Redefining Scholarship in the Digital Age

At THATCamp AHA, one of the sessions confronted the issue of training, tenure, and promotion in digital history. Attended by graduate students, tenured and non-tenured faculty, and librarians, the session discussed the problems of doing digital work while such labor was not recognized as rigorous scholarly production. Professional peer review of digital work is stagnant because evaluators are unable or unwilling to assess digital scholarship on its merits. In the spirit of THATCamp the session attendees adopted a “less yack, more hack” attitude and co-authored “A Call to Redefine Historical Scholarship in the Digital Turn.” We are asking for endorsements and feedback before sending the letter to the AHA’s Research Division in hopes that we can kickstart a conversation.

As incoming American Historical Association president William Cronon wrote, we are at a point where we need to have “conversations about the impact of the digital revolution on the practice of history.” Essential, if not central, to that conversation is training, tenure, and promotion. There are immense professional risks in engaging the digital medium for both junior scholars and graduate students. As Kathleen Fitzpatrick recently wrote, “until scholars really believe that publishing on the web is as valuable as publishing in print — and more importantly, until they believe that their institutions believe it, too — few will be willing to risk their careers on a new way of working, with the result that that new way of working will remain marginal and undervalued.”1

The profession of history finds itself at a crossroads. The AHA Annual Meeting had the highest number of digital history sessions to date, graduate programs are exploring ways to train students in the theories and methods of digital history, new avenues are opening for complex digital scholarship, and institutions (like my own) are hiring tenure-track faculty specializing in digital humanities. Yet there are no customs or standards to assess this new mode of scholarship. Digital scholars thus remain tied down to the 19th century model of historical scholarly production.

We’re asking the American Historical Association to begin paving the way and set guidelines for evaluating digital methods and training. Please read through “A Call to Redefine Historical Scholarship in the Digital Turn” and consider endorsing the effort.

  1. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (New York: New York University Press, 2011), Kindle location 288. 

January 22, 2012 @jaheppler