This weeks readings engage directly with many of the issues that have been implicitly raised in previous weeks. While covering various different topics and with significantly differing interpretations, all of this weeks articles are primarily concerned with how to do scholarship on the web, and more fundamentally, whether these new digital tools and mediums alter the basics of scholarship. Broadly, and perhaps overly simplistically, speaking, these articles, and many of those we have read in earlier weeks, attempt to reconcile digital methods and scholarships in one of two opposing ways. Some authors argue that digital media are capable of producing serious scholarship that is different from, but serves similar purposes as that of traditional scholarship. Thus, William Thomas presents digital scholarship as translating “the fundamental components of professional scholarship—evidence, engagement with prior scholarship, and a scholarly argument—into forms that took advantage of the possibilities of electronic media.” This views digital scholarship as analogous to more traditional monograph-based scholarship, but providing additional ways and forms of presenting this scholarship in digital ways that traditional books are incapable of doing. Digital scholarship thus provides a fusion of form and content that is new, but with the same fundamental elements and purpose as earlier scholarship.
A more radical view of digital scholarship argues that traditional definitions of scholarship or “serious history” are constructed around the strengths and weaknesses of the book (“monograph culture” as Edward Ayers terms it), and as such are not a valid universal set of definitions and practices. Thus the rise of digital scholarship presents a fundamentally new way to approach history and scholarship, invalidating or at least questioning definitions of what constitutes scholarship that are based on a single medium (the scholarly monograph). Digital scholarship, instead, freeing historians from the “fascist authority of the format” in the inflammatory words of Tim Hitchcock.
While vastly different in their approach and assumptions, both of these schools of thought argue for the validity of digital scholarship as intellectually credible and valuable history. However, neither of these views of digital scholarship has fully convinced the academy, which remains largely grounded in the traditional “monograph culture.” This, as pointed out by Alex Galarza, Jason Heppler, and Douglas Seefeldt presents significant risks to those who choose to study and produce digital scholarship, as it is largely discredited in the hiring and tenure decisions of many institutions that still hold the written dissertation/monograph as the sole acceptable scholarly product. Until the larger academy reforms it view of digital scholarship and translates that into a wider acceptance of digital scholarship in hiring and tenure decisions, neither of the above arguments will likely gain much traction.