“Wikipedia’s anarchic editing process and uneven reliability have repelled academics.” This sentence reads like an editorial. The editing process of Wikipedia includes some elements of anarchy, but most humans interaction do the same, and “anarchy” does not adequately characterize the editing process of Wikipedia.
The “uneven reliability” issue is not limited to Wikipedia; all statements have limited reliability. In fact, scholarly publishing is designed to expose statements to criticisms which, when incorporated in the subsequent versions of the original statement, act as traces of previous “unreliability” while exposing themselves to the same critical process. Scholarship, unlike faith, seeks to “know”, not to “believe”, and knowledge is always limited in its claim because it stands to be corrected. In fact knowledge seeks to be corrected in order to improve.
Some academics have been repelled by Wikipedia’s “uneven reliability”, not all. Many academics – I among others – have argued in front of their student that reading a Wikipedia article is a very good critical exercise where one learns to keep one’s critical guard up. Documenting both pro and con judgments of academics (and others) would seem necessary here.
“sour taste”: what is the historical status of this concept (if it is a concept). And pitting the digital humanities versus the non-digital humanities types does not appear to be the most constructive approach to building communities of historians.
This is an interesting article that speaks to some really important issues at the heart of digital history and the historical profession more broadly. As it currently stands, however, the article mistakenly conflates “digital humanities” and “digital history.” This isn’t a semantic quibble. Although there is important overlap between digital humanities and digital history, the latter has a fundamentally different intellectual, methodological, institutional, and professional genealogy. Both Sharon Leon’s “Complicating a “Great Man” Narrative of Digital History in the United States” and Stephen Robertson’s “The Differences between Digital Humanities and Digital History” explore this in much more depth. Parsing out digital humanities vs. digital history isn’t always a critical distinction. But for an article that offers an overview of the origins, trajectory, and current landscape of digital history, this conflation of the two “DH’s” ends up mischaracterizing the field in several important ways.
First, one of the features of digital history that distinguishes it from the digital humanities is the centrality of public history to its genesis and development as a field. I’ll point to Sharon Leon’s “Complicating a “Great Man” Narrative of Digital History in the United States” in which she looked at 586 NEH grants given to digital history projects between 1994-2016: “Given that the bulk of the projects were funded by the Divisions of Preservation and Access, Public Programs, and Education Programs, it is possible to surmise that these ventures were associated with the work of libraries and archives, museums and public humanities, and teaching and learning.” Yet public history receives comparatively little attention in this essay. Given its exploration of “democratization” and the ways this theme intersects with public history, it would seem like an important and fruitful avenue to explore.
Second, the conflation between digital history/humanities leads to some strawmen and muddled detours. For instance, the 2016 LARB critique of digital humanities as “neoliberal” along with the responses to that critique were almost entirely conducted amongst literary scholars, not historians. In fact, history as a discipline was entirely absent from that article. Same with the pieces by William Pannapacker and Wendy Hui Kyong Chun et. al. Again, there are definite and important overlaps between digital humanities and digital history (and there are also important critiques of digital history specifically) but this essay’s conflation of the two means that some of their discussion lands well off-target. Another related strawman: “Certainly the field’s massive grants and vast institutional backing should be for naught if the digital humanities drifted further from its democratic promise. Digital history betrays its core principles if it fails to engage users by privileging professional advancement, grant-winning, and innovation-for-innovation’s-sake over the pursuit of readership, ease of use, and pedagogical utility.” The vast majority of historians who are actually doing digital history are not the recipients of “massive grants or vast institutional backing.” The Yale’s and Stanford’s might get a lot of attention, but they’re not representative. In fact, as Leon’s article points out, the grants that ARE going to digital history projects would seem to be going to exactly the sort of projects that the authors advocate for, rather than the kind of Silicon Valley neoliberal disruption bogeyman they raise.
In short, the article’s fuzziness around digital history as a field can make it feel like a conversation that was happening in the late 2000s or between scholars from other disciplines. Some of the most exciting recent developments in digital history specifically – critical archives studies like Jessica Marie Johnson’s “Markup Bodies”, the Collections as Data project, the Colored Conventions Project, distant viewing and the visual turn, etc. – aren’t discussed very much, if at all. Neither, oddly, are developments in how historians are using technology that aren’t typically associated with “digital history” as a field but are probably even more relevant to the themes the authors are exploring: the rise of Twitter as a platform for historians to contribute to public discourse, for instance, or the authors’ own AmericanYawp textbook which has had an absolutely transformational impact in terms of how history is taught (and only receives a few, far-too-modest passing sentences in this article). I would have loved a much more in-depth discussion of the authors’ own experiences and reflections on building such a successful collaborative and democratic history project. I think that AHR’s readers – as historians – would benefit from a much clearer distinction between digital history and digital humanities, and a more focused discussion of the developments and issues specific to their discipline of history.
Small detail: Ed Folsom wasn’t in Virginia but at Iowa, and when it was launched it was the Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive. As I recall, it was renamed around 2000 to drop the already dated “hypertext.”
Following along with Jean-Claude’s comment, I would also note that the complex bureaucracy of Wikipedia is very much not anarchic. If anything, it is worth noting that as Wikipedia has grown its complex governance bureaucracy has come under fire for the same kinds of problems that other complex bureaucracies run mostly by white men have.
There are points already where there is a shift back and forth between “digital history” and “the digital humanities.” Given the focus of the AHR on history and the frequent connections to historians, it strikes me that it would be better to generally pivot to just talk about digital history. Much of the broader digital humanities discourses are not about democratization and access, so it seems like it is stronger and clearer to just be talking about digital history throughout.
OER has come up a few times already and has not been defined or contextualized. This is important in that in my experience OER is much more a term that is in use in work in education and not in disciplinary fields like digital history or other digital humanities areas. Similarly, “open access” has largely been a concept advanced in scholarly communications and publishing and less so a concept at the heart of digitization efforts focused on providing access to digitized primary sources.
It’s not clear to me that there were any advocates at any point that thought digitization would be enough. Indeed, much of the work that Rosenzweig was involved in from the beginning was focused on the production of digital resources that supported use of digitized primary sources in varied contexts. For example, the Who Built America CD-Rom was functionally an interactive textbook.
For a lot of the CHNM projects, it would seem that online access was part of this meaning, but it was also very much about academic historians producing materials for a range of audiences. In particular, as several of the examples mentioned, this included producing materials for K-12 teachers and students to use.
Somewhat confused by the use of “open-source scholarship” here. Is this a reference to open access publishing? Is this about open access to sources? Partly confused in that “open source” has specific and distinct significance in relation to software projects which are often related to digital history or humanities projects.
Confused about the use of “open-source scholarship” here. Is this being used as open access? Or is this about sources? It’s particularly confusing given that open source largely is a reference to software development. I realize that the term “open source” comes from the title of this piece and from the essay you are referring back to but it would be good to get working definitions and terms in play throughout.
It is not clear to me that there are suspicions about the quality of open resources, but I think that is partly an issue of definitions. That is, if the issue is the quality of open resources like Wikipedia, I’d agree that there is continued questions about quality. However, most of the broadening of access in history has been the result of the digitization of primary sources, in which case I don’t have any sense that there is suspicion about the quality of digitized primary sources that cultural heritage institutions around the world have made available.
Somewhat confused in this case in that it’s not clear to me that there are any suspicions about the quality of digitized primary sources, which would seem to be the bulk of the work on open resources in history.
Confused on this point, as the free labor of peer review is part of the closed-access system of scholarly publishing too. That is, irrespective of if a publication is open access or not, the free labor issues are at play.
This seems like an oddly grandiose assertion and it also seems disjointed from the points that come afterward about h-net. I think it is very much fair to observe that continued shifts in digital media for communication are themselves inherently disruptive. While h-net changed, it does indeed look to be the case that discussion and dialog is happening on the site.
I think there is a case to be made for this assertion, but I don’t feel like it has been made in this essay. The essay cites a lot of relevant reference material, but it is not clear based on the work that there has been significant borrowing from “neoliberal mania for disruption.”
Just to add my +1 to this – there is very much a culture of top-down (even if “top” is self designated) rule-following in Wikipedia editing…
Could you say something about how “source” is being used here? Wikipedia is both openly accessible and openly sourced, but I’m not sure in which sense it is being used (this may be addressed later — apologies, I am commenting as I go)
[Open Educational Resources (OER)]
Again, should this concept be distinguished from OA (open access)? Usually, OERs refer to textbooks and other educational course materials, apart from openly accessible research work.
[Writing in 1999, Ed Ayers trumpeted the historical profession’s recovery of forgotten voices—of women, people of color, the poor—but said,” The great democratization of history over the past few decades has not been accompanied by a democratization of audience.”]
Another potential source here, specifically pertaining to “open” contexts Ulrich Herb’s note that open access was originally ‘portrayed in a romanticising way and was embedded in a conceptual ensemble of participation, democratisation, digital commons and equality’ – Herb, Ulrich. 2018. “Open Access And Symbolic Gift Giving.” In Open Divide: Critical Studies on Open Access, edited by Joachim Schöpfel and Ulrich Herb, 69–81. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1206377., p. 69
This seems the odd one out in this list as it’s not clear whether you mean tokenized word lists parsed in python or the list of standard constants use in parse trees. If you just want a standard “something with python” reference, why not do something like “python bytecode”?
[But what does “democracy” mean in a world of ArcGIS databases, GitHub repositories, Creative Commons licenses, Python tokens, Gephi visualizations, and 3ds Max models (not to mention Twitter and all the rest)?]
To play devil’s advocate: what does “democracy” mean in a world of novels, newspapers, books, television, or any other media form?
[few scholars have interrogated either the nature of those discourses]
Perhaps the closest I know to this, though, is Moore, Samuel, ‘Common Struggles: Policy-Based vs. Scholar-Led Approaches to Open Access in the Humanities’ (unpublished Doctoral Thesis, King’s College London, 2019) <https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:24135/> [accessed 6 June 2019]
[the American past ]
And more globally, I’d say, through the liberal enlightenment humanist ethos. It’s the most common defence of the university, too — perhaps, I would add, falsely.
Later a problematic figure, though
[Inside the academy practitioners too often confused “access” with “democracy” and lost sight of participatory possibilities]
See also Liu, Alan, ‘Is Digital Humanities a Field? — An Answer From the Point of View of Language’, Journal of Siberian Federal University, Humanities and Social Sciences, 7 (2013), 1546–52
[the definition of the digital humanities from the very beginning]
I think you should be careful about asserting that there is a definition of “the digital humanities” — which was originally “humanities computing”. Certainly a definition of DH has taken this as its core strand…
Missing close quotation mark
[And while popular suspicions about the quality of open resources continue to limit adoption, recent polls have shown that academics are not fundamentally opposed to open projects, provided they can be reassured that they are using a rigorous product]
Is rigour relative and does this contradict the preceding sentiment?
[As already discussed, the University of Virginia Press has long published projects online, if not necessarily with formal open access]
Not necessary to cite, but for interest, I’ve persuaded Stanford to make my last book with them OA
[can taint open-access projects]
Though it applies equally to toll-access projects
[ it is a free, widely accessible resource, and it is a massively participatory project]
As above, I think that disentangling this much earlier in your definition of “open source” would be preferable
Slightly overused now
[ “Democracy” is, and always has been, at root a discourse about power: about agency and access and equality, and “democratization,” therefore, cannot rely on institutions, philanthropy, or even technology alone, but must emerge consciously alongside critical self-reflection in the conception and execution of the work that will continue to push digital history forward.]
I think that this piece would benefit from more specific definitional work throughout — the open-ended question about what democracy means would be much easier to answer were the terms defined for instance
[digital history and the broader digital humanities movement.]
I appreciate that this manuscript’s authors may wish to avoid setting up boundaries between digital history and the digital humanities. But I think it needs to contend with the argument, including the one posited in the Blevins essay cited here, that digital history is less argument-driven and more public-focused, than other strands of the digital humanities. Some, like Tom Scheinfeldt, also ascribe a distinct genealogy to digital history. Engaging and acknowledging these debates, even briefly, may allow the authors to be more nimble in what follows about moving between “digital history” and “digital humanities,” without setting up false dichotomies. As a reader of the piece as a whole, I sometimes found myself perplexed by the authors’ claims, before backing up and realizing that they had switched their frame from digital history to digital humanities. Sometimes, the authors seem to use these terms interchangeably, and sometimes they’re used carefully and distinctly, and readers need to have some sense of why you’re making those choices.
[But what does “democracy” mean in a world of ArcGIS databases, GitHub repositories, Creative Commons licenses, Python tokens, Gephi visualizations, and 3ds Max models (not to mention Twitter and all the rest)? ]
I don’t think this grouping accomplishes what the authors want it to. There are several points that could be made here, each of which would need to be drawn out more precisely. Is the point that some tools are technically difficult and therefore exclusionary? That social media threatens political democracy while also maintaining a semi-democratic ethos? Creative Commons and GitHub license incredible democratic collaboration, and seem fundamentally distinct from the other examples in important ways.
This paragraph might benefit from a stronger topic sentence that alerts readers to the fact that you’re discussing literary scholars’ works, and their collaborations with historians, to match the topic sentence in the following paragraph.
Based on the context of this paragraph, there’s an implication that Rotunda is open access, which it obviously isn’t. Founders Online, which is open, resulted from a collaboration with UVA Press, though. It has a significant amount of overlap with Rotunda, though as far as I know the Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution isn’t freely available online.
[if not necessarily with formal open access.]
This may be a reference to Rotunda’s being behind a paywall—if that’s so, it probably ought to be acknowledged above.
Paragraphs 23-28 give some useful information on university presses’ efforts to open up book-length publications. Yet the obvious, perhaps painfully obvious, questions are 1- the degree to which this is sustainable, and 2- what proportion of these presses’ catalogues their open projects represent.
Here I would have also liked to see some discussion of academic journals. The Journal of American History (where, full disclosure, I used to work while in graduate school) often publishes one open-access article per issue. It also occasionally temporarily opens up articles that are relevant to the present for whatever reason: commemorations, current events, etc. They opened up the entirety of their issue on the U.S. carceral state. This isn’t so unusual. The AHR has made some similar initiatives. But the JAH and most other journals seem to have remained committed to a subscription model in order to finance the incredible amount of labor involved in reviewing, editing, and copyediting articles. How does a more democratic approach to the history profession reckon with these fundamental issues of labor and financing?
I think it would strengthen this essay to reckon with the critiques of those who view some strains of the OA rhetoric emerging from STEM as inappropriate for knowledge production in the humanities. I’m thinking particularly of Karin Wulf’s work at the Scholarly Kitchen on this.
[Certainly the field’s massive grants and vast institutional backing should be for naught if the digital humanities drifted further from its democratic promise]
The breadth of this statement opens the authors up for unnecessary criticism. Surely argument-driven digital history projects aimed at more-or-less exclusively academic audiences, including projects that topic model or even map historiographies, don’t align with a “democratic” ethos—though I doubt that the authors would count them as being for “naught.”
[But it collapsed H-Net’s communities and the project shed thousands of users.]
I’ll admit I’m speaking from subjective experience here, but this doesn’t match my understanding of this transition. I experienced H-Net already losing ground to social media well before 2018. In some communities, the advent of the Commons seems to have invigorated discussion and participation. Again, though, this is only informed by my experience so should be taken with a grain of salt.
[It must seek out readers and reach actual users.]
This is an important point that deserves greater development in this essay. It’s something that the authors are nibbling around the edges of in several places, but might benefit from taking on in a more head-on way.
The essay might benefit from thinking through how the evolution of the internet in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has shaped the challenge of creating a democratic field of digital history. Digital history today exists in the 21st century attention economy, not in the media ecosystem that sustained earlier projects like The Valley of the Shadow.
As such, new projects compete for readers and “actual users” not only with hundreds of other DH projects, but also with social media, YouTube, and news outlets. Creating a substantial interplay between creators and audiences, which I take to be an important feature of democratic DH practice, requires thinking through how a project will compete in this attention economy. An under-explored feature of DH commentary, I think, is that a significant number of meaningful DH projects fail to develop a consistent audience and are lost in the ether of the eternal scroll. This almost certainly contributes to problems of obsolescence as well. Is focusing on working with communities, (as you discuss in paragraph 44) rather than “audiences,” a way of addressing this challenge?
[Building a textbook is as easy as signing up for WordPress. Inviting mass collaboration is as easy as installing a CommentPress plug-in. Encouraging students to communicate with a text—and with each other—is as easy as a one-click Hypothes.is install. A personally curated exhibit is as easy as a visit to a digital humanities librarian and an installation of the Omeka platform.]
Again, the authors have opened themselves up to charges of overstating their case here. As the authors well know, there’s massive labor involved in building a textbook. Inviting mass collaboration may be easy, but actually building it is another thing. Collaborative annotation and digital pedagogy is great, but creates its own pedagogical challenges. None of these things is simple, in my experience, and require thoughtful preparation, rather than the impulsivity of clicking a button. The authors know this, of course. But I think the language here almost reads as a bit techno-utopian.
Despite the push for open computing, early personal computer networks relied on telephone companies’ lines, which were privately owned. It is worth noting, perhaps, that the “open” hacker ethos needed a commercial infrastructure in which to function.
If I am reading this correctly, the authors imply — what is the good of making documents digitally accessible if we do not cultivate an audience that actively uses those documents?
I like that democratization is being taken up, front and center. As I read, I am also thinking about democratization as it relates to digital history scholar’s positionality within the university ecoystem of power and influence.
How does the a person’s rank, network, and university affiliation (R1 versus Ivy versus resourced versus under-resourced) promote or impede their access to fulfilling the possibilities of digital history guarantees?
Aha! You have touched on an important aspect. Resources. Access. Staff availability.
Do departments have ArcGIS licenses? Can they distribute to students as they learn the tool?
Are there faculty to teach Python, Gephi, GitHub navigation? And if so has their pedagogical expertise provided a form of instruction that allows students to explore the tools in meaningful ways? Pedagogy is key here. Many students need structure and close guidance as they venture into learning these digital tools. Good to see them listed here.
Yes. Often, “institutions re-articulate capitalist logics in ways that reflect a kind of new digital humanitarianism” that is cloaked in technological advancement.
How do the promises of tech reach the student, the public? And how can practicioners assure that those with the skills are recognized and supported for their contributions to digital history projects? Beyond cv lines?
quote is from “New Frontiers of Philanthro‐capitalism: Digital Technologies and Humanitarianism” by Ryan Burns
And yet, our field still contends with the vestiges of Ulrich B. Phillips and other’s afterlives–who is given credibility over the the recognized authority of interpretation of major historical events? We all can agree that the 1619 Project revealed that the field of history still remains tethered to an idea that only certain historians can tell certain stories.
Ed Folsom and Kenneth Price. Why not name them as others early adopters have been named?
Important to note this. Yes openness. To what extent is openness allowed in our current moment within institutions endeavoring to mark their own dh footprint? Is oppeness about access? Is openness about the composition and arrangement of project teams? Is openness about the discipline? Open access to archives for units of historical study is one thing, but applying them to certain digital humanities tools is another. We can all use the Dave Rumsey mapwarper to crudely georeference a map.
But if you take that map to a geographer who specializes in GIS that geographer will be concerned with the Root mean square error on the map which is the standard deviation of the residuals (prediction errors) for control points; that measure of how far from the regression line data points are.
So when we approach tools from a digital humanities perspective independent of discipline it is open, but once we delve further into the intricacies of protocols within disciplines where these tools find their home–not so open. Very controlled and governed by rigid principles of application.
This is true, and beyond the discussion of cost which often predominates, there is an issue of user privacy that goes into certain OER software platforms.
Orlando requires a subscription to access: http://orlando.cambridge.org/public/svDocumentation?&d_id=HOWTOSUBSCRIBE
I see how this quotation sounds like it could come out of a Silicon Valley pitch, but the entire comment from which it was pulled doesn’t read that way to me. The author celebrates the margins and the “freakshow” in arguing against being subsumed by the institution.
I’d like to see a little more analysis of each of these quotations. What view of democracy does each advance? Also, I might cite an historian rather than an information studies scholar unless the point is to describe the wider discourse around democratization, scholarship, and the internet.
How is “positive” meant here?
[The Women’s Writers Project]
Couldn’t it be argued that providing access to works by underrepresented authors enables wider participation and serves democracy?
This paragraph might present an opportunity for examining the relationship between open access and OER.
Of course, the NEH’s budget is dwarfed by the NSF’s and the NIH’s. Many DH projects struggle to find funding.
Is there any connection between the push to publish DH works openly and the larger effort among university presses to explore open access models? Why were some DH scholars keen to publish openly anyway?
[Advocates of OER]
I think it would be more precise to say advocates of open access; Fitzpatrick, for example, primarily focuses on scholarship.
This paragraph helps explain *why* scholars and libraries support open access, but the motivations could be explained further, or the topic sentence could point to the desire to promote greater engagement with scholars and the public.
I’m also confused by this paragraph. If academics earn income through their academic positions rather than from the publishing system, wouldn’t it be preferable for them to be able to give their work to the commons and thus enhance their own reputations?
The authors are right to point to barriers to participation based on gender, race, and sexual identification. I’d also note the problem of uncompensated labor; see, for example, the critique of crowdsourcing projects.
I’d be interested in learning more about The American Yawp. How does it embody the democratic ethos– in addressing barriers to knowledge? in promoting collaboration?
[Toniesha L. Taylor]
Now at Texas Southern University
[ democracy isn’t some fortunate byproduct of technological advancement.]
So what would it take for the above-mentioned projects to promote democratization?
Are you reluctant to name them in this paragraph?
How much of being “free” and (unfair) perceptions of “low quality” has to do with the limits of time and labor? Do you think this has shifted in the past decade or so since Rosenzweig’s (extremely insightful) article?
This is very intriguing, and clearly is a valuable contribution! These terms though can have multiple meanings depending on audience, field of study etc. so a clear, brief definition of each one (how you are using ‘open licensing’ as opposed to ‘open access’ for example) would be extremely helpful and avoid getting bogged down in debates over terminology. This could be in notes.
This roadmap is really useful.
Ditto to here — it might seem redundant, but it would be helpful to me to understand how you are approaching/framing/deploying this term.
This reference is great, could be an opportunity to develop a little further, either conceptually or theoretically, the implied link here to Dewey?
Why? I’d like to know your thoughts, or gesture to them here if not expanded upon later.
I think there needs to be a little push-back, or pulling back the curtain, here: why are publishing mechanisms embracing open access? How do the finances work for them to do so?
How does this engage/parallel or not with the work of someone like Johann Neem and neoliberalism/the nation state and “vast Early America”/business schools etc.?
How do you envision this?
I’m struck by the academic elite (all R1) origins of this ‘democratic’ thinking. Maybe some analysis of how it was, in some way, a mark of privilege to be able to do this kind of work in the late-1990s and early aughts. Perhaps that’s still true.
One can access scans of the printed volumes of the DHRC freely through the editors’ institutional home, UW-Madison(http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/History/History-idx?type=browse&scope=History.CSAC) as well. This is a very different experience, though, from using the Rotunda edition.
[If much early work in digital history was grounded in the radical democratic vision of the 1960s and 1970s, much of the contemporary push for digitization of scholarship and pedagogy borrows equally from neoliberal mania for “disruption” and libertarian notions of techno-futurism.]
Much of the first 1/3rd of the essay is about what the term has meant to the historical profession and the work it did in the early years of digital history. But it drops out from the middle third of the essay. I think we need a discussion of how ideas of democracy evolved (generally, not just as democracy related to DH) from the heyday of the New Left to now, and especially from the “end of history” cloud of the late-90s/early-2000s to now.
I agree here with Trevor – and I would recommend taking a look at some of the early grants and projects associated with CHNM in the 90s. Many of these are available in the RRCHNM 20th Anniversary archive and I think will be helpful in fleshing out the focus on producing materials for a range of audiences. https://20.rrchnm.org/
I think another element the authors might consider here is the flirtation with alternative means of publication through venues such as blogging and journal platforms that experimented with “post-publication” peer review.
I’m happy to see Leon’s article cited here but I’d echo calls for some of the history that she outlines to be integrated earlier in the article.
One aspect of democratization that the authors may want to consider is the possible conflict between democratizing the producers of history and the consumers, as they aren’t always the same and sometimes contradictory.
As AHR editor, I am glad to see this comment. Thanks, Jordan.
This is a good point. But as an editor who remains troubled by the “free labor” issues, I want to point to an important distinction. In any published scholarly article there are two levels of value-added labor. First is the uncompensated work of peer reviewers–like all of you–that represent the basic moral economy of scholarly exchange. But once an article has been through that process, before it can appear as published scholarship it undergoes another value-added process. It has to be fact-checked; edited for infelicitous and/or confusing prose; copy-edited for errors; typeset; proofread; corrected; and “published.” None of this is frictionless; none of it happens automatically; and all of it requires some level of paid labor. Any discussion of “open access” must take account of this, and not pretend that once we have done what we are doing here the article will magically appear on-line without any “editorial” work being done on it.
[the historical profession has rarely stopped to take critical stock of not only of open education resources (OER), but the rise of digital history itself. The field of digital history is most often still discussed in the future tense, in terms of the scholarly promises of emerging technologies and practices, rather than through reflection upon the rewards reaped by what is now several decades of academic labor]
I think these phrases/sentences do a disservice to this article by making it appear that you are going to try to offer a sweeping assessment (claimed as unique) of “the rise of digital history itself.” That would be both overambitious, and rely on a straw man. One could as well counter: why are we still writing about assessments of the rise of digital history in the future tense, when actually quite a few such assessments not only have been written but are cited in this piece?. Anyway my relevant point here is that the target of this particularly essay is something far more helpfully specific than “the rise of digital history itself.” Trim to make this focus clear? “Thirteen years after Rosenzweig’s plea, technological innovation, institutional resources, professional norms, and shifting scholarly attitudes have converged to prove Rosenzweig right: history can be open source. Scores of digital projects have provided free, high-quality, peer-reviewed digital historical material: have hopes for a triumph of “democracy” through information access been borne out? Placing the past and present landscape of digital projects in historical and institutional context–and evaluating their inconsistent, often problematic, and yet foundational democratic aspirations–this article moves beyond questions of technological innovation and digital access to engage more fundamental and intractable questions about inequality, community, and participatory historical inquiry.” ??
Libertarians and people whose politics were difficult to classify (e.g., Whole Earth Catalog adherents) also contributed to the early computing environment. You might mention this in passing, even as you emphasize the New Left strain of computerized history.
And imposing more labor on support staff for which they may not be adequately compensated.
I suppose the question now is if, and how, the Ivory Tower will survive COVID disruptions.
This is a really important point. Calling for people to learn how to code without providing the infrastructure is a meaningless invocation of democracy.
I only made a few suggestions on the original, and I find that the authors did not do much with them. My biggest concern was the need for them to make a clear statement about their focus on the American story and developments to the exclusion of much reference to or appreciation of non-American thinking and work. As I mentioned in my original comment, I understand their interest in telling the American story, but I thought that some brief attention to a comparative context would help make sense of what distinguished the American experience. This might be handled in a footnote so that readers will appreciate there is more than the American side, especially because the authors do point to several instances of Canadian and European work in making their case. Perhaps a few lines on the matter, in the footnote where they mention it, would do the trick for now. At some point a comparative essay would be instructive, but that’s for another day. In my original comments I also suggested the authors might reference community-generated and community-based digital humanities and history projects, which are often very “democratic” in purpose, personnel, and audience and have encouraged academic engagement. Again, this subject is worth its own essay, but some nod to the phenomenon here would help provide a fuller sense of what “democratic digital history” means, or might mean. My other concern was getting a working definition of “democracy,” from the authors, which they have provided.
So, for what it’s worth, I still think the authors have provided a telling and timely article worth publishing. It will generate much interest, comment, and subsequent work. My particular concerns should not stand in the way of its publication, however much I would like those few extra sentences to enhance the authors’ arguments and to remind us there is more than an American and an academic-generated world out there.
The point at the end of this paragraph seems to me to be at the heart of this essay, and I wish this point had been stated more clearly and expanded upon earlier.
I think that this essay will be more powerful with a stronger call to arms. “Install WordPress and Omeka,” while great, isn’t inspiring me to action. What specifically needs to change in order for this democratic vision of history to become reality, and what can the readers of this essay do in order to make that happen? As a reader, I feel overwhelmed with the limitations, challenges, and problems with a democratic DH. Indeed, I’m left feeling that the only hope for a democratic future for the U.S. historical profession is a more fundamental transformation of American society.
Additionally, I continue to find the “as easy as” refrain a bit grating. In part, it may be echoes of the techno-utopian “There’s an app for that” sentiment. In my experience with these tools, though, it’s not that they are “easy” but “take work, too.” It’s that they are accessible, but that turning such accessibility into something meaningful is where the hard work comes in.
This paragraph reminded me that Tocqueville famously (and incorrectly) wrote that democratic societies, and Americans in particular, value equality over liberty. Academic history’s values seem to be something near the obverse of Tocqueville’s formulation. Without a pretty thorough restructuring of higher education, which seems unlikely to come anytime soon, it’s hard to imagine that a more expansive culture of open access in history wouldn’t extend existing inequities.
I haven’t checked each of the many authors cited in this essay of course, but I suspect that most if not all of them are writing from tenure-track or tenured positions. For historians on the outside of academic privilege looking in, DH and OA carry mixed blessings: greater access to other historians’ works, but also rising expectations and significant barriers to the production and publication of historical knowledge. Author publication fees are just one part of this—many bright, talented historians are unable to produce the exciting DH and OA projects of which they’re capable because they simply don’t have access to the institutional resources of an Armitage, Limerick, Ayers, Thomas, Darnton, etc.
In this sense, DH can be an anti-democratic or anti-egalitarian influence on history, by raising the costs of producing history beyond the capacity of the growing ranks of historians who cannot hire a research assistant and a web designer or who cannot afford to spend the summer learning GIS or R. While this essay does usefully think through access, questions of labor and production (though expanded from the original draft) still appear to be underdeveloped to me. Perhaps that’s because they’re so intractable, though.
I agree with Jordan Taylor that the paragraph above is at the heart of the essay and that making that argument stand out more would benefit. But I think the point that the changes to the historical profession would require changes in American society is an important one because it shows the value of this piece and amplifies the so what. The frustration over how efforts to democratize digital humanities often go unacknowledged and unrewarded comes out in these two paragraphs at the end. The cui bono inquiry captures that frustration. As a non expert in digital humanities and digital history, wrestling with that frustration and its relation to democratization (or anti-democratization) efforts in our society and institutions gets at why this piece matters. It is informative as a state of the field piece but also with a call that we need to be aware of how these efforts are formed, employed, and coopted.
For a reader who works outside the world of digital history, the authors have located (what seemed to me) an opaque and vague concept–digital history–within a clear and concrete material history. By offering a political, institutional, and economic narrative of the rise, challenges, limits, and possibilities of digital history, the authors have proven the democratic uses of historical work. I now feel equipped to engage in debates and projects that engage digital history–debates and projects I had previously avoided.
In this way, the authors have proven their point about the insufficiency of tech tools to expand democratic potential. Digitized data dumps are not enough (and the article provides valuable context for better appreciating the dangers and possibilities of the fully digital Obama archives). Historians, like the authors, continue to provide a major service to academics and broader audiences by synthesizing massive amounts of research and applying a coherent analytical framework. This type of work makes research and scholarship truly accessible. Will this article itself be open-access when it is published?
The authors are right to focus on the political economic context from which digital history emerges and the political economic context necessary to sustain meaningfully democratic and democratizing digital history. This work must be sustained by stable, functioning, and funded institutions of higher education that are committed to academic scholarship. Adjunctification within the corporate neoliberal institution is a tremendous threat to the democratization of digital history (and democracy more broadly) both within and beyond institutions of higher education.
Finally, this manuscript itself illuminates the promise and limits of the open review process. The enormous amount of feedback challenged even the editor, raising the question of when openness and transparency can actually be a barrier to entry, especially for readers working outside of the field.
The open review process also highlighted digital history’s (and the wider profession’s) reliance on unpaid academic work to produce new scholarship and the acute inequities that constitute the labor force in higher education: participation in this process might be considered a professional service and a unique opportunity to intervene in new scholarship for those who have won the academic lottery. However, the reliance on many more unpaid readers than the smaller number of readers contributing to the traditional review process might also underscore and exacerbate the labor hierarchy of those who have the time, institutional support, and financial stability to engage in this work and those who do not.
Many thanks to the authors for this generative and illuminating history of digital history, political economy, and democracy, and to the AHR for sparking this urgent public discussion.
I like when writers are up front about what they mean to accomplish in an article, and I think this one has some worthy, important goals. The article’s focus on not only providing a solid, state-of-the-field analysis but also how we value this kind of work and how we should value it is powerful and indeed, necessary.
I think the fact that the authors were willing to seriously consider and interrogate the production of this article makes for a more compelling piece. I don’t think we can have conversations about digital platforms and open-access work without also discussing what kind of work goes into creating scholarship for a “larger publishing ecosystem.” For me, it’s here that the article moves beyond tracing the rise of digital history and toward making a strong, important argument for why we must work to redefine what qualifies as academic labor.
This paragraph, especially drives home the possibilities of digital history. The paragraph that follows it is equally important, as it demonstrates that the authors have seriously considered how structural inequalities can and have shaped and constrained digital history.
The authors will want to review the administrative history of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at UNL. Professor William G. Thomass III was an important hire due to the pioneering efforts made at UVA, however the cdrh was established before his arrival. See here https://unlcms.unl.edu/cas/center-for-digital-research-in-the-humanities/about/creatingcdrh
It would be helpful to get all the urls in the notes marked up as links. The ones that aren’t (e.g. History Manifesto in n.42) are difficult to use: if I highlight one in order to copy and paste it, the page immediately scrolls up to the top of the notes, so I can’t see the context any more. (I’m using Firefox in Linux).
At the moment, “click here” leads to a 404 error.
The link has been fixed. Thanks, Amanda!
Thank you for the opportunity to read this revealing and rewarding manuscript and to comment on it in an open-review format. I approach my reading of this manuscript as an “outsider” of sorts in that I am not much conversant with the literature about digital history or digital humanities, though I have been involved in digital history projects in various venues and in various formats. That said, the invitation was/is for an open-review process, so the door was/is open for the likes of me.
My reading of the manuscript impressed me with the deep knowledge on the history of digital history that the authors convey and with their dedication to the “cause” of open-source publication, and the value of digital history as a calling and a discipline (which has somewhat of a crusading aspect to it in tilting against “the profession” and the persistence of the old ways of publishing). The comments of the knowledgeable readers point to much good that the manuscript does in laying out the issues and tracking the history but also to the need for clarification(s) of definitions, emphases in subject interest, and lines of argument.
But as an outsider and a very interested reader, please let me add a couple brief observations (really suggestions) that might be helpful in further contextualizing the issue and sharpening the focus by expanding the lens. They are:
The authors acknowledge that the vocabulary of “open access” and “democratization” remains unsettled, is sometimes confusing and contradictory, and demands more precision. Because of that, might it be useful to know what have been the prevailing or most “accepted” definitions of such and by particular interests at defining moments in the history of the digital humanities and digital history, and what are the dominant (can we use that word in discussing “democracy?”) working definitions today? Perhaps the authors might also want to stake out their own working definition(s) of such critical terms. In the case of “democratization,” it is not clear if it refers to the creation, distribution, and/or use of the digital history. Who or what makes anything “democratic” anyway, if there’s no understanding what that means and agreement on what that entails? Claiming such is not the same as being such, and creator, distributor, and user may have very different ideas about how “democratic” the project or product is or should be. Add funder in there to further complicate the problem of identifying and claiming parentage and purpose.
The authors spread their history across much intellectual and experiential territory but, from my reading, remain almost wholly focused on the “American” story and practice. The authors do make several references to developments outside the United States. In footnote 11, for example, they acknowledge their limited scope of inquiry, noting that digital humanities and open access operate in different contexts in Europe and the UK; they also reference the Canadian Orlando Project, which suggests there is something to learn from outside the USA; and they also point to the UNESCO call for open-source access, especially for developing countries, which suggests there might be some kind of worldwide standard for creating and making accessible open-source materials. These references are almost asides in the manuscript, and the authors offer no rationale for an almost exclusive American focus. One wonders how, if at all, ideas, interests, and experience elsewhere have informed American thinking, development, and practice. Or ought do so. And vice versa. The authors need not rethink and revise their manuscript to incorporate such matter into it in any significant way in this iteration of their thinking on the subject, but any further consideration ought to have a wider compass. We’re not alone in this effort. That said, for this manuscript, the authors might do more than simply acknowledge that there is a wider world; they might at least tell us why they’re focusing almost wholly and only on the American interest and experience and suggest the implications of doing such.
Finally, with all the interest in “democratization” and in the American experience, the authors might consider the history and place of community-based digital history – the kind of “bottom-up” and open-source history that has produced many and varied works, from the “virtual exhibit” of a people’s things, stories, places, to the digitization of documents in private hands that otherwise would never be available and “accessible,” to cite two obvious and common examples. By my reading of the manuscript, the concern is with validation by “the profession,” but what of validation by “the people” in their various communities in selecting, creating, and supporting projects emanating from their own interests, and who decides what counts in that? How do we in “the profession” value such work, and how do we (even dare we) claim any authority and “right” to do so? And what roles, if any, do we, or might we, have in collaborating in such people’s projects democratically? This question also relates to the reward systems in university life, where collaborating with non-professionals and working outside the normal channels of “publication” and recognition not only count for little but might even count against you. On the flip side, some schools are encouraging “community-based scholarship,” so there is opportunity for democratic engagement and collaboration that will bring recognition and reward at one’s institution and encourage more such work.
Again, this manuscript is timely and telling. For the “outsiders” like me it will be an eye-opener to the complexity of the issues attending open-source “digital history” and the sophistication of the arguments about it. It’s also a very readable manuscript. That’s worth a lot. There won’t be much democratization of digital or any history if we couch it in a language that excludes rather than reveals. The authors make their work accessible and thus knowable, which, after all, is the point of it all.
Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph’s University
This seems like a really valuable and exciting approach! From a pedagogical perspective, I would love to share this “looking under the hood” of how peer review works with my students, as I think it emphasizes the value of peer review to information and media literacies.
This open “editor’s letter” raised some interesting questions. In a blog post, Martin Paul Eve objects to some of the things I say in this paragraph about OA: https://eve.gd/2020/08/07/some-reflections-on-the-politics-of-open-peer-review/.
Our differences on this can be discussed elsewhere. For me, his post raises a troubling question about the open peer review process. normally, I craft this letter with a good deal of attention to the feelings and concerns of the author, who I would like to encourage and hope not to wound, even if some of the remarks I share can be harsh. Now, it seems, in an open process, I must craft this letter so that doesn’t offend any of the peer reviewers as well. That makes this an exceedingly difficult process. If this “open” pr were our usual peer review process, I would constantly be faced with a tough decision: do I tell the author what I think of the comments I share with them? If so, do I risk driving away future peer reviewers like Eve? Or do I send one private letter to the author, and post a public one–thereby negating the entire purpose of open review? These are calculations I would prefer not to have to make.
October 15, 2020 at 1:18 pm
See in context
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