experience "peer reviewing" projects like these?



Hi Sarah,

I'm over at Emory University's Practical Matters Journal, and we are running into the same questions.

a) how do we think about peer review for media pieces?

b) We are also beginning to build a blog alongside the journal.  

I get the sense from some posts that much of this discussion has been more around challenging the nature of peer review in light of digital humanities. Can someone share a helpful argument for and against peer review in a digital age?




It seems to me that a lot of the issues raised here about digital publication relate back to the larger problem of scholarly collaboration. What does it mean to co-author a website or an app with a dozen different people? What does it mean when the "peer" in peer-review is no longer a tenured professor with a prestigious book, but a schoolgirl in Botswana, or a museum director in Toronto, or an engineer in Taiwan?

As Dan Cohen put it, there is a social contract to academic publishing. Cohen's post is arguably one of the smartest commentaries on this topic to date, and I won't attempt a recap here, but his larger point is worth mentioning: all knowledge production is social. In fact, you could say that all knowledge, by definition, is intrinsically, or essentially social. From the most esoteric and auteurish monograph to the sprawling transnational grant project, all academic work is produced socially and consumed socially.

In the humanities, especially, a culture of individualism has developed over the last few hundred years that celebrates the mythical lone author, toiling in the wilderness to produce some earth-shattering tome that will establish her unique genius. This myth has helped conceal the deeply social nature of academic work. And as the Tenured Radical recently pointed out in a devastating one-two blog punch, this anti-collaborative bias is damagaing to our profession.

The first post, entitled History and the Politics of Scholarly Collaboration lays out the coordinates of the crisis, and the second post hits it home: What do we have to gain from clinging desperately to "a labor model that primarily honors scholarship, and secondarily teaching, as work that has the most integrity when performed alone?" The author goes on to suggest "the gradual de-authorization of individualism," and shes offers some concrete suggestions in the realms of scholarship, teaching, and public outreach. Although she does not really mention it, digital work is at the forefront of this new drive toward collaboration.

Changing entire institutional cultures is not something that will happen overnight - and barring some mass deportation to collective knowledge farms somewhere - I do not see the death of individualism anytime soon. But unless institutions start taking digital scholarship more seriously, they will be left in the dust. It's not just a matter of figuring out how to accommodate or evaluate a new collaborative methodology, it's a matter of social survival.


I wonder whether we can learn something from the Sciences here in relation to giving credit for collaborative work. How do promotion and tenure committees evaluate collaborative proejcts in those fields?


My thanks to Fionna Barnett for the invitation to join the conversation. 

I think cost is being discussed in at least two ways here: Cory's pointing to the cost of textbooks; Cathy's pointing to the hidden cost of freeing all intellectual property. 

As someone who put together a textbook for the first-year writing class in the paper-era, I am keenly aware of the way cost-skyrockets without any addition value added to the final product. This reader is now in its fourth edition and sells for $85. There's tremendous inflation between the conception of the idea, the gathering of readings, and then the final product. I don't think this model for production and distribution is sustainable or defensible at this point: the first-year reader, as such, may well be a thing of the past in ten years. I can see a more equitable model for a first-year reader that is simply an app that provides the pedagogical apparatus for .99. 

Which leads to Cathy's concern. If everything's free, how do those outside subsidized systems, like universities, make a living off of the content they provide? Tim O'Reilly's notion, which Cathy herself has cited elsewhere, of the "creative use of free" is the closest thing I've seen to a viable answer to this question. The content provider (i.e., the writer, the scholar, the poet, the novelist) gives some content away for free in hopes that the end user, taken by the quality of the work, will be willing to pay for the next installment or for greater access. O'Reilly's certainly made this work as he's transitioned from being a publisher of paper how to volumes to being a conference convener and idea distributor. 

But is O'Reilly's idea itself scaleable? Can the independent artist or writer make a living on the kindess of strangers? I don't know, but I don't think so. One place to look, I think, would be to the open source community to see if the distributors of free widgets and plugins make a living this way or if it is, by and large, income on top of other employment. 

Once there is something like wordpress for app creation, it may be possible for content-providers to package their work in ways that end users will pay for. One way or another, those of us who are in the idea business will need to find ways to carve out distinguishable niches in what Chris Anderson has described as "the long tail" of consumption in the internet age.

In my own case, I'm trying to imagine/figure out what a bounded piece of work composed online and meant to reside online would consist of. I've been writing about the end of privacy for the past 15 months on/as text2cloud and have generated over 100,000 words in the process. But what is it, exactly? While I'm most interested in "the long form" and the fate of the "long argument" as thought moves from paper to the screen, I've discovered that I generate the most traffic when I produce short pieces under the heading "lessons." So, I'd add to the questions about the consequences of everything being free, the prospect of everything being public, both developments that require a rethinking of how one ascribes value to the created object.



With Apple's new education focused efforts through the new iTunes U and iBooks Author apps, along with their new partnerships with textbook publishers, I'm curious to see how digital humanists will respond, especially in relation this forum. This certainly feels like a step forward into a new platform that can encourage digital scholarship and change academic publishing and scholarly communication.

I see the new emphasis on iTunes U as a place to start new digital humanities conversations, and I see the iBooks Author app as a tool for making design in scholarship easier, as I discussed here

  • Has anyone had positive or negative experiences with iTunes U in the past? What are the best types of content to access or provide on iTunes U?
  • How do you think we could utilize the new easy-to-use iBooks publishing platform?
  • Is it good or bad?
  • Are there missing features in what Apple is offering that would be helpful for supporting scholarship? For example, supporting journals and not just textbooks.
  • How many of you are already dreaming up content to publish through iBooks Author? 


Related links:

Apple in Education

iBooks Author

iTunes U



I was just reading James Turner's reaction to iBooks Author over on O'Reilly Radar. His take: this is Apple doing what Apple does best: creating products that everyone (or everyone minus the iHaterz) wants to use, but making good and sure that Apple and only Apple is on the receiving end of the proceeds stream.

Steve Kovach gave his own appraisal the clunky but sugarcoat-free headline "This Is Apple At Its Absolute Worst: It Thinks It Owns Any Book You Make Through iBooks Author.”  More helpfully, he also posted some of the fine print of the end-user license agreement:

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution.

All of this makes good business sense for Apple: stuff created for sale using iBooks Author can only be sold through Apple distribution channels. The inherent mistrust of big corporate, though, has led some commentators to treat this as the thin edge of Apple's entre into iPub takeover...specifically by turning not just the software but the output of that software into Apple property.

So, is this a cool tool for the further disintermediation (yikes!) of the author-publisher relationship? Well, yes and no. It does put significant power in the hands of content creators. Desktop publishing has become an app...and that's monumentally cool. But for information hippies (or even the less utopian version: information pragmatists) this is not necessarily a step toward sustainable publishing, digital or otherwise. Instead, it looks more like a step toward proprietary control over user-created works. I'm a fan of the user-created part, but not the control. But then, maybe that's the hippy in me talking.



An interviewer recently asked me what I would be if I could be anything other than a college prof.  I said, "CEO of Open Apple."   My ideal company, Open Apple, would make beautiful, user-friendly, wonderful products that integrate beautifully with one's life---but that are not walled gardens, permitting very little interaction across platforms, and that all yield back to Apple, Apple, Apple.   In the long run, this model has to be bad business.   We'll see.  


A friend recently told me there are easy ways around the eBook's restrictions, but I need to learn more because, if I were to ever publish on an eBook, it would only be, as a matter of principle and pedagogy, if my students could remix and mashup materials, recreate their own syllabus within our course framework, and then use social media (very wink link for all Apple products) to amplify, discuss, engage.


I stopped traveling with my iPad because it was almost impossible to really upload new content to blogs and websites, especially those like HASTAC using Drupal and other open source platforms, and it was even more ludicrous trying to do collaborative work on a Google doc from an iPad.  Perhaps iPad2 makes it easier, but I've gone back to traveling with a MacBook Air---still a problem but less lock-down than a tablet.  


Grrrr.   Infuriating.   One step ahead for user-friendly products is another giant step backward for the Web.


@Cathy: How about we scrap "Open Apple" and work with open source communities and developers that in an ideal world will lead to the downfall of Apple.

I just can't bring myself to think that we accept Apple's user-friendly design as some sort of standard in the computing milieu. So much political and economic decisions go into that, and it is those decisions that do not have our best interests in mind.

The thought of Apple being part of the scholarly community in this explicit of a way makes my heart sink deep into my stomach creating inner convulsions. There's just no other more eloquent way for me to put this. 


@Kevin: "With Apple's new education focused efforts through the new iTunes U and iBooks Author apps, along with their new partnerships with textbook publishers ... This certainly feels like a step forward into a new platform that can encourage digital scholarship and change academic publishing and scholarly communication."

Please elaborate on this point, because I am having a difficult time with your position.


Agree completely. I mean "Open Apple" as a symbol and as a challenge to the open source world which has to be transformed too.  Unless that world realizes its products have to be accessible, delightful, useful, integrated into everyday life offline as well as on, we will live in Lock-Down iPad World forever.   Apple alone doesn't have to change---the open source world has to change too.   Or we will lose.  Period. 


i have very recently begun my forray into dissertation world. the dissertation project, tentatively titled "Historicity and Black Studies: the Aesthetics of Pentecost," attempts to think through the historicity - the theory of history as performance - of the aesthetic elements of the twentieth century Pentecostal movement, focusing primarily on the "black" iteration of this religiocultural movement. i analyze dance, song, breath [used during preaching and praying] and glossolalia [speaking in tongues] as particular aesthetic productions that are oft deemed unnecessary for theological reflect and devoid of theological content. so the project attempts to make an argument that aesthetics are constitutive of what i call "blackness theology," a theological philosophy and praxis that takes seriously both the historic imposition of forced movement [middle passage] and the resistance to such force by moving oneself and one's group. 

well. because of all of the movement and sound and dance and speaking in tongues i wish to recount, it makes sense to me that it cannot be a static project only on a page. it has to be performed. so i'd been looking at different options for doing such a project, from the Sophie 2.0 software (http://www.sophieproject.org/ -- a bit difficult to use) to what Cathy recommended me, Scalar (http://scalar.usc.edu/anvc/?page_id=6 -- though it is unavailable even as Beta at this time). so i contacted someone i know and he recommended .................... iBooks Author. so of course, i had to travel to HASTAC to guage the conversation regarding this software. 

and now i feel at an impasse. i love what iBooks Author makes available to me as someone tryng to produce a digital multimodal project without having to learn code. but then there is the End-User agreement for how the book can be disseminated, which makes me very wary. the very possibility of making the book more widely available and engaging to a larger academic and non-academic audience is also the moment of its undoing because the project becomes an Apple product.

so what is a person like me supposed to do in this situation? i have this dream of creating a Vectors-like project (this "Public Secrets" one has reallllly gotten my attention -- http://vectors.usc.edu/projects/index.php?project=57) but don't foresee this in any close future...lol


Hi, all, and thanks for the invitation to join you here. I've been following this conversation with great interest, probably needless to say.

I'm in an interesting position with respect to this discussion: I wrote Planned Obsolescence from the perspective of a scholar, one who believes whole-heartedly in openness. That project, among other things, led the Modern Language Association to ask me to help think through the future of scholarly communication at an organizational level. And that organizational level of necessity includes some pragmatic concerns that, as a scholar, I hadn't quite encountered before. So when Cathy says

But I get worried when we, as scholars and writers and artists who are also champions of a "free and open Web," also insist that all the products that we--scholars, writers, artists--create be free (i.e. not cost anything) when just about everything else in life costs something.

I have great sympathy for her position. Scholarly societies are in a tight spot; scholars depend on us for a range of services and resources, none of which can be produced without cost. And those costs continue to rise, even as the traditional sources of revenue through which organizations have long supported themselves have begun to decline.

So how can an organization that genuinely values openness reconcile those values with the costs that it faces? This is an extremely complex problem to solve, one without a simple formula. But among my goals here is figuring out exactly how much we can afford to give away, and how, while nonetheless still breaking even.

The last chapter of Planned Obsolescence is one I'm going to be living for some time, I think, testing out some new possibilities, seeking new (and renewed) sources of support, and trying to imagine a future that allows the important functions of our existing institutions to thrive while helping those institutions become more agile and creative going forward.

I'll have more to say about other aspects of the redefinition of scholarly communication as we go on, of course, but the pragmatics of "free" are a huge part of what I've been thinking about, lately.


Hi everyone. Thanks to Fiona for inviting me to join this very important conversation. There are a lot other questions that have already been raised that I'll address in another post.

My first question is however about the problems in documenting the scholarly impact of digital work. I just published an article in Profhacker yesterday on presenting digital scholarship for promotion and tenure. This was a report from the MLA preconference workshop organized by Victoria Szabo, Katherine Rowe, Stephen Olsen, Alison Byerly and Susan Schreibman.

The link to the article is here.

A summary: workshop organizers argued that scholars needed to 1) educate their audience about the digital humanities/new media, 2) illustrate to their committee that digital projects are diverse and require different evaluation strategies, 3) document their role in collaborative projects and finally 4) explain changing forms of peer review to their committee (and above everything, to blog their work). 

Mark Sample posted an interesting comment on the article: the problem of demonstrating scholarly impact. How can web metrics be used to demonstrate "impact" in a way that tenure and promotion committees will find convincing? "Page views" may not have quite the same impact as the ISI's "impact factor," but one could argue that a website with 30 000 page views may have had more impact than a peer-reviewed article on the same subject behind a paywall. 

I'm interested to hear what you would have to say about how we can document the scholarly impact of digital work in ways to which traditional committee members will be sympathetic. 



CES4Health is a free online mechanism for peer-reviewed publication and dissemination of diverse products of community-engaged scholarship (CES) including digital scholarship. In just two years, CES4Health has peer reviewed and published 34 products, including videos, policy reports, training curricula, websites, digital stories and a cookbook! Community and academic experts in the product's content area and format review each product. Authors retain copyright of their work. Authors receive data on the # of times their product was accessed and we can survey users on how they used a product and it's impact.

CES4Health was developed with support from the US Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education to facilitate the ability of diverse products of CES to "count" towards promotion & tenure, and be used by communities addressing similar issues.

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On the subject of documenting scholarly impact, the Chronicle of Higher Education just put out a major article on the Altmetrics phenomenon. The latter is an umbrella term for various bleeding-edge ranking projects, such as total-impact and CitedIn. The article and comments are worth a careful read.

Altmetrics are not designed to replace traditional modes of evaluation, but they do offer a new way to approach both quasi-digital and born-digital scholarship.


I was just coming here to post a link to that article. 

One thing that struck me reading the article and the altmetrics manifesto, to what extent would the design of an altmetric(s) for the sciences differ from one for the (digital) humanities? Or perhaps more importantly, how might they be increasingly similar?

The authors of the manifesto and the example project are definitely focusing their efforts on STM scholarship and the surrounding discursive ecosystem. There is a parallel conversation happening in (digital) humanities on "digital scholarship" around questions like "how do we evaluate this," and could it/should it "count?" 

The question of scientific tool and data sharing resonante with questions about thematic research collections and archives, and tools in the digital humanities. I guess what I am saying is everyone is tackling this problem and that it might be interesting to consider how the altmetrics they develop might be usefully applied in domains outside of STM.

However, there is one, rather obtuse, thought that popped into my head as reading this. As we wade into the swiftly running waters of online scholarly communication(i.e. twitter) to seek & operationalize better measures of "impact" we should be weary of the challenges faced by early pioneers of artificial intelligence. Just as the early AI researchers didn't have a firm grasp on "what is intelligence" might we also suffer from a similar challange "what is impact?"  


Great question.

I'm also skeptical of broadly applying quantitative measures designed for the hard sciences. Our colleagues in the UK have been grappling with this issue for a while now, in response to the government's controversial "Research Excellence Framework." The humanities have taken a heavy hit over there, and the pressure to demonstrate impact is arguably greater.

I keep thinking of books like W. E. B. Du Bois's Black Reconstruction in America. It has a tremendious impact on current discussions of the Reconstruction era in the United States - Google Scholar (which tends to drastically underestimate) puts it at around 1,200 cites. Using Google Books, I found it mentioned in at least 5,000 books published between 1990 and 2012. By contrast, it was only mentioned about 80 times between it's debut in 1935 and 1960 (Du Bois died in 1963). Even adjusting for the general increase in published material over time, this is a drastic difference. If Altmetrics were around in those first 25 years, the book wouldn't even rate. This would seem to imply that metrics are better at measuring fads than intrisic value.

Then again, the digital environment may make new forms of scholarly communication more meritocratic than other systems. According to total-impact, one of my recent projects has generated 46 shares, 41 likes, and 7 comments on Facebook; 17 tweets and 4 "influential tweets" on Twitter. I have to admit, I'd probably cite those figures if someone challenged its value. But I'm dubious about what they actually prove.

Another one of our colleagues has offered some interesting ruminations on qualitiative impact.


Thank you Yoseph for linking to my post. I'm sorry it took me so long to join this forum; the questions being asked are important and I would say urgent.

These are very interesting times, it seems that we have come very quickly from one moment to another:


  • Moment 1: a moment in which people doing digital scholarship (meant here in the sense of scholarly or academic-related work pulbished online) denounced the need for the official methods of assessment to take this work into account (namely as publications or academic work that could lead to one's advancement in his/her professional career, if not tenure).
  • Moment 2: a fairly recent moment in which people start talking about methods of "measuring" (if not assessing) "citations" of academic work online, but without much distinction between online work which has not been published online necessarily as an author's conscious decision, but as a natural consequence of how the standard academic publishing system has been working for at least ten years, namely, on academic journals, usually subscription-only, which have a presence online and therefore their articles have direct object identifiers that can offer metrics. These 'metrics' de facto exclude other types of academic work, namely everything else being published online which does not have a doi. Usually this discussion goes hand in hand with the increased presence of openly-declared acdemics on social media, mainly Twitter, a phenomenon not disconnected from the unavoidable relevance of the #MLA10, #MLA11 and #MLA12 activity streams.

What worries me about this sencond "moment" is that in my experence studying multiple academic streams from different places, both in the US and the UK, it seems like suddenly a lot of people who had not really given online publishing a second thought are now visibly worried about how to "mesure" their citations. These academics are not necesarily advocating the official recognition of digital scholarship, understood as academic publications, events and resources available or accessible online, often outside the specific or standard requirements of academic job descriptions (such as blogging, or our collective participation in these discussions on HASTAC for example). 

It belongs to a different topic but this where I think that the educational badges DML is promoting offer a great opportunity to think about the immediacy of a different academic near future.  In this hopefully not so distant future (perhaps a present which is already taking place, even if outside the radar of many) various forms of online publishing like blogging or participation in truly inter-institutional and multi-disciplinary online hubs like HASTAC will not be something that threatens to "tamper" with our career or publication prospects, but that, on the contrary, will be one where any academic without a substantial academic digital footprint will be left behind. 



Hey, everyone, this post is a re-post from my HASTCA blog and Fionna suggested I post it here. What a great idea, and how dense of me not to include it earlier :) (One preface: I'm trying to find a workable solution of writing posts that are both thought-provoking, thoughtful, and that can also be finished reasonably quickly. I think this post succeeded in the latter, and I'm not sure about the first two...)


All fall I’ve been reading the thoughts of HASTAC Scholars (and others) who have insisted that academic scholarship, production, and activity move, echoing bell hooks, “from the margin to the center.” Many would agree that our work as beginning scholars would lend itself beyond the confines of academic journals and the narrowness implied therein—we want to have an impact beyond our impact factor; we are hopeful that our work may cause others to have hope, etc. In one of my Educational Technology classes, we’ve been reading Hypertext 3.0  by George Landow, and many of his ideas about how hypertext implies a shifting nature of authorship, writing/reading, and context—away from a static notion of what knowledge is (one that is rooted in authorial intention, greatness, etc) to one that incorporates different reading paths while allowing for the potential of many texts to be incorporated into that which is being reading.

It’s fascinating because while I generally don’t get excited about the “standing on a mountaintop” sort of proclamations—if education embraced initiative X, we might be ____ (fill in the blank)—I think there is something to Landow’s argument, especially in the light of social media. Why isn’t there some sort of Facebook for the Academy, that retained the social, linked nature of that social network, that allows scholars to share their work with their public. In my mind, the articles/writing/work wouldn’t take the form of 20-30 page articles, but would be shorter (5-10 pgs, more probably) that invited participation (co-writing) alongside/on top of/next to the “original” writing—or with links (videos, photos, etc) referencing the ideas “within” the text.

The idea would be to share academic work in a way that invites deep, rich participation (and echoing @KFitz ‘s idea of shifting the mode of academic production to one that values collaboration and various forms of coproduction) in an authentic, social way. 



I enjoyed reading your post, Ben, and wonder whether academics could participate in a kind of "Facebook for the Academy" through portals such as academia.edu and Scribd. Right now the limitations of both academia.edu and Scribd are that unlike Facebook, it's not easy to access the work and to make granular comments/annotations on these texts. 

Maybe starting a "Facebook for the Academy" where people share short articles + writing for the general public and other academics would be a good project for HASTAC?