Reader’s Report #3

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 *Note: The period for public comment ended April 10, 2020.*

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 This essay provides a useful historical perspective on the rhetoric of democratization and openness in digital humanities and digital history. With over 100 footnotes, the article plumbs the discourse around the digital humanities from the 1990s onward, offering a compelling synthesis. The writing is lively and engaging. I appreciate the authors’ commitment to openness, as exemplified both by participating in an open review process and by creating a well-respected history textbook.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 As rich as the essay is, its focus can be tightened, its terms can be better defined, and its analysis elaborated.

  1. 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0
  2. Focus: The essay seems to be pursuing two questions: 1) In what “ideological context” did open educational resources in history emerge? 2) To what extent does digital history/ digital humanities meet its democratic ambitions? Based on the second paragraph, I expected the essay to focus on 1, but the bulk of the essay actually explored 2. Each question is worthy, but I would suggest either choosing one or drawing a tighter connection between the two. If the essay is arguing that digital history could better achieve its democratic ambitions by emphasizing the creation of OER, it should make that argument more explicit and demonstrate how OER go beyond access to support democratic participation. I suspect that one reason archival and research projects receive more recognition and funding is that academia tends to value research over teaching.
  • 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0
  • Terminology: As several commentators have noted, sometimes the article conflates “digital history” and “digital humanities.” To what extent do the critiques of digital humanities apply to digital history? For example, does digital history, with its grounding in public history, better engage with communities?

    Likewise, the article sometimes uses “open access” and “OER” interchangeably, even though these movements emerged in different contexts. To avoid confusion, either provide clearer definitions of the terms early in the essay or tighten the focus. I’d also like to see a more specific analysis of the various forms of OER in history beyond textbooks (broadly construed). Projects like the Transatlantic Slave Trade database and Valley of the Shadow have become invaluable classroom resources and have offered lesson plans to facilitate their use in teaching. In addition, projects like History Engine enabled students to participate in writing publicly available micro-histories, and History Harvests engaged students in working with communities to publicly document their histories. What difference does a focus on learning (in the case of OER) rather than research (in the case of open access) make? Given the authors’ valuable work leading The American Yawp, I would be interested to learn more about what inspired it, how it works, and what impact it has had.
  • 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0
  • Analysis: I like how the essay begins by invoking Roy Rosenszweig’s important essay on Wikipedia, but I wonder if some of the tensions inherent in Wikipedia might be engaged more as a way of setting up the core arguments in the essay. Is Wikipedia democratic since it facilitates participation (with strict norms and protocols) and makes content accessible, or is it undemocratic because it tends to be dominated by white men, depends upon uncompensated labor, and can be used to spread misinformation? I don’t mean that this essay should become a critique of Wikipedia, but that it should engage more with the complexities of openness and participation in the digital environment.

    If the essay aims “to provide a critical evaluation of OER’s place in the historical profession,” I believe it should say a bit more about how history OER fits into the overall development of OER, e.g. initiatives such as MIT OpenCourseWare, funders such as the Hewlett Foundation, repositories such as MERLOT, licenses such as Creative Commons, etc. What values motivated the development of OER, and how do these values compare to the ones shaping digital history?

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 From my perspective, the claims about the institutionalization of digital humanities seem somewhat overstated. Grant funding remains relatively modest, there still aren’t many DH faculty positions, and there continue to be debates about the legitimacy of DH. The humanities also seem to be behind many other disciplines in embracing open access publishing. For example, while there are some notable open monograph publishing initiatives, most humanities books are still published on a traditional model.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The essay points aptly summarizes many of the criticisms of digital humanities, such as  its failure to engage in cultural critique (see also Alan Liu), the biases inherent in technology, its lack of representativeness, and other issues. I think it’s also worth noting that many of the best-funded projects have focused on the canon (see, for instance, Amy Earhart’s “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon”).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 While I am sympathetic to the argument that projects focused on access fail to achieve the democratic hopes of digital history, I would like to see further analysis of this claim. I think it is fair to argue that many DH projects fail to engage communities and thus to ensure that their work has an impact. But isn’t access to knowledge at least part of what is required to have a democratic society, so that citizens can be more informed and meaningfully contribute to decision making?

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 The essay implies that projects that aim to innovate are neoliberal. But can’t innovative approaches also serve democratic values, whether by giving us new ways to see patterns in data from a feminist perspective or by creating platforms that recognize indigenous forms of knowledge? That said, as part of the critique of innovation, the authors may want to point to projects that focus on maintenance rather than innovation (e.g. The Maintainers) or simplicity rather than technological sophistication (e.g. minimal computing). With regards to OER, I think discussing what approaches most benefit students would also make the point; given the range of skills and computing equipment, simple is often best.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 I would like to have a clearer sense of what would enable digital history to live up to its democratic hopes. What would a more democratic digital history entail: participation? If so, how do you navigate the questions about the ethics of unpaid labor that participatory (e.g. crowdsourcing) projects raise?

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 On the whole, I found this to be an insightful discussion of the rhetoric of access and participation in digital humanities. It addresses an important topic, draws from an extensive set of sources, and engages the reader with its lively writing. I found it to be a pleasure to read, since it stimulated my thinking about the core aims of digital history. With a tighter focus and further analysis, I think this will be a strong contribution to the discussion about digital history and openness.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Recommendation: Revise and resubmit

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Source: https://ahropenreview.com/HistoryCanBeOpenSource/readers-report-3/