Non-Traditional Scholarship and Peer Review

Picture of Titanic sinking in ocean with caption "It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others."
This “Mistakes” poster available on introduced John Unsworth’s talk. The caption reads, “It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.”

This is a brief summary of takeaways from a Scholarly Communications Symposium on the topic of peer review, held at UNC Greensboro on April 2, 2018, based on 16 pages of notes typed on the fly; any errors are my own, and corrections for accuracy are welcome (sylvia dot miller at duke dot edu).

Click here to jump to the main sections of this post:

Digital Humanities – Community Engagement – Transdisciplinary Research and Education – Last but Not Least: What Counts

Three flavors of non-traditional scholarship were addressed at this valuable all-day symposium: (1) scholarship characterized by digital methods and outputs and (2) engaged scholarship, i.e., public humanities and the work of scholar-activists in communities outside of the academy; and (3) transdisciplinary research and education. The focus, however, was mostly on the first two, because neither is easily represented in the form of written narrative that traditionally flows into the kinds of publications that tenure-review committees prefer to evaluate, whether by force of habit, unwillingness to change, lack of appreciation for the new work, and/or absence of established evaluative criteria. The symposium aimed to provide a way forward by sharing practical examples in which peer review of non-traditional work had been successfully accomplished.  Takeaways from the three individual talks and two panels that might be instructive follow.

Digital Humanities

Both Andrew Torget, Department of History and Digital Humanities Lab, University of North Texas, and John Unsworth, University Librarian and Professor of English, University of Virginia, candidly related stories–long, detailed, complicated, and even dramatic–about their struggles to gain recognition for their work.  Here I have attempted a mashup of lessons they imparted:

  • It is a special challenge to have digital scholarship evaluated in the medium in which it is best understood and appreciated; ideally, additional outside reviewers would be added to the tenure-review faculty board who are experts in the medium. In one case (Andrew Torget, University of North Texas), five additional outside reviewers were added to evaluate the digital aspects of his work.
  • A practical if imperfect approach for reviewers who want to see a traditional portfolio is to write a précis for each project, including careful delineation of the candidate’s role in collaborations as well as links to the digital work.
  • Respect for new work cannot be gained all at once; winning grants, speaking at conferences, and having one or two vocal faculty and/or administrative supporters are helpful. Added to these, ongoing meetings and conversations to share the work can familiarize colleagues with it along the way and cultivate relationships. Humility (“I need your help”) is effective.
  • Framing digital projects as nodes on the way to a book can be effective, if that fits the researcher’s plan.
  • Once a scholar working primarily in digital media gains tenure in a department, it is easier the next time, for the next candidate. Nevertheless, the first time should not be an exception to the rule; to move the department, the institution, and the profession to a new place for future scholars, the tenure guidelines must be changed.
  • While statements from societies such as AHA and MLA have a positive influence, changing guidelines locally is a monumental task (in one case, it necessitated a meeting of 35 people). The goal is to list “digital projects that have been favorably reviewed” on par with books and articles as work that will satisfy the requirements.
  • Both speakers expressed awareness that all of the above might have been even more challenging if they were not white males.

Unsworth concluded, “In universities and fundamentally traditional humanities departments, change is so slow that it could be mistaken for stasis, unless your frame of reference is decades. . . . The digital humanities have changed what we write about and have started to change what we consider an interesting research project.”

Community Engagement

Emily Janke, Director of the Institute for Community and Economic Engagement and Terri Shelton, Vice Chancellor of Research and Engagement, UNC Greensboro are working with a task force that includes James Albright, Director of Guilford County Emergency Services, to write “community-engaged guidelines.” The panelists argued that quality is validated by long-term relationships, ongoing contracts with local organizations, and tangible measures such as fewer deaths and safer streets in the communities where they are working to reduce gangs and domestic violence. In ongoing community work, evaluation and implementation inform each other iteratively and happen simultaneously; legally approved structures form that can make it easier for government agencies, communities, and academics to collaborate on other projects in the future.

Guidelines will place value on open data, not only for ease of community access to information and services but also to enable reproducibility and scalabiity.  Later in the day, the theme of openness was central to a panel on community-engaged scholarship given by Stephen Sills, Director, Center for Housing and Community Studies, Somya Mohanty, Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, UNC Greensboro, and Evan Goldstein, Assistant Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, UNC Chapel Hill.  The audience was especially taken with a rainbow chart of ways to make one’s workflow more open (by Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer of Utrecht University).

Sills said that his department (Sociology) is rewriting their tenure and promotion guidelines to include community engagement in the category of scholarship.  They are trying to write the guidelines in a way that is open and flexible; he mentioned “scholarly products” as a potentially useful term that might include, for example, a documentary with a million views on YouTube as well as scholarly articles.

Transdisciplinary Research and Education

Sharing exciting examples about new anti-microbials, “smart plants,” and prosthetics, to name a few, Daniel Herr, of UNC Greensboro’s Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, emphasized the importance of encouraging the convergence of disciplines (such as  nanoscience, physics, math, chemistry, and biology) and entrepreneurial creativity.  Herr did not address tenure and promotion directly but indicated that the quality of the work is evidenced not only in publications but also patents and inventions that benefit society.

Last but Not Least: What Counts

 Opening the day–but shared here as more of a conclusion–was a thoughtful talk by Kathleen Fitzpatrick (MSU Director of Digital Humanities and previously Director of Scholarly Communication for the MLA), who zoomed out to offer a larger, more philosophical view of the challenge. Her talk was about what we value:  what counts, what should count, and why we should give up our reliance on easy quantitative measures to seek more subjective, qualitative judgements about a scholar’s path to intellectual leadership, from establishing one’s voice, to helping other scholars establish their voices, to having an impact on his or her field.  The tenure process, she argued, is and ought to be individual; we need to seek ways to be equitable without imposing an impossible objectivity.

To consider “what we genuinely value,” she warned against the following:  being stymied by the unfamiliarity of the work, trying to turn a tenure candidate into someone different from the person who was hired, doubling the candidate’s workload (adding traditional on top of non-traditional work), relying too much on quantitative measures, disqualifying reviewers with whom the candidate has presented on a panel or served on a board (thus punishing collaboration and professional relationships), marginalizing teaching.

She advocated for the following: evaluator learning (including support of junior faculty as they “mentor up”), engaging with the work on its own terms in in its own medium, recognizing distinct measures of impact across fields, engaging appropriate experts to evaluate the work but not relying on them entirely, balancing objectivity and subjectivity, rewarding collaboration.

“Standards and processes should be considered in light of the ways the work is being read or experienced, how scholarly values are manifested in a career in process,” she concluded.

Her slides are available here.

Resources she recommended were society guidelines and the policies at Emory University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Translation & Publishing in the Global South


Library of Muyinga in Burundi, by BC Architects

This is a summary, with a bit of commentary, of an event that took place at Duke’s Franklin Humanities Institute on January 25, 2018.

Translation—especially the challenge of translating poetry—has always fascinated me because, as a balance of compromises, it is nearly impossible to do satisfactorily, while at the same time it is absolutely necessary for respectful human communication and meaningful cultural exchange:  respectful because not everyone in the world should be expected to master English, and meaningful because human expression comes in so many flavors that are revelatory if we truly try to understand word for word, phrase for phrase, and culture to culture.

A translator tries to offer not only literal meaning but also some flavor of the sound and rhythm, the multiple layers of meaning, and the aesthetics of the tradition within which, or against which, the original author is working. As we took a serious look at translation and publishing in an all-day event entitled Translation & Publishing in the Global South at Duke’s Franklin Humanities Institute, we were thinking a lot about that tension between impossibility and necessity, idealism and practicality. In the spirit of the Publishing Humanities Initiative, I hope that everyone came away with some practical knowledge and inspiration to move forward with their own projects.

An encyclopedic treatment of translation and publishing in the Global South would ideally include many voices from the South as well as information on South-to-South publishing, publishing companies in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, and translation across many different languages other than English. Despite our ambitious event title, we were not able to accomplish quite that much (if only!); nevertheless, we heard informative talks that caused a small but highly engaged cohort to stay all day. Indeed, some of the speakers seemed to learn as much from each other’s presentations as the faculty and graduate students in the audience did.

Following is my attempt to summarize the salient points from each talk.

Juan Obarrio, Johns Hopkins University, “Interlingual Exchange in the Global South: Translating and Publishing Critical Theory.”

In addition to his own distinguished scholarly writing on critical theory and political anthropology, Juan is editor of Critical Times, a new, forthcoming journal from the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs. He is also co-editor, with Nancy Rose Hunt and Achille Mbembe, of Theory in Forms, a new book series from Duke University Press. Originally from Argentina, he has spearheaded efforts to encourage and enable South-to-South translation; notably, he ran a program on critical theory at the University of San Martín for five years. He spoke of how “very difficult” it is to produce joint research projects across the global South; he brings experience of the victories and failures from those ventures to his new publishing projects.

In this talk, he pointed out the limitations of the postcolonial view from the North of the South, where colonial violence, economic imperialism, and the “dynamics of extractive captial” are powerfully present, and he emphasized the importance of sharing humanistic production not only from the North to all countries and cultures that are wrestling with a colonial past, but also disseminating work that originates in (/is “immanent from”) the South. Ideally, the trajectory of such dissemination moves not only North, to the United States and Europe, but also South-to-South, for example from Latin America to Africa and vice versa. The very idea of “theory from the South” is radical, challenging persistent international assumptions about hierarchies and linear flows (North to South) of ideas and information. It “reorients the debate on universals and particulars, center and periphery.”

Theorizing this interlingual exchange in and from the South is important, while enacting it on a practical plane is an enormous challenge that the new journal and book series attempt to take up in different ways. The book series will include both established authors and “young, brilliant scholars from Africa, South Asia, and Latin America”; the editors are receiving many submissions. Financed initially by a three-year grant from the Mellon Foundation, the journal, Critical Times, will present themed issues on “the most important political and intellectual debates that are not part of our conversation here” and include “also arts and performances and the theorization around that.” Over time the plan is for issues to originate in the South as well as include “dossiers” of materials on topics like global women’s movements and Black Lives Matter.

One of many interesting challenges that Juan mentioned is the fact that “theory from the South is produced not only by academics but also by public intellectuals and social movements.” In addition, regions of the South are compartmentalized; global collaborations are needed to share and publish scholarship, perhaps in the form of “triangulations” that might include one Northern institution and two Southern. Not only would Southern work be translated into English, but also translations would move across South Asia, the Middle East, and so on, with translators for multiple languages provided at meetings and events.

In reviewing my notes from this powerful plea, or demand, for the South to be heard, it strikes me that Juan is placing great trust and a heavy and important burden on publishing. Nevertheless, his confidence in the potential of publishing is not misplaced, and these unique new projects could someday be regarded as catalysts for a new wave of global scholarly exchange in the humanities.

David Hansen, Director of Copyright and Scholarly Communication, Duke University Libraries, spoke next on “International Copyright Law and Translation.” David is both a librarian and a copyright lawyer. Note that many research universities have a Scholarly Communications librarian on staff, who is usually a copyright lawyer. Many faculty members do not know that they have the luxury of consulting such an expert on their own projects, free of charge. Typically, at a publishing company, there is no full-time, on-staff copyright lawyer; permission to consult the expensive lawyer is given sparingly. At Duke, David has also trained a fleet of librarians dubbed Copyright Consultants.

David offered a practical review of international copyright law, which is not consistent across all countries and continents. He recommended that scholars handle rights in three steps: (1) determine whether the work is protected by copyright or in the public domain; (2) research whether one can use the work according to any applicable contractual, fair use, privacy, or ethical considerations; and (3) communicate to one’s audience what one knows about the rights.

Starting with item number 1, to translate a work, the translator must first determine its rights status, which is governed by the country where the work was first published. This is important because there are cases in which a work is in the public domain in the US but not elsewhere. He offered several useful websites, including the Cornell University Library Information Center, which offers the best current chart that he knows for helping to determine whether or not a work is protected by copyright or in the public domain.

David showed Section 102 of the Copyright Act on the screen. Several aspects of it are admittedly “very U.S. and U.K. centric,” but it is fundamental to copyright protection in most of the world. It is important to note that since 1989, a creator does not have to include a copyright notice on a work for it to be copyrighted. As long as you have put your ideas into a “fixed form,” the work you have thereby created is automatically copyrighted.

He reviewed the “fair use” doctrine that allows the reasonable reuse of quotations and excerpts as determined by the balancing of four factors including the proportion of the original being quoted and the potential to damage the market for the original work (see the US Copyright Office online).

Many works today carry a Creative Commons license, a legally binding statement whereby a creator can allow free sharing and reuse of their work without additional permission or contracts. There are several flavors of these licenses which always require attribution and are intended to ease the free flow of information. Some CC licenses include a “no derivatives” statement; note that a translation is considered a derivative work.

David pointed out that the “communication piece” is as important as researching copyright status: note how the Duke Library communicates about sources and what can be done with the material (for example, see the “Rights Note” attached to any of the Radio Haiti recordings). He advised that translators communicate what they know about the rights in a rights note. Without such explicit communication, future potential uses of the work can be inadvertently stifled.

Deciding on what uses are allowed is sometimes a matter of balancing risks (“Where am I likely to get sued?”). It is important to note that law is not the only factor to apply to such decisions; “Good actors try to respect the wishes of the creators,” David said. A translator should acknowledge the original, whether or not that is legally required. An interesting development is the Traditional Knowledge Licensing and Labeling Website, which is a project to create a kind of Creative Commons for traditional knowledge of local and indigenous communities.

Sandie Blaise, PhD Candidate at Duke, spoke first in the afternoon to share her research on publishing in Haiti (“Overcoming Francophonie: A Haitian Case Study”). Having gathered statistics on the publishing industry in Haiti as well as interviewed some twenty publishers there, she underscored the truth of the general picture that Juan Obarrio had painted of publishing in the Global South. Most publishing in Haiti is in French and the books come from France; they serve an elite audience of educated people who can afford to buy books. Meanwhile, most Haitians speak Creole in their daily lives; literacy rates reached a height of 53% in 2003, but only recently have some intrepid local publishing companies begun publishing books in Creole, with an emphasis on poetry and “youth” or Young Adult literature. New publishing companies since 2011 are C3 Editions, Legs Editions, and Association Lève. Run by young professionals, they offer their books on Amazon and publicize on FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter. Although they offer discounted e-versions, paperbacks are more popular. The sales record for a book in Creole is held by a paper version of a poetry collection.

Sandie passed around copies of some of these new books and discussed the economic challenge of keeping prices low while negotiating small print runs and acceptable production quality from printing/binding vendors. Taking these significant practical steps, “local actors have resisted the cultural, linguistic and economic domination of French and France by carving out a space of autonomy for the Haitian book market and promoting Creole as a written language.”

Publishers’ Panel

This panel was intended to highlight what scholarly publishers do to enable exchange of scholarly ideas across national borders.

 Victoria Wells, former director of contracts and Subsidiary Rights, University of North Carolina Press, spoke of book fairs around the world; most have some rights-selling going on at them, but certain fairs are especially focused on rights: Frankfurt, Beijing, Guadalajara. Vicky attended the Frankfurt Book Fair every year for nearly two decades to make and keep contacts with foreign publishers; over three and a half days, she would meet with some fifty people at the UNC Press booth.

From each Fall and Spring list of forthcoming UNC Press books, she would select those that had the best chance of selling in certain non-US markets and create a “rights guide” to promote these books to other publishers, based on her experience with foreign publishers and distributors and the performance of previous translations.

She pointed out how important it is to choose a foreign publisher or distributor who will actually promote the book in their markets; it can be frustrating to see a book be translated but sit on the shelf because there is no marketing push for it.

In working out a fair contract, many details were arranged including permission for illustrations, how the quality of the translation would be evaluated, and payment schedules. She named several examples of books that were translated widely; Hiroshima Diary might be UNC Press’s record, with twenty different translations.

“Most authors sign over all rights to the university press,” Vicky explained, “Because we are best positioned to exploit those rights.” This is an important point, because some writers’ advocates and organizations will recommend that authors retain subsidiary rights; if you want time to work on your next book, it’s reasonable to let your publisher serve as your agent in these matters.

 Elizabeth Ault, Editor, Duke University Press, is Juan Obarrio’s editor for the new Theory in Forms series mentioned above. She pointed out several ventures in translation at the Press, including a new bilingual en face edition of Cesaire’s Cahiers and a longstanding Latin American in Translation Series, a joint effort with the University of North Carolina Press and Duke’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS); interestingly, in choosing one translation per year for the Latin American series from twenty to forty submissions, the publishers assume that most of the potential audience has already read the work in Spanish or Portuguese, so the publishing decision is focused on the potential for the work to “break into the conversation” in English, be taught in courses, or otherwise appeal to a wider audience.

In the World Readers series, each volume includes around fifty pieces chosen by the academic editor, who arranges for the translations while an editorial intern at the Press negotiates permissions. “The Readers,” Elizabeth explained, “are a huge undertaking but extremely successful.”

An investment in a translation is usually a double investment, she noted; first the Press buys the translation rights; then, the translation itself must be paid for. For the translator, there is not much money to be made; it is often a labor of love. Nor is there much scholarly credit gained, although the work is important in a larger sense.

Finally, Molly Hansen, a Marketing Associate for Latin America at Oxford University Press’s office in Cary, North Carolina, told us about marketing Oxford books and journals to Brazilian libraries. She travels to trade fairs and communicates with librarians almost exclusively in Portuguese about books in English that their patrons—Brazilian scholars and students who are proficient in English—will use for their research. Face to face meetings are crucial, she finds, though she also communicates a lot via email and prepares marketing materials that organize new publications by discipline.  Outside of the book fairs, the efforts of her marketing group focus mostly on online resources; the countries they hear from the most are Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Paraguay.

Molly’s role at OUP, part of a larger international marketing and sales operation, gave us a window into the complexity of an international publishing business (OUP is, in fact, one of the largest publishers in the world). The audience also appreciated hearing that she had earned an M.A. in Latin American Studies (Tulane University) and had found this interesting and worthwhile way to make use of her education.

Riot Grrls and Maker Culture at Zine Workshop

Several zines in Sylvia’s incipient collection.

Now seemed to be exactly the right moment for the Publishing Humanities Initiative / FHI Story Lab’s event with Sallie Bingham Center curator Kelly Wooten, Publishing It Yourself: Pamphlets, Zines, and Riot Grrls. The variety of folks who participated in the sold-out event on December 6, 2017 was exactly what one might hope for in a public humanities context. In addition to Duke students, participants included artists, a documentary historian, a public historian, a publisher of an online community newsletter, two high school students, a bookseller from the Regulator bookshop, an activist, an educator who works with junior high kids, a scientist who is also a novelist, and a creator of zines for charities.

Several participants were activists or publishers who wanted to return to the visceral, physical individual-to-individual connection created by zines. All seemed equally interested in both the serious talk on the role of zines in Third Wave feminism and the more playful, creative hands-on workshop that followed, in which we learned to fold a simple zine and then made our own collage-filled zines with scissors, glue, and old magazines to cut up. Hearing about a low-tech  underground movement so relevant to our current odd and crucial moment in the history of feminism was a natural invitation to create and communicate in ways unmediated by digital tools.  Some newly acquainted participants were inspired to invent a zine collaboratively, and some stayed on past the official end of the 2.5-hour event to sew pamphlet bindings.

During her talk, Kelly described Third Wave feminism in the early 1990s; she shared Riot Grrl zines and a map showing how these informal photocopied publications with their edgy drawings carried revolutionary ideas around the United States and beyond via mail and couch-surfing musicians.

Kelly read aloud a quotation from Rebecca Walker’s 1992 essay in Ms Magazine, “Becoming the Third Wave,” penned in the wake of Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas, that is strikingly relevant today:

“To be a feminist is to integrate an ideology of equality and female empowerment into the very fiber of my life. It is to search for personal clarity in the midst of systemic destruction, to join in sisterhood with women when often we are divided, to understand power structures with the intention of challenging them. While this may sound simple, it is exactly the kind of stand that many of my peers are unwilling to take. So I write this as a plea to all women, especially the women of my generation: Let Thomas’ confirmation serve to remind you, as it did me, that the fight is far from over. Let this dismissal of a woman’s experience move you to anger. Turn that outrage into political power. Do not vote for them unless they work for us. Do not have sex with them, do not break bread with them, do not nurture them if they don’t prioritize our freedom to control our bodies and our lives.

“I am not a postfeminism feminist. I am the Third Wave.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the Story Lab as we all absorbed the power and relevance of Walker’s words.  Then we turned to Making–connecting mind to hand, past to present, and new collaborations to the future.

(Click here for more info on Publishing Humanities Initiative events.)

Reflections on DH2017 Montréal

Room in Museum of Fine Arts, Montréal
Video projections of swaying trees and twittering birds in the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts bring back the magic feeling that painted clouds and cherubs might have inspired centuries ago. Photo by Sylvia K. Miller.

By Sylvia K. Miller and Hannah Jacobs

Some new trends emerge as Duke colleagues reflect on DH2017 in Montréal and contrast it with previous DH conferences. Following is a distillation of our observations in the form of a list of takeaways:

  • Collaboration. There was more frequent reference to project partners, indicating more acceptance, even embracing of, collaboration. Many presenters explicitly, fully, gratefully thanked their team colleagues, showed their pictures on the screen, etc. Associated with this positive development for DH and humanities at large is concern over how collaborators are to be formally credited for publication and tenure.
  • Diversity. The diversity workshop, for the first time open to all attendees, was a critical moment indicating that the community remains committed to addressing its diversity challenges.
  • Librarians are more and more taking ownership of their role in enabling and supporting DH. I attended the “DH in Libraries” SIG meeting, and the lecture hall was quite full; I’d guestimate 200+ people. There were a number of projects to classify library/archive collections in new ways.
  • TEI is more synonymous than ever with XML in the library world and world of DH scholarship. This is important for publishers to know if they are collaborating on multimodal projects that will have integrated library or repository components. (XML comes in different established schemas; TEI=Text Encoding Initiative.)
  • “Phygital.” I heard more about the interplay between analog and digital forms, particularly 3D printing. (One paper called multimodal physical/digital projects “phygital,” though it is impossible to predict whether the term will stick!) The phenomenon of 3D printing of historical artifacts is fascinating and problematic: is it right to “copy” an artifact before returning it to the community from which it was stolen? (What if the artifact is a human bone?)
  • Music/art. There was more art and music this year, though the emphasis of the conference is still more computational than artistic.
  • Visualization. The expansion of visualization as an accepted DH practice stood out. There was an increased presence of visualization in its many forms; especially prevalent were node maps showing network relationships and geo-maps showing data sources or trajectories. Some of this work was also self-study (e.g., Taxonomy of Digital Research Activities in the Humanities, TADIRAH).
  • Cultural heritage work was a theme. In Europe it is well funded, but systems developed there are not universally applicable; scholars working with American Indian communities find that digitization challenges and metadata schemas are very different in the US context.
  • Overlaps. Several different teams around the world found that they are developing similar tools. At DH2015 in Sydney, there was a lot of special OCR work and machine-reading of historical texts with special scripts or other visual challenges. At DH2017, there seemed to be a significant amount of attention to adapting face-recognition software to recognition and comparison of other types of visual data (e.g., newspaper layouts, furniture/decorative arts, etc.).
  • Publishing. The conference demonstrated a wide variety of computational, visual, and interactive scholarship that demands new modes of publication. Sylvia has noted some specific, if scattered, developments elsewhere; taken together, they remind us that scholarly publishing in its current form is seen by practitioners of DH as a barrier to growth and innovation.
  • There was some AR and VR at the conference but not as much as one might expect. One exciting AR project stands out in retrospect, a project by Amanda Marie Licastro (Stevenson University, MD) to share the experience of Syrian refugees and create empathy in millennial students, who are, according to research, 40 percent less empathetic than earlier generations(!); in the Q&A session, she told a striking story about a student whose views were radically changed by the VR experience. I also heard about an exciting visualization project from Rachel Hendery of the University of Western Sydney, a projection of a node map inside a dome, where people can experience it together in 3D without having to wear 3D equipment.
  • Funding. Mellon and NEH are the important funders of US work. European work is well funded by governments and the EU.  There is a new government-funded DH initiative in South Africa.
  • Peer review. There were many calls for proper peer review and recognition of DH as legitimate scholarship for promotion and tenure. One speaker mentioned that the University of Florida is the latest institution to create a DH peer review committee; content creators were asked to recommend a level of equivalency in terms of traditional scholarship on which the DH project should be evaluated.  This was considered not ideal but perhaps a necessary interim step. (In this context, the Mellon-funded project at Brown University to evaluate digital scholarship at the department level seems especially interesting and ambitious.)
  • Congenial spirit. There was a great deal of friendliness and mutual appreciation at this meeting; many scholars, especially graduate students, feel alone at their own institutions and appreciate meeting like-minded people. The group Tweeted up a storm! See #dh2017  (and @SylviaKMiller)
  • Attendance. I heard that there were around 1,100 people at the meeting.  I have not been able to confirm this online and have written to the ADHO–Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations, the umbrella organization that hosts the conference.
  • Future meetings. Next year the meeting will be in Mexico City, June 24–30, 2018; in 2019, Utrecht.

Humanities Futures

Screen shot from Papers page of Humanities Futures site at
Humanities Futures Papers page at

Humanities Futures is an interesting example of publishing at the crossroads.  This Mellon-funded project at Duke’s John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute explores the future of humanities and interpretive social science disciplines and interdisciplines through an ongoing series of events such as talks, symposia, and conferences.  The project is unusually well documented, and this is where the publishing part comes in: in addition to posting video of many of the events, the FHI also publishes papers–“think pieces”–based on the talks. Some, but not all, later become journal articles or chapters in books, sometimes in the same form and in other cases thoroughly transformed. The papers are professionally edited and presented, although they are not peer reviewed, making them an interesting hybrid type of publication. Some might be considered “grey papers,” but not all.

Not to beat the metaphor too hard, but the think pieces might be said to represent a few things at a crossroads: (1) scholarly work, captured as it crosses from initial research and draft paper to formal publication; (2) scholarly publishing, as it experiments with a hybrid format combining elements of a searchable online database, an informal online journal, a blog, and conference proceedings; and last but not least, (3) humanities itself, which the project intends to both examine and reinvigorate at a perceived point of endangerment.

Recently I created the site’s first table of contents. The variety of topics covered is quite astonishing, as scholars are invited both to reflect on the future of a discipline or interdisciplinary topic and to demonstrate the future of scholarship through specific, exemplary work.  The most recent think pieces published on the Humanities Futures site are:

“Water Security in the Middle East and North Africa” by Neda Zawahri

“The Black Outdoors After Property and Possession” by J. Kameron Carter and Sarah Cervenak

“Multilingualism as Migration: Remarks on Literature, Philology, and Culture” by Till Dembeck

Hello world! Crossroads, Meeting Streets, and Makerspaces

Why “Crossroads”? If I ever started a publishing company, I would call it Meeting Street Publishing.  It refers to the collaboration that is behind most publishing projects, and it reminds me of many years attending the wonderful Charleston Conference, where librarians and publishers have equal billing. (Of course many towns have Meeting Streets, but Charleston’s is well known.)  “Meeting Street” as a metaphor is related to “Crossroads,” which is a reminder that scholars, publishers, librarians, and technologists will together determine the direction that scholarly publishing will take in the future.  Sometimes we think of publishing as a sort of weather pattern in the sky over which we have no control, but I am interested in how we shape the future through our choices.  “Meeting Street” is about communication and collaboration, while “Crossroads” adds to that the image of roads to be taken and not taken.

Some people say that publishing is changing rapidly, but in my experience over the last few decades (yikes, a long time!), this change is astonishingly slow. The pace definitely gives us time to reflect on what we are doing (or not doing).

The term “Crossroads” is also related to Publishing Makerspace, a working group that I co-founded in 2014.  It is dedicated to encouraging collaboration, supporting multi-modal publishing, and ultimately redefining scholarly publishing to include all the forms of work that scholars are creating today.

I like the idea of liminality–a boundary that is not a line but rather a creative space where categories overlap and recombine.  Whether I am planning an encyclopedia project that will define a field for a generation or sewing a pamphlet to please a friend, I appreciate the sense of “serious fun” and creative possibility inherent in publishing and want to share it.