New Ideas; New Problems

By malloryjwhite

In the batch of readings for this week, we discovered how the digital humanities are still working toward establishing conventions of peer review and publication. Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam when working with the Journal of Digital Humanities, encountered a change in procedure, and felt singled out when the Journal requested that they submit their work for a blind external review. Among the multitude of issues surrounding this development were two key problems:

  • Why hadn’t the journal been upfront about their intentions from the start?
  • How could the process be blind if their materials were being regularly published through blog posts?

As Laurie Taylor wrote, these kinds of concerns emphasize the importance of “procedural justice” which incorporates the individual into the process (in this case, of peer review), and provides confidence in “consistency, accuracy, ethicality, and lack of bias…

Former guest editor, Scott Weingart, indicates that the flexibility of the Journal’s process, and the level of unpredictability is “part of its charm” at this point—its experimental phase. Yet, this comes with issues that lead to Koh and Risam’s experience. Although I am in no way an expert on the situation, I agree with Weingart, that a set of guidelines should be issued to contributors—having something on paper can aid in putting all parties on the same level. However, this guidelines would need to include a section on changes in process of review—likelihood that something could change, notifying contributors, etc. Of course this would not solve all problems, but it would lead in the right direction.

I can hardly blame the JDH as it is essentially part of their mission statement that they are an experimental journal probing the legitimacy of speedy, digitally-published scholarly material. And, with any experiment, things are bound to breakdown from time to time. It is a serious concern, of course, as the digital humanities seek to gain clout and prove their value to those of the traditional schools of history.

This situation will hopefully lead to greater understanding on both sides. Contributors should be made aware that this process has yet to be perfected, and changes to the approach may occur. The Journal, thus, should make a greater effort in clarity, making their procedure transparent and understood by all parties. As far as finding a definite solution, this will hopefully put more minds to the challenge of finding new ways of getting this material published while ensuring legitimacy.

For our Air Canada project, we have a number of options from which to chose for our printing; Omeka, Lulu, and Pressbooks among them. Perhaps my understanding of the JDH’s awkward position stems from the fact that I have felt my foray into digital history this semester has been an experiment. Each week is something entirely new—new technologies, new epiphanies, new problems. I find it hard to categorically say which of these publishers would be the best for our project, but Lulu seems to me to be more user friendly. However, Shawn demonstrated at the beginning of the semester, some of the errors a different in formatting can produce for a final copy. My next gut move would be to go with Omeka, as it seems concentrated on regular updates and plug-ins, seemingly solving issues that crop up among users. (One would then have to question the costs of such things).

Although these new problems demand new ideas and solutions, we must press on and work together. Traditional, professional history, it would seem, has not yet entered the 21st century; it has resisted change. We see it the gradual separation of academics and the public. The study of Digital Humanities is trying to build something new, making academic literature new, interesting, and most of all available to intellectuals of all levels.

Source: Mallory