Introductory Remarks for the Inaugural Blogger and Online Publication Session at the 2010 Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting

Introductory Remarks for the Inaugural Blogger and Online Publication Session at the 2010 Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting
Robert R. Cargill, Presiding
November 22, 2010, 1:00-3:30 PM
Room: A702 – Marriott Marquis

Society of Biblical LiteratureI’d like to welcome each of you to this inaugural “Blogger and Online Publication” section at the 2010 SBL annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

Each of our presenters today represents a specific look at the history, present state, and future of blogging and online publication.

We shall also be passing around a plate to take up a collection for the use of this projector, which apparently sets the SBL back about $400 a day.

Before we begin, I’d like to acknowledge two people who are largely responsible for this new session. The first is the SBL Manager of Programs, Charlie Haws, who worked diligently to make this session possible. His foresight and recognition that the academy must embrace the reality and power of blogging and online publication was not only courageous within the established academy, but an acknowledgment of the reality that this new medium brings an interactive, scholarly discussion about biblical literature, religion, theology, and archaeology directly to the public from each of our own unique points of view. So to Charlie Haws I offer my heartfelt thanks.

The other individual I’d like to acknowledge was here for ASOR last week, but had to return home. He was the driving force behind guiding this Blogging and Online Publication session from concept to reality. That man is Jim West. Jim’s persistence and hard work behind the scenes made this session possible. Whether you love him or hate him, you read him, (whether you admit it or not), and Dr. West has easily become the most widely read Bible-related blog online (as he regularly reminds us). I’d like to offer my heartfelt thanks to the ever vigilant, ever present commentator of all things Zwingli and totally depraved, and if I may proudly add, my friend, Jim West. Thank you Jim.

We’ll have time for a few questions at the end of each presentation, but there will be an additional few minutes for discussion at the end of the session where you may direct additional questions to any of the presenters.

With that, our first paper will be presented by Dr. James Davila of University of St. Andrews in Scotland entitled, “What Just Happened:  The Rise of “Biblioblogging” in the First Decade of the Twenty-first Century.”

Our second paper will be presented by Dr. Christian Brady, Dean of Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania entitled, “Online Biblical Studies: Past, Present, Promise, and Peril.”

Our third paper will be presented by Dr. Michael Barber of John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego, California entitled, “Weblogs and the Academy: The Benefits and Challenges of Biblioblogging.”

Our fourth paper will be presented by Dr. James McGrath of Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana entitled, “The Blogging Revolution: New Technologies and their Impact on How we do Scholarship.”

Our final paper will be presented by me, Robert R. Cargill of UCLA, entitled, “Instruction, Research, and the Future of Online Educational Technologies.”

Instruction, Research, and the Future of Online Educational Technologies – SBL 2010 Paper by Robert Cargill

Instruction, Research, and the Future of Online Educational Technologies
Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.
UCLA Center for Digital Humanities
Monday, November 22, 2010
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Atlanta, GA
(audio)

I’d like to conclude this session by speaking for a moment about instruction, research, and the future of online educational technologies.

Patricia Cohen's New York times article entitled, "Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches"

Patricia Cohen's New York times article entitled, "Digital Keys for Unlocking the Humanities’ Riches"

Just this past Tuesday in the NY Times, Patricia Cohen wrote an excellent piece about how instructors like many of us in the Humanities are beginning to embrace online digital technologies, which are now commonly referred to as the “Digital Humanities.” Like many previous new innovations in education, early adoption of the Digital Humanities as a legitimate and perhaps stand-alone field of study has seen a mixed reaction.

There are those like Princeton historian Anthony Grafton, who argue that the Digital Humanities are means to end, and not ends in themselves. However, I’d like to argue that while a definition of “technology” as a set of tools most certainly satisfies that characterization, “Digital Humanities” has quickly become a burgeoning discipline in its own right. That is, while various technologies can be used as tools to improve instruction and research within existing higher education pedagogical approaches, the Digital Humanities as a field of study proposes new pedagogical approaches to education. So while many scholars are asking how technology can assist with their existing courses and approaches to instruction and learning, Digital Humanities scholars ask how these new technologies fundamentally change how one does instruction. It is the difference between laying technology on top of a course, and rethinking a course from the ground up in light of these new technologies.

In addition to instruction, instructors embracing the Digital Humanities are leading the charge to discover new forms of research that were simply not possible prior to the advent of modern technology, crowds, clouds, and social networking. Brett Bobley, director of the National Endowment of the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities stated to the New York Times, “Technology hasn’t just made astronomy, biology and physics more efficient. It has let scientists do research they simply couldn’t do before.”

Qumran through (Real) Time by Dr. Robert R. Cargill (Gorgias Press, 2009)

My research with the digital reconstruction of Qumran developed a new, quantitative approach to dealing with very large quantities of archaeological data that had previously been offered to the public only as in disparate chunks or individual reconstructions pushing particular viewpoints and interpretations. A new approach, specifically, a way by which to model multiple interpretations for multiple archaeological loci at multiple periods in time, each preserving the archaeological remains in a transparent and easy-to-access manner, was only made possible by employing the Digital Humanities, specifically, three–dimensional digital modeling, to capture the archaeological data published in primary and secondary literature in a database, model it, and make it available in real time. Thus, in my research, the Digital Humanities did not replace archaeology; it was a tool, a methodology by which to process and represent the data used within an existing discipline. However, the capacity to do this kind of visualization research, and to use it not only for instructional display, but for research as well, was only made possible by the advent of modern visualization technology. In that regard, the Digital Humanities can be said to be an independent field and approach to the processing of archaeological data in its own right.

Regardless of which way you lean on the Digital Humanities debate – a set of tools within existing disciplines or a burgeoning, independent field of study of its own – the greater problem has been the dissemination of this information. There simply was no established outlet to publish my data – either in a public or academic setting. Imagine attempting to communicate an idea to another person, but not being able to speak, write, type, or sign. That is to say, the technology used at the cutting edge of research in some fields has outpaced the vehicles needed to publish the results appropriately.

I lamented this in my book, Qumran through (Real) Time, when I stated:

A problem of scribal technology persists. While technology for gathering and processing information has advanced almost exponentially, the accepted means of communicating this new information is stuck in a scribal format that is literally thousands of years old: the written word. Scholars have yet to adopt alternative means by which to receive and redistribute information developed and communicated in three-dimensional format. Far too many scholars are insisting that technologically minded scholars communicate digital information by analog means. Digital journals and online publications are a step in the right direction, but even these new digital publications are made to look like the traditional written pages of journals in many instances, rather than harness and utilize the interactive connectivity and visual capabilities available on the Internet. (Cargill, Robert, Qumran through (Real) Time, (Gorgias, 2009), 69-70.)

Later, I lamented:

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! (Cargill, Robert, Qumran through (Real) Time, (Gorgias, 2009), 217.)

We are left with problem of trying to convince and perhaps compel an academy that clings to tradition and traditional ways of doing things to adopt modern forms of digital publication. The root of this problem lies in the fundamental incentive and motivation for scholars to publish: profit on the one hand, and tenure and promotion on the other.

In order to alleviate the academy’s resistance to adopting digital forms of online publication, we must target the motivation. Few scholars make large sums of money selling academic books. Those who have discovered ways to make money by selling books are facing the reality of a shifting publishing industry.

However, for most scholars, the motivation for publishing articles and books lies not in the income generated by studies of the variant forms of Aramaic verbs in Targums, but in the potential for promotion and tenure at our universities. Unfortunately, many tenure-granting universities still only acknowledge print-published volumes as “legitimate” when considering tenure and promotion, thumbing their noses at “digital” or “online” publications, which causes many scholars considering publishing online in digital formats to resist and instead publish their work in traditional paper and ink peer-review journals. Academic prestige still lies in the print-published textbook, not in digital, online course, and therefore, young scholars – those who are most likely to adopt new technological approaches and methodologies – opt for the status quo and publish their work in traditional journals, thereby thwarting progress and innovation in exchange for the safety and acceptance of an academy, which is only now beginning to experience the manifestation of its failure to adapt to and embrace the advance of online and digital forms of publication.

Let us look at what has happened to different forms of publishing.

  • Dot coms obviously were empowered by and embraced digital publishing and communication and have thrived.
  • Brick-and-mortar businesses panicked when they first saw that Internet start-ups were quickly eating into their business. They solved this dilemma by buying up the Internet start-ups and re-branding them as their own.
  • Newspapers did not and perhaps could not adapt to digital means of publication, and many have failed fantastically in record numbers. Those news outlets who have made the transition to online print may have survived, but not before yielding their market position at the top to upstart news outlets, integrated blogs, and news aggregators like the Drudge Report, Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast, which by the way just this week announced it had merged with Newsweek (remember them) and will be the online face of the venerable Newsweek, which only earlier this year was purchased for one dollar.
  • Book publishers saw the writing on the wall and are only now embracing e-books. As evidence, I’ll point you to this statistic: this year marked the first year that Amazon.com sold more e-books than it did printed books. If this stat is shocking to you, you probably work for a university. The world has transitioned to e-books, online journals, and handheld devices.
Dr. Jim West debunks the myth that scholars "curl up by the fire with their leather bound books." Here, Dr. West curls up on the couch in his Snuggie and laptop.

Dr. Jim West debunks the myth that scholars "curl up by the fire with their leather bound books." Here, Dr. West curls up on the couch in his Snuggie and laptop.

This leaves the academy, which is only now beginning to seriously ask the question: “what’s happening?” As scholars, we cling to our books, and recite the now classic line that “I can’t curl up next to the fire with a laptop like I can a book.” And despite the romanticism of fireplaces and leather-bound books filling libraries smelling of rich mahogany (thank you Will Ferrell), the fact is that we scholars now get the bulk of our news online, do our research on JSTOR, digital libraries, Google, and even the ever-improving Wikipedia, we write in Microsoft Word, teach with PowerPoint or Keynote or Prezi, we email one another without end, and have not only have joined and created academic networks on Facebook, but have adopted our own scholarly version of Facebook complete with an integrated content management system called Academia.edu. The fact of the matter is, scholars do not do their research, teach their classes, or talk to colleagues curled up next to the fireplace. We do it in our beds with our laptops, online like everyone else.

The world has gone online. It did so ten years ago, and the academy is quickly being left behind. In fact, we are so far behind, we are quickly being replaced by online universities, who have embraced and been empowered by online publication. And while we mock online universities, they are raking in record profits and expanding their course offerings, while traditional brick-and-mortar universities are standing idly by watching their funding being cut, their endowments shrink, their lecturers laid off, their scholarships trimmed, and their tenure-track positions not being re-opened as the last generation retires.

The academy must embrace online publication before it goes the way of the Library of Alexandria – a noble memory about which proud legends are told, but that no longer exists!

Thus, the challenge is to convince tenure-granting committees to accept digital forms of publication as not only legitimate forms of academic publication, but to accept it as the preferred vehicle for publication – one that not only publishes the results of research thereby creating knowledge, but effectively markets this knowledge by disseminating it in a manner that can compete with rival forms of lesser-informed knowledge being peddled to students and the public by various political, religious, and business entities.

It is to the university’s advantage to publish in a form that best disseminates new ideas and research, while preserving a university’s most important asset: its brand, which is the symbol of a university’s credibility.

There has been a paradigm shift in the management of knowledge. In the past, the credibility of an institution, be it a university, temple, or secret society, resided in how one hoarded and preserved sacred knowledge. However, modern repositories of knowledge like Google and Wikipedia are evidence that this paradigm has shifted. Today, knowledge management credibility lies with the institution that gives the most information away for free. Today, while we still may brag about how many $140 Brill volumes we have in our libraries, the truth is we more often tell one another about the latest place online to get tons of new, credible information for free.

The paradigm has shifted from one of hoarding knowledge to one that freely disseminates knowledge. As such, the number of scholars using blogs, message boards, wikis, and social networking are increasing exponentially. And as a greater number of scholars publish online, the credibility of online publishing is raised. Likewise, scholars are slowly realizing that it is better for their scholarship to publish their research online where it is available for free or at very low cost, than it is to limit the visibility of their research to $140 volumes that only libraries purchase. Publishing online and marketing one’s research with meta-tags and keywords that push this research to search engines puts the research in front of the eyes of other scholars and the public, spreading the ideas widely, and therefore maximizing the chance that a scholar’s new idea is adopted as a consensus view. This is the new paradigm of the creation, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge, and it is only made possible by the efficiency and speed of socially networked online publication.

In my book, Qumran through (Real) Time, I offered a challenge to universities:

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, Robert, Qumran through (Real) Time, (Gorgias, 2009), 217-18.)

If we can convince tenure-granting committees of the benefits of online publishing, the profit motive or benefit will have been altered in such a way to incentivize digital publishing, which will in turn market and promote the research of scholars who publish digitally.

Now that we’ve identified the problem, allow me to offer three solutions to the question: how do we go from traditional, ink-on-paper volumes that tenure-granting committees love, but few people outside of professional conferences read, to online, digital publications that a) preserve the brand and credibility of the institution, the scholar, and the data; b) enhances the published research by disseminating results in such a manner that simply could not have been offered in traditional ink-and-paper printed volumes; and c) promotes that research online so it can compete with the information peddled by religious hucksters, alien enthusiasts, and the RNC (or DNC – either way, they’re both totally depraved)?

You have heard many other ideas about blogging here today. The three solutions I propose now directly address publishers, authors, and instructors.

The first solution addresses publishers. Quite frankly, we need more online journals, better online journals, and authors need to publish for them. There are many journals that have online presences like the Journal of Biblical Literature or the Journal of Semitic Studies, but one must pay or even join these organizations in order to read their online versions of these journals. However, online journals like the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures and Bible and Interpretation solicit credible, scholarly research and make it available directly to all audiences – scholars and the public alike – for free. I would like to suggest that online journals (who may or may not also publish printed versions) who make their content available for free will not only experience a wider readership, and thus experience greater exposure for the ideas of scholars publishing in them, but will gain a reputation as the source of new, credible ideas, and because of this will gain a loyal readership and may, if they have one, experience increased membership because people like to be affiliated with successful, credible organizations like the SBL. In this sense, the free dissemination of information drives a journal’s or an organization’s credibility.

In addition to requiring a dedicated editor to publish these journals, the problem with publishing online journals is soliciting quality material from credible scholars to publish with them. Therefore my second solution addresses authors.

"The Dynamics of Change in the Computer Imaging of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Ancient Inscriptions" by Dr. Bruce Zuckerman, USC.

"The Dynamics of Change in the Computer Imaging of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Ancient Inscriptions" by Dr. Bruce Zuckerman, USC.

When appropriate, authors need to publish data digitally using media that best convey the results of their research. This is especially true for those of us in the Digital Humanities doing digital research that can only be done with the rise of computers, virtual reality, and the internet. One excellent recent example of this is a paper published by my friend and colleague at USC, Dr. Bruce Zuckerman, entitled “The Dynamics of Change in the Computer Imaging of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Ancient Inscriptions,” available at the West Semitic Research Project’s Inscriptifact website. This paper, seen here, is a perfect example of a digital hybrid article.

Note how Dr. Zuckerman, with the help of USC’s Institute of Multimedia Literacy, created and article that preserves the look and feel of a traditional print media academic journal complete with page numbers, thereby doing nothing to undermine the credibility that is conveyed by the appearance of the traditional format. However, Dr. Zuckerman has embedded within the article digital media, including video animations that convey digital research and information that a traditional ink-and paper journal simply cannot. By publishing in this fashion, Dr. Zuckerman offers a transitional solution, which allays the fears of traditional scholars and publishers by preserving their format, but also harnesses the new technological advances available to scholarship. This form of publication will serve as a bridge or even perhaps the very vehicle transporting scholars from traditional forms of publication to the online world of digital publication.

My third solution addresses online instruction. It is now possible given technologies like iTunes U, to capture university lectures, assessments, and reading and resource materials in a digital format. Capturing these courses digitally via video lectures and free content management systems like Moodle, allows the technology sits atop the course, capturing it in such in a manner that it can be taught in person or online. By designing courses in this way, the same course can be taught by the same instructor to a room full of 100 students, or online to 10,000 students. This eliminates the apprehension exhibited by many tenured professors who worry that if online and distance education infiltrates brick-and mortar universities, they will have their jobs outsourced to online adjuncts or worse yet, to online, for-profit universities. Designing and capturing courses digitally, with an eye toward the hybrid or blended instruction, allows existing, experienced professors to become the distance learning instructors. By allowing the technology to capture existing university courses, the Digital Humanities can play a role in reclaiming undergraduate instruction from the for-profit universities and perhaps even eradicate them by offering better courses both in person and online.

I should also add that I believe the future of textbook publication is the future of online course management systems. The two will become integrated to such an extent, that the digital textbook will include online animations, hyperlinks to all key words and definitions, and assessments designed to test the reader’s comprehension of the material. The course management system, be it Blackboard, Sakai, or Moodle, will be the textbook. Students could pay to license the book, or will get the book as a part of the course tuition (creating a new pricing model for textbooks). In this manner, scholars and publishers can work together to embrace the changes on publishing, and write digital textbooks for courses that are inextricable from each other guaranteeing the integrity of the course content, and ensuring the jobs of the existing university faculty who agree to teach online.

If we can embrace this understanding of the Digital Humanities, and can convince university instructors – and specifically tenure-granting committees – to embrace digital publication as legitimate, then universities can establish the appropriate incentives needed to make online publication credible, and thereby save traditional universities from threats posed by cheaper, for-profit online solutions. The Digital Humanities will be less understood as a threat to existing disciplines within the Humanities and their scholars, and will be embraced more as a new tool in the ever-progressing evolution of Humanities instruction, if not a discipline in its own right.

Thank you.



thoughts on the sbl’s pay-per-projector policy

SBL Data Projector with Coin Slot

Is the SBL also among the tax collectors?

The Society of Biblical Literature has instituted a new policy at the 2010 annual meeting in Atlanta that charges presenters $25-$75 for the use of a data projector during a presentation. You heard me correctly, that’s $25-75 per presenter, per presentation, depending upon whether or not the presenter pre-paid by September 17.

Please allow me to express my profound displeasure with this decision in my own unique way.

Now, this fee is no surprise. The SBL actually unveiled this new revenue-producing scheme before the call for papers, and it was included in the online proposal form. You may remember this gem on the SBL website:

This year a nominal fee ($25 per item prior to June 15th) will be charged for each piece of Audio/Visual equipment requested. This will assist the SBL in covering a portion of the A/V costs for your session. Please request only the A/V equipment essential to your presentation to help us keep the meeting affordable for all members. Upon your paper’s acceptance, you will receive additional information on how to confirm equipment and pay for your A/V needs.

Most scholars either didn’t pay attention; read it, but didn’t bother to do or say anything about it (as scholars are oft wont to do); ignored it and planned on simply not paying when the bill came; or figured they’d do what faculty always do: complain about a new (albeit ridiculous) policy a week before crunch time rather than proactively write in dissent or objection to the policy in the early stages.

As the chair of the Blogger and Online Publication section (whose presenters, as one might expect, might actually employ the use of technology during their presentations), I was aghast at the notion that I needed to pay extra to give a presentation, when other presenters and attendees, who also benefit from other technologies like electricity, microphones, speakers, podiums, chairs, etc., were required to pay nothing. I chose not to pay the fee, and instead arranged to bring my own digital projector, extension cord, cables, etc., which I do every year. (Jim West has offered to do the same.)

SBL Data Projector Meter

This is what it has come to: the SBL is taxing those who create visually compelling presentations to accompany their papers.

Perhaps the new SBL email confirmation can read as follows:

“Congratulations!
Your paper has been accepted in the Johannine Literature section. Please send us $25 additional if you plan on actually creating a visually compelling presentation to accompany your paper.
If you’re just going to stand there and read a boring paper, well then, that’s free.
Again, congratulations.

P.S. Send money. We’re broke.”

The SBL is attempting to exact a tax on digital projectors. At some level a strategic decision was made to surcharge presenters, perhaps because they knew that most people attending SBL would be receiving some sort of reimbursement from their employer (whether university, bookseller, or non-profit organization), and would simply pass this expense along to their employers. (Airlines get away with charging extra for bags because most major carriers know that the bulk of their business comes from business travelers on expense accounts.) We know SBL has been collecting reimbursement data. (Remember filling out the question during registration that asked if you would be receiving 100%, some, or no reimbursement from an employer?) A decision was made to tax presenters above and beyond the already high conference registration fees, SBL annual membership, hotel costs, and additional skyrocketing hotel taxes (check your hotel bill before you hand it to your office manager for reimbursement)!

However, the SBL may be at fault on more than one level. I am hoping it is not the case that the SBL signed a deal with hotels that it either knew was bad (because it did not include data projectors), but needed to sign quickly for one reason or another. Worse yet, I hope it is not the case that negligence played a role and SBL simply overlooked the fact that data projectors were not included, signed a deal, and then got caught off guard when it realized it would be hit with the surprise charges, and scrambled to recoup some of the additional expense.

Scott Bailey has pointed out the absurdity of the SBL hotel’s claims regarding the costs of data projectors. Most data projectors can be purchased outright for less than $450 these days, (click here for a selection of digital projector options), yet the SBL hotel is charging SBL $450 per day(!!) to rent its data projectors. AND THE SBL AGREED TO THESE TERMS!!! It appears that SBL either signed a bad deal without doing its due diligence regarding the actual cost of data projectors, or simply missed the fact that projectors were not included. Given that the SBL is headquartered in Atlanta, one would think that they would know their local hotels and could negotiate a decent deal.

A $25-75 surcharge for what are usually 25-minute presentations comes to $1-3/minute! For standard technology!

The SBL should immediately rescind its policy of charging presenters $25-75 per presentation for using a data projector.

SBL and Projectors

$450/Day. (Photo by James McGrath)

SBL should not begin charging presenters for projectors. Data projectors have become a staple of all good presentations. I can’t wait to see presenters reading papers without PowerPoints simply to protest the policy. A more likely solution is that given the compact nature of today’s projectors, most scholars will bring their own projectors along with their laptops, as we are doing for the Blogger and Online Publication session. (Thank you James McGrath!)

This policy especially hurts younger scholars and graduate students, the very demographic SBL is attempting to reach and the group SBL must reach to ensure its long-term viability! SBL annual meetings are already very (almost prohibitively) expensive, especially for graduate students, who do not have secured positions at universities to whom they can submit reimbursements, and who are the most likely to use technology to present papers in an effort to procure jobs. Because the “data projector tax” hurts young scholars, the SBL is essentially taxing the poorest of the poor (because after all, we’re all in the humanities), and exacting a tax on those who are least able to afford it.

If SBL is going to fine anyone, it should charge presenters who do not use data projectors. If you wrote your SBL “talk” on the back of a napkin in the bar just before your session, you should have to pay $75 in order to present – money that can be distributed to those of us who have to listen to you drone on about hiphil middle-weak verb forms without any form of visual aid whatsoever. Don’t punish those presenters who have spent the time to write a good paper and create a helpful accompanying presentation.

The SBL should not disincentivize the production of effective, visual presentations at its own annual meeting!

Jesus Cleanses the SBL Registration Booth

An angry Jesus, upset about the fact that SBL is charging presenters to use data projectors, cleanses the SBL registration booth. (Mashup of Carl Heinrich Bloch painting by Robert R. Cargill) More on Bloch here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Heinrich_Bloch

Nickel-and-diming the attendees gives the SBL a real black eye at a time of nation-wide economic cost-cutting at universities, and when the SBL is attempting to market to a new range of scholars. Higher education really can’t afford the additional cost burden right now, especially if the revenues raised from the data projector tax are simply being passed along to hotels.

I’m seriously waiting for Jesus (Christ, not Jones in hotel facilities) to show up and “cleanse” the SBL registration booth. I’d like to see him overturn a table full of data projectors or two.

I can hear it now: as soon as a projector goes dark, someone will say,

“Will you put another quarter in the data projector meter for me?”

Church Collection Plate

Seriously, we should take up an offering for use of the data projectors. A section with 5 papers would cost $125, and that’s if you pre-reserved them back in June! We could pass a plate down the rows.

Solution

The SBL should immediately announce that it is rescinding its data projector fees for this year’s annual meeting.

Itemizing the data projector costs as an additional surcharge only highlights the fiscal trouble of the SBL.

Placing the fiscal burden directly on those scholars who are doing and presenting higher-end research that requires modern forms of technology to communicate their findings disincentivizes innovation.

Nickel-and-diming its own participants for participating makes an otherwise professional organization look cheap and does not send an inspiring message of fiscal viability to SBL members.

It would be better to spread the cost of data-projectors evenly across all participants, whether they use them in presentations, or watch presentations that use projectors. This minimal cost (say, $5) could be added to the already absurd annual meeting registration cost. It would be less burdensome to the presenters, and would not advertise SBL’s financial woes by highlighting the need to exact a surcharge for a service that is now standard in higher education and professional conferences.

Rescinding the decision to impose fees on those using data projectors would buy the SBL a year to debate the role of technology in scholarship, properly assess the real costs of technology, and give SBL a year to communicate the need, if any, for higher fees to subsidize technology costs.

SBL could also agree not to do business with hotels who insist on exacting absurd usury fees on conferences. It’s SBL’s home town for crying aloud! SBL should be able to negotiate a fair deal.

In Sum

In sum, charging presenters a fee to present their papers in a modern format is a very poor decision on the part of SBL. Then again, a digital image is worth a thousand words (and I’ll let you see it for free):

SBL Pay-for-Projector Policy

info on the 2010 biblioblogger dinner in atlanta

Gibney's Irish Pub

Gibney's Irish Pub, Atlanta, GA

the 2010 biblioblogger gathering in atlanta this year will be held at gibney’s irish pub (map) on sunday night, november 21, 2010, at 6:45 pm. it’s less than a block away from the main sbl hotel, the hyatt regency atlanta, so los angeles bloggers have no excuse. a dinner menu is available here.

if you are a blogger, a reader of blogs, or are even thinking about blogs, and you blog about the bible, bible places, bible translations, ministry, religion, notes about religion, scripture, god, hebrew and technology, hebrew poetry, epigraphy, scribal practices, the church, christendom, nt interpretation, gnostic gospels, the ancient near east, the biblical worldarchaeology, the roman world, ancient world, christian origins, catholics, academia, total depravity, lost, debunking, palaeobabble, obscure english bands no one has ever heard of, stalin, tea, travel, technology and targums, politics and faith, education, higher ed, old stuff, abnormal stuff, random stuff, awesome stuff, clay stuff general musings, the cleverest things on the net relating to all of the above, or anything else, then you should be at gibney’s in atlanta on sunday, nov. 21 at 6:45 pm. come and go as you’d like, but that’s where we’ll be.

don’t miss the special guest appearance by all 80 of raphael golb’s aliases. and remember, if anyone asks, we’re all jeffrey gibson. ;-)

see you there.

dr. ed wright responds to my peer-review article on bible and interpretation: a word on professional conduct in the academy

Dr. Ed Wright, Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona and President of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem has responded to my article entitled, “How and Why Academic Peer-Review is About to Change,” on the Bible and Interpretation website. Dr. Wright’s article is entitled, “The Case for the Peer-Review Process: A Rejoinder to ‘How and Why Academic Peer-Review is About to Change’.”

Dr. Wright is a friend and colleague, and I respect his opinion and the solid points he makes in his response. I’d also like to point out that this is how scholarly debate is supposed to take place. When a scholar produces research or a publication for consumption by the academy and/or the public, the scholar should expect and even invite professional criticism. It is the only way to expose holes in a theory or an academic argument, and this process makes the theory stronger. By pointing out problems with a theory, members of the academy contribute to a global discussion and together collaborate to find an interpretation or theory that best explains all of the data. Political candidates do the same thing during debates: they stand up and critique their opponent’s points of view, and, if done properly and professionally, they shake hands when it’s over and go have a beer together. That’s how it works.

Scholars should never personally smear or attempt to harm the professional development of anyone with whom they disagree. Rather, scholars (and students, and the public at large for that matter) should always argue each case on the merits of the argument. This is precisely what Dr. Wright has done here, and it is precisely what Dr. Jodi Magness and I did last year in the pages of NEA and the SBL session that reviewed my book. We stood up, exchanged points of view, pointed out flaws in each other’s theories, and then walked to the next session, where we advocated side-by-side on the same side of a different issue. Scholars should never respond to a professional, public critique of their work with personal attacks. Rather, scholars should respond on the merits of the argument in public (including peer-review journals, blogs, professional conferences, etc.), let others contribute responses, or not respond. Attacking someone personally will only bring much-deserved shame upon the attacking scholar.

This is how it’s supposed to work. Scholars should make their arguments in their own name and stand behind their claims. They should submit to the peer-review process to be critiqued by an assembly of their peers. This ensures the quality of the academic work and improves the collaborative understanding of a particular subject. Rather than attacking a scholar personally with an anonymous campaign of letters designed to impugn the credibility of a scholar who may hold a differing point of view, scholars should offer alternatives and allow the public (i.e., the academy if a scholarly issue, or the greater public if a popular issue) to determine which arguments seem best.

This is what Dr. Wright and Dr. Magness have done. It is what Larry Schiffman and John Collins and Eibert Tigchelaar and David Stacey and the late Hanan Eshel and Eric Cline and Yuval Peleg and many others have done. We all disagree with each other on any number of topics. And we may very well agree on any number of other issues as well. The point is that we humbly submit our contributions to the academy and the greater public for consideration, we make our critiques professionally, and we stand behind and are accountable for the manner in which we conduct ourselves. The academy has, with very few exceptions, always set the example for professional conduct in the exchange of ideas. The academy is the model to which the public and politicians ought to look as the ultimate example of civil disagreement. And this is what Dr. Wright and so many others have done. I hope to follow their example and always offer commentary and scholarly opinions in a professional, transparent (and occasionally humorous) manner.

Thanx again to Dr. Wright for responding. I’m sure the topic will come up when I see him at the ASOR annual meeting this year in Atlanta, hopefully over a beer (that he buys ;-)

bc

a study in professionalism: the sbl responds to ronald hendel’s letter

Society of Biblical LiteratureThe Society of Biblical Literature responded today to an op-ed letter written by Cal Berkeley’s Dr. Ronald S. Hendel entitled “Farewell to SBL” published in the July/Aug 2010 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. I commented on Dr. Hendel’s letter yesterday.

In their response, the SBL takes issue with and offers responses to four claims made by Dr. Hendel:

  1. Claim: The SBL has diluted its standards of critical scholarship, as evidenced in the 2004 change to the Society mission statement
  2. Claim: ASOR and AAR stopped meeting with the SBL “due to petty disputes among the leaders of these groups.”
  3. Claim: Since the AAR decision to discontinue joint meetings, the SBL has loosened its standards as to the types of organizations that can be included at the SBL Annual Meeting.
  4. Claim: The current SBL environment, which includes instances of proselytizing activity as well as veiled theological denunciations of certain individuals or groups, is hostile to a critical approach to biblical studies.

The SBL counters that each of these claims is in need of some clarification ranging from a correction of facts to an explanation of the manner in which the SBL arrived at some of its various positions. You can read the SBL’s responses here.

Ronald S. Hendel, Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Ronald S. Hendel, Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California, Berkeley

In a refreshing invitation to debate the opposing views, the SBL sent a letter to all its members inviting them to review its response to Dr. Hendel’s letter. The SBL provided a link to Dr. Hendel’s original letter in BAR and invited members to offer feedback to both Dr. Hendel’s letter and SBL’s response via email at feedback@sbl-site.org.

The SBL went a step further and asked members for their feedback concerning three areas:

  1. To what extent do you believe that the Society successfully balances its commitment to scholarly integrity while maintaining an atmosphere in which all voices may be heard (specific, first-hand examples are encouraged)?
  2. Should the Society establish a standards-based approach to membership? That is, should there be a set of minimum standards, qualifications, or achievements for SBL membership?
  3. If you favor a standards-based approach, what specific standards would you advocate for SBL membership?

And this is where I am proud to be a member of the SBL. Although I too feel that the SBL should seek to re-establish maintain its role as the top critical society for biblical studies, I am proud of the SBL’s professional and timely response. Rather than firing back unprofessionally and starting a cat fight (as many are wont to do online), or going the Golb route and employing an army of anonymous internet aliases to attack personally those involved in this difference of academic opinion, the SBL has used this as an opportunity to respond professionally to the complaint and (and this is important!) to poll its membership for their feedback regarding the issues raised by Dr. Hendel’s letter.

This is how to manage an organization properly. This is how to conduct academic business professionally. The SBL is using criticism – warranted or not – to improve the organization by asking its membership’s opinion. This not only demonstrates the SBL leadership’s willingness to listen to its members, but demonstrates the confidence SBL has in its various positions. If the positions are good, the members will state as much in their responses. If the positions are in need of improvement, the SBL will have the raw feedback it needs to open discussions on various changes to its mission.

This is how to make something positive from something negative. And this should be the purpose of true criticism: to provide grist for discussion for the purpose of bringing about needed change. The prophetic voice is about righting a wrong, not destroying the enemy. Likewise, the critic’s voice should not be about simply tearing down another scholar’s position (or the scholar personally), but about moving readers toward thinking about their world, offering an alternative rooted in fact, science, and logic, making changes for the better, and bringing about a better understanding of the topic under discussion. The same critical method used in doing literary criticism should be used to improve our society.

Both Dr. Hendel and the SBL have demonstrated class and professionalism in their stated positions. Now let’s see if this scholarly process brings about beneficial change.

hendel’s must-read critique of sbl

Ronald S. Hendel, Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California, Berkeley

Ronald S. Hendel, Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California, Berkeley

Cal Berkeley’s Dr. Ronald S. Hendel has written a letter in Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) that all biblical scholars should read. In his “Farewell to SBL,” Hendel examines the loss of the ‘critical’ part of biblical scholarship in the SBL. He laments the apparent exchange of critical investigation and rational scholarship for fundamentalists and charismatics, all for the sake of an increased membership and a few extra dollars. He highlights this very issue – the removal of the word ‘critical’ from SBL’s mission statement:

I wrote to the director and cited the mission statement in the SBL’s official history: “The object of the Society is to stimulate the critical investigation of the classical biblical literatures.” The director informed me that in 2004 the SBL revised its mission statement and removed the phrase “critical investigation” from its official standards. Now the mission statement is simply to “foster biblical scholarship.” So critical inquiry – that is to say, reason – has been deliberately deleted as a criterion for the SBL.

I agree with the good doctor from the University of California. The moment that critical scholarship is abandoned and fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible are entertained as equally authoritative, scholarship has lost its way. While the SBL should welcome all comers, its authority lies in its pursuit of academic excellence, not the appeasement of all points of view. For while the democratization of knowledge fostered by the Internet is a welcomed and beneficial advance in the accumulation of knowledge, the authority and credibility of scholarship comes from the training and expertise exercised in differentiating the credible from the problematic, the veritable from the sensational. The authority of scholars comes from the creation, cultivation, preservation, and dissemination of verifiable knowledge and critical scholarship, not from ecumenism or the sheer size of its membership. The SBL should embrace the critical method, not a popular membership, for after all, the SBL is a society, not a church, and the letters designate a conference of scholars, not an ecclesiastical order.

(For those interested, there is a facebook group dedicated to putting the word ‘critical’ back into SBL’s purpose statement.)

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