I felt that this weeks’ discussion did a pretty good job of covering the readings and drawing connections between them. Our question were relatively effective in steering the conversation and engaging the class in the major themes of the issue of digital scholarship, although some questions were more effective than others in driving an opened ended conversation than others and, unsurprisingly based on previous class discussions, we answered several questions before we got to them based off of where the discussion went from earlier questions.
Several key issues emerged, some of them new to this week but many echoing themes we’ve dealt with less explicitly earlier in the semester. One of the central topics that threaded throughout the discussion was what make “digital scholarship” and how it relates to the more traditional markers of scholarship as manifested in books, and whether those markers and values are still valid in a digital age. Closely related to this is the issue that digital scholarship is facing in being accepted within the academy, especially within hiring and tenure decisions. The consensus, unfortunately, is that what digital scholarship is capable of doing and what the academy wants don’t mesh well. It does seem that digital history is slowly gaining ground and more jobs, although outside of specifically digital positions the rest of the academy is largely unaware and unconcerned with digital scholarship, even at institutions (like George Mason) with strong digital programs.
While much of the class discussion covered topic I had already thought of when I was preparing for class, several issues were raised that I hadn’t considered. Most notably was the point, drawn from Melissa Terras’ article, of whether historians need to pay attention to how others are using their work…and whether that should drive our future research. While I don’t think we should blindly follow our audience, certainly their is likely some value in paying attention to how our readers interact with our work and if that raises any questions we hadn’t considered. An additional important point, one that is so simple that it is easy to overlook, is the fact that open review (and other digital tools) are such a change from traditional tools that historians struggle to even understand how to use them.
I think the overall discussion was useful in exploring the issue identified above, and provide a good foundation for thinking about digital scholarship. I think in retrospect this discussion of the abstract issues of digital history might have been useful earlier in the semester, but having the practicums out of the way early to allow us to work on our final projects is probably the best structure for the course.