stanford to accept digital dissertations

The Seal of Stanford Universitythis is great news for scholars – both graduate students and professors.

stanford university has decided to accept digital dissertations. that’s right, you heard me correctly:

Put away your checkbook. Don’t bother buying reams of acid-free paper. Just hit the “submit” button to digitally upload dissertations under a new program that begins in November.

i was a year (and 312 miles) too soon. i would have loved to have a policy like that in place last september.

in my ucla doctoral dissertation (now available as a book), i provided a new methodology for testing digital reconstructions of archaeological remains in virtual reality. in writing my digital humanities dissertation, i lamented the fact that original research involving three dimensional reconstructions that are able to show complex architectural development over time is not suited for a two-dimensional printed page. while i can describe the methodology involved, the actual model i describe requires an actual three dimensional space to in order to be visualized, and a fourth dimension of time is required to see the diachronic development of the site.

but the resistance to ‘digital’ forms of published dissertations lies not in the technology, but in the traditional skepticism of the academy of anything other than a typewriter typed dissertation on acid-free paper. i said as much in the conclusion of my book:

This research also realizes the overt incompatibility of publishing a book involving digital reconstructions in three-dimensional space in the traditional paper and ink format. It is, of course, highly ironic that this three-dimensional research is looked down upon by many, who prefer the time-honored, traditional medium of the printed book, which cannot fully convey the technological approach described within its pages. It is as incomplete as literally trying to describe a picture with a thousand words! Thus, the present research calls on scholars, publishers, dissertation committees, and departments of archaeology, architecture, and other related programs to make themselves more accommodating to newer digital forms of publication. As the word processor has replaced the typewriter, so too will digital and three-dimensional formats soon replace analog and two-dimensional formats for publishing archaeological materials. These new digital formats should not be seen as “alternative” or lesser means of publication, but as “progressive” media that are on the cutting edge of modern archaeological research. (Cargill, Qumran through (Real) Time, p. 217-18)

apparently, stanford is listening:

Speaking at the Oct. 22 Faculty Senate meeting, University Librarian Michael Keller said the digital world offers a “much greater palette of expression” to graduate students, because they will be able to include more graphics, color and character sets in their dissertations than in paper copies.

not only can doctoral students print their research with greater ease and at a lesser expense, but other scholars will have greater and cheaper (read: free!) access to the new dissertations:

“We were clearly in favor of a less expensive alternative to ProQuest and one that has far greater intellectual reach through some agreement with Google or some other Internet carrier,” Roberts wrote in an email message.

in addition to cutting down on paper costs, helping the environment, ridding the tedious process of printing out multiple copies of a 300-page document, and not having to pay pro-quest to re-digitize a paper dissertation that was originally written in digital format on a computer, digital dissertations will allow for the publication of more innovative technological research in the sciences and digital humanities. this process preserves the rigorous process of ensuring credible research approved by a disertations committee, but eliminates the hassles of printing, which are now nearly obsolete since most of us read others’ dissertations online anyway.

i applaud the move and encourage ucla to adopt a similar policy.

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