Week 7 Reflection

The idea of being paid to create knowledge rather than to research seems to be a bit idealistic, but I can see where the DSSF program is coming from. When I think of being paid to research as an undergraduate, I think of the task-oriented style of researching with a professor in the sciences. I think of my friend who is doing political science research and assists her professor in what he asks of her. I don’t think of what we are doing.

Perhaps this is because this is the most open-ended form of research I have ever done. But I do think that there is something to be said about the way I get to do research through DH. I didn’t have to start with a thesis because it isn’t a paper. I started with a topic and let the research take me where it did. I don’t exactly think that this means that I was paid to create knowledge. If anything, I think that means I was paid to create a DH project, which ended up creating knowledge.

Sometimes I don’t think that I am adding that much more to the wealth of global knowledge. But I do think that I am bringing some information that people outside of the Gettysburg community would not be readily aware of, and that makes me feel like I am serving some purpose.

Burdick writes that “[o]pen-source culture possesses a multitude of facets and definitions, comprising many of the attributes already discussed: collaborative authoring, multiple versioning, flexible attitudes toward intellectual property, peer contributions, access to multiple and multiplying communities, and overall patterns of distributed knowledge production, review, and use.” (Burdick 77) The idea that someone, somewhere may view my project and become inspired to create something of their own makes me happy.

Rather than creating the knowledge of reenacting in Gettysburg, I am more proud of creating the knowledge that I can do this… that anyone can do this. The ivory tower is such an established thing, that any chance to dismantle that system is worth it.

Anyone can create knowledge. With or without digital humanities, anyone can create knowledge. Everyone’s experiences, ideas, thoughts, and beliefs add worth and knowledge to the world. In some ways, even though digital humanities are relatively more “open,” they aren’t that much more open.

To view my project, you have to have internet access. Most people that want to view my project would have to understand English. They would most likely have to be aware of digital humanities. That is already such a small population.

However, digital humanities is the next step towards creating a more open concept of knowledge. Twenty years down the line, what we view as ‘open’ will be so different. More people will have access to knowledge. At least, I hope so.

Can anyone speak and publish?

When anyone can speak and publish, there is going to be a lot more work out there. Digital Humanities is a field in which, hypothetically, anyone who wants to is able to do research on their own, and put it out on the web for others to see. The article authored by Burdick et. all discusses this idea of what happens socially when the power of publishing does not belong to higher institutions. They posit this idealist picture of the world in which anyone who wants is able to contribute to the vast sea of knowledge in our society. Digital Humanities promises to take away the traditional modes whereby you must be in a University, and you must have grants etc., to be published. But I wonder if it’s really possible to get away from this.

This summer we were able to take this fellowship because we would be paid to do research. For many people, work without pay is not an option. And those who are paid to do research are people attached to universities. Furthermore, we went through extensive workshops in order to learn the digital tools that we used to create our projects. Would someone out from the confines of a university have this luxury? Of course, there are ways to research the tools and teach yourself, but it may be a little unrealistic to assume that someone would go to these lengths. The fact is, is that doing this research has been a privilege and one that has been afforded to me because I am a college student at an institution who cares about research.

I think when the authors write about the Digital Humanities opening up scholarship, it is more likely that this is the case for professors who don’t want to go through the process of publishing a paper on any given topic, or a student who wants to write a scholarly blog. But I don’t think that the DH has taken scholarship out of academics and institutions. Right now, it is difficult to have the time or the skillset without funding and teaching in order to create a digital project.

Ideally, someday there will be more of a chance for a digital project to be born without the help of a university or institution. Maybe someday technology will become so second nature that lack of experience will not hinder anyone. Then anyone will be able to create a digital project and put it out on the web for anyone to see. This reminds me of an idea that I write about in my project. The more stories we have from other people; the more chance we have to understand something other than ourselves. But sometimes, when there are so many stories, it becomes difficult for us to understand any cohesive narrative. We enjoy making categories and putting things into boxes. It will be a difficult task to recognize that boxes do not fit everything. If everyone has the ability to create and publish, then we will have a great deal of information that we attempt, probably unsuccessfully, to categorize. It will potentially challenge our entire view of humanity.

Week Seven Reflective Essay

Among academic disciplines, DH stands out in its aim at inclusion of many communities of practice, with particular emphasis on communities outside of academia. Particularly in recent years, prominent practitioners of DH have been looks back at the discipline and trying to find ways to open it up further, but even they admit there is still quite a way to go. Moreover, while DH has been trying to open space for diversity, it has still largely remained within the confines of academia. While DH is not and need not be exclusive to academia, it tends to be used and explored in colleges and universities or by graduates of such institutions. This raises new questions about who gets a say in what constitutes DH but also what comprises it; if a majority of practitioners of DH projects — and especially those DH projects that get discussed in articles and forums — are from universities, have we moved very far from the dominance of the university press?

The authors of Digital_Humanities (significantly published through MIT press) are optimistic about DH’s ability to open explorations of knowledge to everyone and move beyond traditional expectations about information. At the same time, they claim that “the notion of the university as ivory tower no longer makes sense, if it ever did,” so perhaps their optimism comes from a particular view of the then-present state of information dissemination. Their argument about the “ivory tower” is that universities have been creating networks of thinkers since their inception, so they are, in that respect, inclusive. I argue that universities have been connecting thinkers of similar perspectives (with some notable exceptions, of course) because of their inextricable link to finance and class. Certain groups of people have the time, money, and other resources to send them to universities to develop their ideas, but those ideas are no more valuable than those of someone who has not been in the right circumstances for academia to be feasible. As a result, the network of ideas in academia is essentially (there are, of course, always exceptions) a closed web. DH has excellent goals for opening that web up to new ideas, but it cannot be ignored that DH was born in the ivory tower and tends to stay close to home.

I do not intend to be unnecessarily pessimist about knowledge creation in DH; I truly believe that, by its very nature, DH intends to make important changes in what scholars see as legitimate. I agree with the authors of Digital_Humanities when they write that “[t]he scope and scale of the Digital Humanities encompass a vast archipelago of specialized domains of expertise and conversation, but also open up the prospect of a conversation extending far beyond the walls of the ivory tower that connects universities to cultural institutions, libraries, museums, and community organizations.” I appreciate that this sentiment acknowledges that many DH practitioners are academics with a particular interest they want to share in new ways. I also think that emphasis on possibility (specifically in the word “prospect”) is an important way to phrase their hopes for DH as a discipline. DH is incredible in its potential, but it is only successful when its practitioners maintain view of their goal, rather than preemptively patting themselves on the back for creating a possibility. At its worst, DH is a group of academics who have congratulated themselves for their inclusivity even as they have created equally esoteric projects; at its best, DH is a varied group of practitioners who continue to reevaluate the discipline to make sure that knowledge from all areas can be legitimized, discussed, and displayed.

Authorship and Authority

The DSSF program uses many readings to generate discussion. My first year participating in this program, we were given exactly one physical book to consult- Digital_Humanities. For this week’s posts, the fellows were asked to consider the third chapter and respond to a question raised by the authors. One that particularly interested me asked, “What happens when anyone can speak and publish? What happens when knowledge credentialing is no longer controlled solely by institutions of higher learning?”

The book points out great examples of knowledge that were produced online despite not being associated with an institution, with Wikipedia being the prime example. Wikipedia is free and open, it is a collaboration of minds across the world. And it is incredibly accessible. If I need to remember something I learned in middle school, it is easier to do a quick search for the relevant Wikipedia page than to comb through my copious notes I saved from those days. Despite its collaborative and informative model, I was taught to never trust Wikipedia as a source. While it is fallible, that is no reason to disregard all that it has to offer. It can always be improved. One of the workshops last year had the fellows create Wikipedia accounts and edit pages they were knowledgeable about. I chose to expand and add sources to the Gettysburg College page, and it has been improved further in the year since. Wikipedia may not be controlled by a vetted institution, but it does have a community working to make it better.

The openness of Digital Humanities can be worrying to some. Association with institutions and the traditional paths of publications are trusted sources. But the decentralization of knowledge creation does not mean that there is no  accountability. Communities exist to check the knowledge that is created, and they are not too different from the traditional ones. A point brought up that I had not truly considered before writing this response was that “the notion of the university as an ivory tower no longer makes sense, if it ever did.” institutions of higher learning have always been communities of people. Knowledge credentialing now has larger communities of viewpoints and expertise to draw from.

All that I just stated is a best case scenario. Humans are, after all, fallible. The knowledge we put forth into the world may be flawed or outright incorrect. This has serious implications when knowledge can so quickly be shared. False information is made true in a sense when enough people believe it. The social aspect of this change is what interests me most and seems most relevant in our media landscape. As the book points out, social media and the communities it creates can be used to bring people together, educate audiences, and even start revolutions. Increased avenues of authorship have increased the authority of those who use them. These platforms can be used to create scholarship, and are not just for social interaction. Documentary series exist on YouTube, and Twitter is full of communities of scholars who interact with the public.

There is a danger that people lacking authority will gain authorship. These platforms make this easier to achieve, and has implications beyond the academic. Responsibility must be taken to hold people accountable. The communities surrounding institutions of learning took on this role in the past. Now, the wider communities must take this responsibility and think critically about the information being put out into the world. When anyone can publish and speak, anyone can contribute critiques or edits.