steve kolowich at inside higher ed: on evaluating the digital humanities

Steve Kolowich has published an excellent piece entitled, “The Promotion That Matters,” on evaluating the Digital Humanities in Inside Higher Ed.

In it, he discusses the growing problem of evaluating scholarship within the Digital Humanities. The article is worth a read. Here are my initial comments:

The humanities have finally caught up to business, law, science, and medicine and have discovered methods both to digitize classical works in the Humanities, as well as employ the latest technologies and methodologies to generate new knowledge within the Humanities.

Of course, two persistent problems remain for new disciplines (and methods within disciplines):

  1. There are those who do not appreciate (or understand) the new technology and/or discipline. People always fear (or are at least skeptical of) that which they do not understand. This goes especially for established scholars who used traditional methods (read: typewriters and bound dictionaries) to generate their research. While these scholars are always looking for new and better ways to do their research, they are not often the first adopters of new technologies, and are therefore wary of them at the beginning. Until established scholars have had enough time to review research generated by new digital methods and deem it credible, they will rightly be skeptical of what the young digital humanists are doing.
  2. There is no accepted way to evaluate the research generated by scholars in the Digital Humanities. Since you cannot manage what you cannot measure, and since you cannot promote what you cannot manage, it is essential that those scholars who do understand the Digital Humanities make themselves available to serve on the rank, tenure, and promotion committees for scholars at neighboring institutions. In fact, there may be a small cottage opportunity for those willing to establish a Digital Humanities evaluation group within the academy.

One other thing: even if “Digital Humanities” fades as an independent discipline (which I believe it will), those humanists hired into established departments need peers with knowledge of the new technologies and methodologies to evaluate their research. As a digital humanist hired into a traditional department within the Humanities (Classics and Religious Studies), it is understandably difficult to find a classical philologist or medieval religious historian who understands virtual reality and 3D digital reconstruction of archaeological remains. For this reason, many universities like UCLA (Center for Digital Humanities) and Iowa (Digital Studio for Public Humanities) have established centers for the Digital Humanities where scholars trained in both traditional Humanities disciplines and new digital approaches to the Humanities research can assist scholars with Digital Humanities research.

Give the article a read.

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