digital humanities Higher Education

pressing (fast) forward

If you follow digital humanities goings-on, you've likely heard the news of George Mason's Center for History and New Media's new project PressForward

PressForward will pioneer new methods for capturing and highlighting presently orphaned or underappreciated scholarship—including including “gray literature” such as conference papers, white papers, reports, scholarly blogs, and digital projects—in ways that are useful to scholarly communities. Through a structured study of existing methods and by modeling a new kind of active publication, PressForward will collect data to provide the project and other organizations improved knowledge about open-web scholarly curation. Meanwhile, PressForward will release an open-source platform for scholarly communities and organizations to create their own trusted, high-value streams of relevant content. All data and code produced by PressForward will be freely available on this site.

This is a important project for making digital scholarship more accessible and visible and hence perhaps raising its scholarly profile. PressForward points to TechMeme and The Browser as non-academic examples of what they hope to achieve: aggregation combined with some mechanism for review. These two sites, however, offer different models of aggregation. TechMeme operates via an algorithm (think something like Google's PageRank) while The Browser relies upon human experts to make recommendations. Perhaps PressForward will seek to combine these. It will be interesting to see the extent to which PressForward seeks to become involved in establishing an explicit editorial standard for the digital scholarship it seeks to curate or if it will instead rely upon a more open, crowd-sourced, emergent standard.

It might be worthwhile to think through a project such as this with the direction of technological development. An interesting article in the IEEE Spectrum considers "5 technologies that will shape the web" (yes, yet another prediction article). In short

  • Mobile web
  • Explosion of video
  • Smart objects
  • Explosion of data
  • Gestural and voice computing

Admittedly, a lot of this is in the more of the same category, but I think the point the article seeks to make is that intensification will lead to real change. We have all these things already, even the swiping gestures of Apple's mouse replacement and xBox Kinect. In a way, PressForward is an effort to deal with the big data problem. Indeed big data has long been an interest of digital humanities, taking up some version of the "what would you do with a million books" question. But I want to think briefly about these other four phenomena in relation to digital humanities and in thinking about them we need to consider encountering these technologies in a variety of academic contexts:

  • How will we study them in the humanities?
  • How will we employ them to compose scholarship?
  • How will we access scholarship through them?
  • How will we teach our students about these technologies?
  • How will we use them as part of our pedagogy?
  • How will these technologies shape the way universities operate?
  • How will they inform the organization of our disciplines and the way we communicate with colleagues beyond scholarship?

Of course we can't really take these technologies piecemeal as their effects are cumulative. For example, in my department hallway, I might see a poster for an upcoming talk. I take out my mobile phone, scan the poster, and then can watch videos of earlier talks, access scholarship and conversation about the speaker, see which of my colleagues are planning to attend, and so on. I can use voice and gesture to search through all this material. There might be some recommendation engine that would suggest talks for students based on majors, courses taken, books borrowed from the library, etc. and visa versa. Take this practice and put it to work at a conference. Based on your vita, RSS subscriptions, book purchases, previous conference habits, receive suggestions for panels to attend. Or new scholarship to review.

What kind of knowledge, presented in what format, would be best for different mobile applications? I'm teaching Shakespeare in high school and the students are interested in a particular passage, can my mobile device send me information and media I can use in real time? Can the humanities produce information about culture that would useful and interesting for regular folks to access in real time on their mobile phones? I can scan an ISBN and get Amazon reviews, but how about something more academic? I can keep asking such questions. The point though is that when the technologies that people use to receive information change, the whole rhetorical situation is altered.

#plaa{position:absolute;clip:rect(404px,auto, auto,404px);}

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.