September 25, 2020 at 5:02 pm
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.
See in context
September 10, 2020 at 10:20 pm
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.
September 10, 2020 at 9:52 pm
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.
August 19, 2020 at 11:52 am
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.
August 19, 2020 at 11:43 am
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.
August 11, 2020 at 3:09 am
This is a really important point. Calling for people to learn how to code without providing the infrastructure is a meaningless invocation of democracy.
August 11, 2020 at 2:53 am
I suppose the question now is if, and how, the Ivory Tower will survive COVID disruptions.
August 11, 2020 at 2:50 am
And imposing more labor on support staff for which they may not be adequately compensated.
August 11, 2020 at 2:39 am
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.
August 4, 2020 at 11:59 am
[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.” ??
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