One thing that intrigued me as I sat down this afternoon to start looking at the essays was how I would experience myself as a reader-reviewer. In particular, I wondered, would I just comment on something interesting at the moment I saw it, the way I would on some other public interface like Facebook or the Chronicle of Higher Education discussion forusm? Or would I wait until I read the whole essay and then–with the bigger picture in mind–more thoughtfully go back and add in comments, more like what I do when I write a report for a Press?
I intentionally sat down with an apple in my hand to snack while reading, in order to prevent myself from just commenting willy-nilly, the moment an idea popped into my head.
I was also intrigued to discover my own process for commenting. I decided that I had to restrain myself and not comment until I’d gotten all the way through each essay before I commented. But I resorted to pen and paper to take notes on what comments I wanted to add.
A note on the process of peer review in this open forum.
First, in order to mimic the process I would use for a print-only, non-interactive peer review (and to protect my image of myself as someone with something intelligent to say), I decided that I should read through each essay and make handwritten notes. I only would go back and insert comments after I had finished reading a particular essay. I have slipped up once or twice.
More importantly, I began to question my motives for leaving comments. In some sense, I am drawn to the colloquy, and the chance to ask questions of authors in a way that one cannot normally do when reading in a print volume. But I also began to wonder whether I was also essentially patrolling my own essay, in a fashion not unlike what Graham and Saxton et al. describe Wikipedia editors as doing. Was I leaving comments in hopes of making sure that my investment in this project appeared big enough that my essay would make the final cut? Was I leaving comments like this one in hopes that the editors would ask me to write one of the concluding essays? (Oh, oh, choose me! I started taking notes!).
I’m not sure if the purity of my motives matters or not, but there they are.
Like you, I really appreciated the chance to ask questions of the authors. This process blurs the boundaries making this have elements of a seminar and others of a book. One of my interests is how the digital age challenges the dichotomy between text and speech and I feel this open commenting process is a brilliant example of this challenge.
I like your reflection about the opportunity to submit a concluding essay. To follow your candid example, I think that at the beginning this was in my mind too. However, I quickly found that I was really enjoying reading the articles and participating in the reviewing process. At many times I felt that this was some sort of work experience that is typically not available. Peer-reviewing is an element of many posts in academia and publishing, and this gave me an unprecedented opportunity to see whether I was interested in pursuing it. I found it exciting but sometimes challenging (for example when reading something I was unfamiliar with or where I was uncertain whether there was a grammatical mistake or a difference in dialect).
This is a book that I would have read for its relevance to my PhD methodology and for my general interest. I found that the process of commenting encouraged me to reflect more deeply on the content of each article and to compare and connect the different essays in terms of their examples and arguments.
In keeping with Amanda’s attention to how this format affects our process (as authors, readers, reviewers), I’ve been noticing my own struggle over how to read the essays here alongside the comments. Do I want to have my own, uninterrupted, reading experience of a new essay, and then circle back to the comments? That seems like my preference, but the existence of numbers next to the comment bubble pulls me to do otherwise. Reading comments along the way produces a less linear reading experience, but one that allows me to incorporate what I’m learning from comments as I read. This digital format for open review thus helps review not just to be more public, but more collective. Are there drawbacks to this?
And, on a totally differently note, I wonder if the volume needs either a consistent approach to explaining more technical terms (e.g., XML, which is referenced briefly in both the Bauer and Tomasek essays). Should they always get a short definition? Or would a linked glossary be helpful?
I was certainly intrigued by the landscape of digital history laid bare by the insightful introduction. Intrigued to the degree that it raised a number of questions or queries. To what degree is the question here about writing in the digital age or is there an underlying question about the market i.e. new economic relations and the collapse of publishing? Has a technological language of efficiency and process masked other questions about commodity value and cost reduction?? Can we have a functionalist discussion (electronic tools and techniques) divorced from related concerns about market value (scholarly publishing)? How has the collapse of publishing the demand for profitable books and the convergence between journalistic prose and journalists writing history, blog accessibility, and increased demands for tenure, shaped this discussion beyond electronic technique and writing style?
How can the topic (historical writing) be discussed in such a way to match the reach of the technology?
“Good Writing”—how do we confront the historian’s tendency to eschew bearing witness to writing and thinking as process; seeing the uneven and revised elements versus a seamless vacuum of self-evident prose…? Can the historian write directly about their writing process and still consider it “good” historical writing?
Isn’t what you describe as “secrecy” really an expression of “intellectual property” because of the digital age?
But with a profession so obsessed with almost unstated “standards” and quality control, how will this square with a digital ethos of giving more (especially a profession that polices the notion of valid sources and interpretation)? Is this struggle a product of anxiety about the empiricism of historical methods and sources in the first place?
I think we are assuming the “historical habits of mind” where this seems like an opportunity to interrogate the assumptions embedded within such self-righteous claims. How does such a formulation square with the notion of genres of digital knowledge production?
But the lofty notion of exchanging ideas is not disentangled from the market issues of publisher status, price point, medium, prose, awards etc.
I wonder to what degree was the University of Michigan Press’ restructuring a process of idea dissemination and what part the new publishing industry landscape. I would really like to see an “open source” discussion of their restructuring process.
When considering digital format, what level of attention was given to design i.e. the relationship between aesthetic style and the ease of user interface?
One possible draw-back that must be considered with digital peer review is that vigorous back and forth conversation could be evaluated as concern about the manuscript; if only because written reviews rarely go beyond two exchanges (first and second reports).
Will the accessibility of digital materials encourage a rigidity of “standards” or will standards mirror the relative democratization of information that comes with digital access?
Why is it that elite institutions are first to venture into open source, is it because older modes of evaluation excellence (ivy=legitimate source) follow us into the digital age and are masked by claims to democratic access and multi-medium “platforming”?
For those interested in converting ideas into visual digital expressions, how does the electronic learning and production curve get in the way of stated aims for ease, speed, openness, and interaction?
The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing Gibbs/Owens
It seems that digital discussions of historical methods have tended toward large chunks of “quantitative” data sets. Does the discussion become more difficult with qualitative data? Does “data” here mean court records, statistics, maps, census materials etc.? What happens in this discussion with clothing, music, visual art etc?
How does all of this apply to the qualitative work of say counterfactual history, or theoretically interpretative history?
It would be really useful to demonstrate what useful methodological writing might look like. What exactly is meant by a “methodological tutorial”?
It seems the case study here relies so heavily on charts and graphs that it works against the very intent of transparency…i.e. the mode conveying knowledge still matters.
It seems that in so many of the discussions here, new data is seen a simply repositories of information and never unpacked from within their own systems of meaning i.e. data sets are represented as simply conveying facts and not as products of the rules and conventions that govern various data sets…that would seem to be a very useful discussion here.
For example, in was intrigued by the “Putting Harlem on the Map,” essay. The focus on different mapping databases was instructive and exciting. But I thought we would see various mappings of the same space and how each map was governed by a set of different rules, assumptions, and contexts and what that means for method and interpretation…I am familiar with the larger dataset here and a big challenge or critique is that while larger data sets can make claims to getting at a “deeper” level of everyday life (vs. cultural anecdote), one of the major databases used is crime records. What are the limits of accessing the “truth” of a community based on crime reports? Many have found that volume is fetishized and equated with “everyday,” without enough self-conscious interrogation of the rules and assumptions that shape such data sets, as repositories of truth.
*NOTE: Please understand that these comments are not a dismissal of this innovative work. In fact my comments are driven by the belief that these essays, in their composite form, don’t go far enough, that digital history can be more than just a medium for engaging a wider array of sources. This work can directly examine how we think about sources, interpretation, and methodology far beyond large data sets. Such an exploration is especially hopeful for those of us who work in the areas of cultural history; where our source selections are already shrouded in doubt and suspicion from the vantage point of many “mainstream” colleagues in the profession. This could be a discussion that breaks open a wider examination of big questions like evidence, verification, and “good writing” that finally moves the profession beyond imitative desires to mirror the 19th century hard sciences.
I find Davarian’s comments on my “Putting Harlem on the Map” somewhat frustrating in that he calls for the collection to go further in its approach while eliding the way that my approach does in fact go further than he allows. I’ve published extensively about the nature of legal sources and what you can glean from them for social and cultural history; what using geospatial tools highlights is that those sources also offer evidence for a spatial analysis, which relies on addresses and locations, elements of the records that are not shaped by legal practices and processes in the ways that other details are.
As an aside, the presence of this comment on my piece here, rather than in the comments on the article, points to the tendency of this open-review framework to disperse and potentially obscure responses
Stephen, thanks for your response to Davarian’s comment, and as a reader who’s interested in learning more about your scholarship, I’d like to know which of your publications you specifically recommend regarding the issues mentioned above. Your essay, “Putting Harlem on the Map,” includes citations to works by you and your co-authors in your Playing the Numbers book, the Journal of Urban History, the Journal of Social History, and the Digital Harlem blog.
Also, you’re absolutely correct that comments specific to one essay are best discussed on that particular page. So if you wish to respond by linking readers from this thread back to your essay, please feel free to do so.
I elaborate my approach to using legal records for social and cultural history in “What’s Law Got to Do With It? Legal Records and Sexual Histories,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 14, 1/2 (January/April 2005): 161-85. We discuss what can be gleaned about everyday life from Probation Department files in our “This Harlem Life: Black Families and Everyday Life in the 1920s and 1930s,” Journal of Social History, 44, 1 (Fall 2010): 97-122.
Those articles do not explicitly address the spatial data found in legal records and how that can be used – that is what I’d hoped ‘Putting Harlem on the Map’ did. Given the chance to revise it, I’d probably more explicitly address the common misapprehension that legal records are only about crime, but I thought for this volume the focus should be on new possibilities for spatial history more than debates about the everyday – which we ground not simply in volume of sources, as Davarian implies, but also in diversity of sources.
Since my comments on your (collective) approaches to mapping and the use of crime databases was in clearly stated as a reference to a larger conversation, perhaps it would be best to directly ask me what I meant in my comments than to continually reply to me in the third person. My major commentary was based on an interrogation (and hopes for) this larger project and not the validity of your body of scholarship. It is unfortunate that you took my comments so defensively.
I am sorry if my failure to respond to you directly offended you, but I’m still finding my way in this format and considered comments to be directed at a broader audience not a conversation with an individual commenter — particularly since, in this case, your comment had not been addressed to “me” in the sense of being posted on my essay, but included in the general comments, where I almost missed it, and the opportunity to respond. In responding, I sought to make clear that your critique does not apply to our site, which I guess means I defended the site, but I can’t see how that warrants the pejorative label “defensive”.
If you’d prefer a first person conversation, I’m happy to give that a go. As I read it, your comment clearly imputes the larger critique of digital history, as a medium occupied with engaging a wider array of sources, while paying inadequate attention to the limits of those sources, to Digital Harlem. If that is not the case, I’d appreciate it if you would clarify your assessment of the site. How exactly or to what extent is Digital Harlem implicated in your critique? Does mapping / spatial history not offer exactly the kind of new perspectives on sources, interpretation and writing that you are seeking?
Though obviously the collection perspective is important to libraries, my immediate interest is in the use of the content and how that impacts the reader’s (especially the student’s) comprehension and learning. My experience so far, and this is an evolving story, is that students still prefer a printed copy of any lengthy article or chapter that they wish to read. This may reflect their unfamiliarity with the online tools that allow them to underline and make notes or it may be something more cognitive. However, I am also certain that part of the reader’s resistance to online monographs is because most academic publishers do not permit downloading of their content to a reader.
Hence, my question:
When the review process is finished and the book is published will the University of Michigan make it possible to download the content to a reader?
Katherine, this is a great question. By my reading of our advance contract, the Press reserves the right to produce an e-reader version of the final product, but would not obligated to do so. Still, it seems relatively straightforward for the Press (or anyone) to create an e-reader version of the text with our Creative Commons licensing using Sigil, as Mills Kelly and Mark Sample recently discussed regarding Hacking The Academy, a related work from the Press.
Response to Amanda I. Seligman’s, “Teaching Wikipedia without Apologies,” 10/27/11
Ten years of “Do Not Use Wikipedia” for serious research or critical study, cannot be removed from my psyche even now as I search “how to make donuts,” “how donuts were made in the 19th c,” or “19th c baking ovens” to describe a kitchen scene in England for the historical fiction I’m working on. The accessibility of videos and utilitarian information seems harmless, and yet in the back of my mind there is the flashing reminder that I will have to cross-reference with scholarly journals, archives, and ‘closed’ data-bases before sending my work on. I want to do that regardless, because the descriptions and definitions afforded a writer on Wikipedia are limited, and the chance occurrence of finding, say, the manor in which a noted author spent his last years, is sporadic, obviously, but I agree that the utility of this tertiary source allows me to create a first draft expediently. I also teach my students the critical thought process of ethos and authorship of all sources they choose to use; our contribution to students in this digital age is really only to lead them to have critical thinking skills they can employ in searches as well as to express their findings with original and coherent thought.
I wanted not only to write digital history, but to read digital history, digitally, so I asked the computer to find topics and patterns in the text of all contributors. I’ve detailed this topic-modeling approach on my blog, where I’ve posted both my method and preliminary results
I was intrigued to discover my own process for commenting. I decided that I had to restrain myself and not comment until I have all the way through each essay. But I resorted to pen and paper to take notes on what comments I wanted to add.
This is so exactly like what I did that I was surprised not to see my name on this comment!
I’ve put the output and visualization files for my topic-modeling approach to exploring the deeper structure of this volume online at http://www.graeworks.net/topic-model/output_html/all_topics.html . Instead of deciding what the possible topics mean, I’ve left that interpretation layer open. One may click through the topic to the different authors’ paragraphs, to see how MALLET breaks our text into different topic chunks – see for instance http://www.graeworks.net/topic-model/output_html/Docs/Doc410.html which is Lawrence’s paragraph on students’ writing of critical reviews. More about the process at http://electricarchaeologist.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/topic-modeling-with-the-java-gui-gephi/.
Some thoughts as I reflect on my process of reading and commenting:
It has taken me a long time to get around to this, so in certain ways i don’t find this reviewing process all that different from usual. The main difference lies in the fact that I am not taking notes and writing later–the comment window allows me to comment as I read. Perhaps not always to my own benefit, and certainly not maximizing my intelligibility. But nevertheless allowing a kind of spontaneity too often missing from my other professional reviewing experiences.
I’d also note that I’m not reading through the text in order. I’m choosing essays based on what interests me at the moment. Again, not that much different from the way I often read print collections, but a process facilitated by the digital format.
One of the things I wonder as I try to fit reading the rest of the essays into the timetable is what the number (or paucity) of comments on a particular essay mean. Is it a popularity contest? Do more comments mean the essays commented on are inferior? Did everyone simply start at the top of the list and work their ways down, accounting for fewer comments (as of today) on the latter sections of the volume?
The questions you raise have been in my mind since the start of this project, and I have been observing the posting of comments very much with them in mind. How do we — as editors, as authors, as readers – understand the existence of comments, let alone their content? (This theme was also raised by Jason B. Jones in a comment on the Introduction.) Working from your question about whether it’s a popularity contest, I would ask a series of questions that might help open review author(s) to make their essays more popular, i.e. to maximize the number of readers and the number of comments they receive (assuming that more comments would be more desirable and helpful for the author, but making no assumption that more comments would necessarily signify a piece of scholarship that was “better” than some other). So… Is it the topic, or a snappy essay title, or the renown of the author(s) which is most influential in attracting comments (whether positive or critical)? Are some essays (or writing styles) more commentable in that they leave conceptual openings for readers to question or interject (or in that the authors actually ask questions of readers within the text)? Which authors have done a better job of PR, both in coming up with snappy titles that attract readers and in doing PR for their own essays in a bid to attract comments from friends and critics, colleagues and students? Do authors who reply to comments on their own essay tend to get more comments than others? Do authors who comment on others’ essays receive more comments on their own as well — does there seem to be a quid pro quo? Do the rich get richer, i.e. does having lots of comments on any given essay attract even more comments?
I hope Jack and I will be able to gather more data (perhaps also by surveying authors and commenters?) and draw some preliminary conclusions about what we can learn from the comment patterns and how they relate to reading behaviors this volume, and what this might suggest for future work. GoogleAnalytics will certainly be a valuable source in this regard, since it tells us, for example, how many views each essay has received (so we can see, e.g., whether those rarely commented upon are also those less often read), how readers approach the essays (where they start on the site and how they proceed from essay to essay – whether in list order or targeting particular essays or even reading essays together that link to each other).
It’s really interesting to hear the analysis you and Jack hope to conduct. I wonder if others saw reading and commenting as separate tasks. Since I wished to get a sense of the essay’s context within the book as a whole, I began reading the book making notes in a word document (with comments coded by author and points I found important coded by theme (with author references)). Having read about half the book (though not in chapter order), I felt ready to start posting comments. I then went back to reading and private note taking before beginning a second batch of commenting. I liked having my own separate coded notes; when I wanted to make a comment linking two or more of the articles in some way I was able to quickly search through my notes to find the references I felt to be relevant.
I really enjoyed it when authors responded to my comments, particularly when they were able to give me further information and links, which would not be possible in traditional printed format. I feel this made the reading process more engaging and personal.
I started at the middle of the book and then chosen the sections and essays I thought to be most relevant to my research interests. I flitted around the book.
For what it’s worth, I started by answering comments on my essay and then went through the book in order, starting each session with a check-in on my own essay for responses required.
Those are really good questions: what does the ability to comment mean?
Can you remind us what the long-run plans around commenting are? Will the published online version still allow for comments?
One of the most interesting and appealing features of this project is the idea of open review. And yet as I thought about how to make comments, I was unsure where exactly to place them–at the paragraph level, at the essay level, at the introduction level, at the whole “book” level. These same questions face reviewers in print editions too, and we resolve them sometimes by writing running comments by essay, page, and line numbers. What I find exciting here is the possibility of exchange within comments. While we cannot be sure at this stage whether this format enhances or improves on such commentary and exchange, at least University of Michigan Press and the editors here have attempted to create a new model of scholarly communication. This is an exciting and important effort, one that I hope we will be able to encourage.
I read all of the essays on my iPad, took no notes on the first pass, and clicked through all hyperlinks within the essays. I resisted the urge, overpowering as it was at times, to make comments as I went through the essays. I wanted to read the project as a whole. I skipped to essays of interest and then came back through to essays in their parts. I then took notes on essays and prepared them for comments. But then the comments on the essays distracted me and these were sometimes as important or fascinating as the essay itself. Does a reviewer comment on these comments? I decided not to at this stage, and instead to concentrate exclusively on the essays as presented.
My plan is to make some general comments here based on the standard questions reviewers are asked and to comment on individual essays contained in the volume. I have blogged briefly about the concept of Writing History in the Digital Age at: http://railroads.unl.edu/blog/?p=648.
1. Purpose of the Manuscript: The editors have prepared an experiment in form as well as asked authors to contribute essays on how writing history is changing in the digital age. The manuscript aims to raise questions about the practice of history, about what scholars do and how we go about constructing history in digital form.
2. Accomplishment of Purpose: It is too early to tell if the experiment in form will have accomplished its purpose. Once comments have been made and authors responses included, we may know more about whether this form has achieved its purpose. There are a number of issues here: whether scholars have time for reflection, whether there will be versioning of the edition’s changes, whether comments on comments will be in some way flagged for ease of access.
The essays clearly address the question of historical writing in the digital age, however in general and as a group they do not squarely situate these concerns in the arena of scholarship. Many of these essays do not address the editor’s introductory call to expose what has remained hidden from view in the act of researching, writing, and producing history. I would like to see more concentrated attention on how scholarly practices are changing in the digital age and how these practices shape our understanding of the past, our relationship to our field. The exceptions here in my view are Stefan Tanaka, whose excellent essay reflects on how the digital is affecting how we conceive of historical relationships, and John Theibault, whose comprehensive assessment of vizualizations interrogates where historians are placing historical arguments in the digital form. The essays as a group are more focused on teaching, using digital tools, and assessing digital projects. The manuscript might ask some authors to focus more explicitly on research and knowledge creation–how inquiry in the digital age might lead to alternative forms of writing.
Soundness of Scholarship: The scholarship of these essays is sound. Nearly every one refers to the appropriate literature and many (though not all) cite relevant historiography in digital humanities, digital history, and analog history.
Material and Presentation: As with many collections of essays, the clarity of the writing and quality of presentation are uneven. As a general comment, I was surprised by the unedited typos and misspellings throughout a number of the essays. I have made specific suggestions at the essay level. The presentation worked beautifully in iPad using Safari. I did not test the essays on other browsers and systems. While I appreciated the consistency of essay design, paragraph orientation, and embedded links and images, I yearned for some “break-out” examples, unconstrained by the Word Press format. For a volume dedicated to exploring writing in the digital age, the form seemed remarkably text-heavy and traditional. I recognize the challenges of creating break through digital forms and so hesitate to make suggestion here. But perhaps the editors and authors could consider one such work per section. The piece might reside out of the Word Press edition, but with proper referencing in an essay authors could reflect on the work more fully. Perhaps, the editors could encourage such work to be specifically instantiated for Writing History in the Digital Age–versioned or outfitted with a logo. The Pox project is a potential candidate for this approach.
In general, the number of essays and sections might be reduced and the breadth of them expanded. I wanted to know more about how decolonization studies, environmental historians, or LBGTQ studies, to name a few, are creating new approaches to the past through digital sources and arguments. These essays seemed primarily grounded in similar approaches and revisiting similar concerns. Two essays focus on black Confederates and memory, for example, three or more on wikipedia and its implications. The field of historical inquiry is wide and I’d hoped for more breadth.
Best/Worst Features: I have to say that I think the tiny comment box is the worst feature of the project. The best feature is the capacity to comment. The paragraph level comments do not appear on an iPad display when one selects the bubble.
Organization: see above. It might be useful to consider other ways of organizing the essays. It might be interesting to allow users a limited range of “sorts” to organize the essays in different ways that suit their preference for reading–by tags, by keywords, by chronology, by geographic region primarily considered, by genre of digital material referenced.
The question of organization raises the broader issue of hypertext and its relevance as a conceptual framework for “doing history.” Few essays explicitly addressed “hypertext” and its literature (Aarseth, Landow, Ayers, Murray)–indeed, a search for the term returned four essays, though each of these references was limited. Admittedly, the question of hypertextual writing has perhaps run its course, but the organization of these essays might have given more control to the reader in viewing, navigating, and connecting essays.
Contributions: The volume makes important contributions to the field of digital history and digital humanities. The strongest contribution is in the practice of open review and in modeling a peer review process for digital work. The social and technical barriers to promotion and tenure remain high for digital scholars, and this project provides much needed opportunity to lower these barriers. The individual essays contribute to scholarly exchange by giving readers not currently practicing digital history several useful vantage points from which to observe the field, understand its potential, and make connections into their own work.
Intended Audience: The intended audience appears to be historians across a broad spectrum and in particular scholars working in academic history. Whether the editors can reach that audience remains unclear. The relatively traditional format of this collection of essays does translate to more traditional quarters in the profession. But we might ask whether this format “works” and whether the audience might be differently defined. Many of the essays address pedagogical concerns, demonstrate project conceptions, and highlight technologies for the practice of digital history. All of this is construed under writing in the digital age. Clearly, what has traditionally been defined as largely separate domains of research, teaching, and service come together in digital work. Rather than components of a historian’s work, these areas are instead interlocking and inter-dependent in digital practice. Perhaps the essays might draw this out more fully rather than keeping these domains largely separated as they are in the current organization. A number of recent works have pointed to the need for deeper cyberinfrastructure for the humanities and history (Borgman, Unsworth et al., Rosenzweig, . . .). And in this collection we can begin to see why this is so necessary.
Recommend Publication: Yes. This is an important effort both in terms of what we can learn about scholarly publication models and in the ways these essays open up the process of historical writing.
I agree with your point that “the number of essays and sections might be reduced and the breadth of them expanded”. I feel this most strongly for the articles on Wikipedia. It could be interesting to use the articles as the basis for a longer debate article between Wolff, Graham, Seligman and Saxton et al. All have important comments but much material is repeated and might be merged to create a debate-based or nuanced article where the sum is more than its parts. This could allow for more engaging reading and be more accessible for student readers.
To take this a step further (though I doubt it would be favourably met), this could actually be done using a similar format to Wikipedia, with the essays posted as sections together, and contributors able to offer practical demonstrations of the points about Wikipedia, ‘edit wars’ and such in their arguments.
As the last reviewer putting his nose to the grindstone, I find this conversation about how to engage this text interesting. I’m working my way through essays and commenting as a comment comes to me. I’m finding that many of my comments are about a desire to complicate or extend a point rather than the other conventional practice of peer review as correcting assertions of fact, etc. In either sense, I am so far very satisfied with the work as scholarship (I’ll add or update this comment if I come across anything in Parts 3, 4, 5, 6 that make me feel otherwise) and would absolutely recommend publication.
One thing I am somewhat anxious about already, however, and will be looking at Part 4 with particular interest about, is two intertwined issues.
The first is the degree to which some authors seem to assume that attention to the circulation of historical knowledge-production in digital spaces is almost inevitably simultaneous with protecting or advocating digitally-mediated work against a largely unnamed scholarly ‘mass’ who are indifferent or hostile to such work. I note this as someone who would share in most of the advocacy of most of the authors. This is a position that suffuses digital humanities-themed work generally. I do think it’s worth stepping back a bit at some points to disentangle analyzing how historical knowledge-production works in digitallly-mediated practices and whether these practices should involve scholars in some new or intensified fashion.
The second, more important issue is that very few of the authors I’ve seen so far seem aware of a much larger ongoing historiography concerned with the production and circulation of historical knowledge outside of or interpenetrated with the academy. I guess this is the somewhat conventional kind of comment in a peer review for more citations to more people, but I think this is a crucial issue for this project. There’s no reason not to situate an understanding of how digitally-mediated practice affects the production and consumption of history within a much larger and preceding attention to similar circulations in non-digital spaces. Some of the questions and provocations that are being formulated here as native to digital media, or largely novel to digital practices, were already sharply identified in an earlier scholarly discourse about public history, commemoration and memorialization, memory and silencing, ‘amateur’ and ‘lived’ forms of historical inquiry, etc.
Several essays mention non-linear approaches to engaging with historical sources and historical accounts in the digital age. I wonder whether in the online publication you will move beyond the conventional section and chapter layout as the book as in its current form (which is likely preferable at this review stage). It could be exciting to use tags or labels (and tag clouds or lists) which link certain areas or themes. Perhaps these could even be constructed overtime by readers. These could link to whole articles or paragraphs within articles. This could be very useful for student readers interested in particular themes.
Examples might include tags such as: Digital Mapping and History (Robertson’s article and Graham, Massie & Feuerherm paragraph 7); Google N-grams (Gibbs and Owens’ article and Theibault paragraph 14); Wikipedia (Wolff, Graham, Seligman, Saxton, et al.); databases…; Videos… etc. They might also look at themes such as ‘teaching history’, ‘the role of the historian’, ‘the nature of history’, ‘collaboration in the digital age’, ‘the role of students’.
Reading William G. Thomas’s comment above more closely, I see this is something he has also mentioned.
Hi Charlotte – this is something I’ve tried by using a topic model classifier at the level of individual paragraphs of this entire volume – I report on this here: http://electricarchaeologist.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/topic-modeling-with-the-java-gui-gephi/
…and the resulting visualization is available here: http://electricarchaeologist.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/topics-by-authors-v2.pdf
The colours are ‘communities’ based on patterns of linkages of ideas (topics) generated by the Mallet natural language processing toolkit topic modeling routine, which suggests four main themes. I’ve resisted labeling the topics myself, but rather, if you go to http://www.graeworks.net/topic-model/output_html/all_topics.html you can see how they break down by paper & paragraph for yourself.
Wow! This is very interesting. How can this be made more accessible for those not so well acquainted with internet tools? Can this base create a topic list from which to gain access to relevant articles and passages within the book? Would these links be at the essay level or at a paragraph or sentence level too?
Also, are there any issues with using a language processing toolkit rather than say having groups of individuals creating codes by consensus? Here I’m think of places where meaning plays with or is found beyond language in certain ways. Jarrett talks of the subtext of hypertext in his essay. Were an author to use such subtext, or be sarcastic or polemical (perhaps Poe’s essay is an example of this), how does a tool such as Mallet deal with this?
It is fascinating to look at your visualization and see the links between authors. Does this lead us to place greater importance on those essays which address similar themes or a greater number of themes as opposed to say an essay which, although fitting within the collection, looks at a specific and very new development in greater detail?
Hi Charlotte – you can click through by topic and individual paragraph, if you follow the link to “all_topics.html”, so you could read the volume by jumping around, following the topics, as you imagine.
In terms of sarcasm… the neat thing is that the toolkit just looks at the statistical pattern of word use (really, strings of symbols; Mallet doesn’t care if it’s French, Finnish, or Esperanto). If we understand sarcasm from particular patterns of word use, then that pattern *should* be evident to Mallet. I am by no means an expert though. The work of Elijah Meeks, Rob Nelson, Jeff Drouin (http://www.proustarchive.org/?p=60), Scott Weingart (http://www.scottbot.net/HIAL/?p=221) and the folks at MITH (http://mith.umd.edu/topic-modeling-in-the-humanities-an-overview/) is required reading here.
Thanks Graham, for the additional instructions. I think this is really brilliant. I really hope it gets included in the publication – maybe with a video tutorial for those who are not so well acquainted with this type of tool and presentation.
I really hope the editors include this. It could be great for there to be a chapter straight after the introduction with this visualisation and the model with the labels, and some paragraphs/video explaining it, maybe with the links to Weingart, MITH and ProustArchive for those wishing to read more about it.
Ok, now through Part 4, working on Part 5, and I would say that my top criticism is that for a group of reflections about history in a digital age, there is a curious sort of fabulistic narrative that resurfaces again and again. That I notice it as much as I do, given how much I either agree with the basic advocacy of almost all authors or am part of the historiographical moment that they’re trying to narrate (as say in Jarrett and Cumming’s essays) is very likely a sign of what a wretched old fart I am becoming. Because this is what old farts do: they say, “But we were doing all this back in the day, you young whipper-snappers”. Nevertheless, I think there’s an important issue here to consider, and it might be sufficiently important to warrant an introductory note or overview from the editors.
What I’m primarily concerned about is that the novelty or particularity of the digital is in some cases being overestimated in one major respect. Some of the contributors are very appropriately focused on the technologically-mediated distinctiveness of digital tools, digital media, cultures of digital participation. If we’re asking, “What kind of historical knowledge can you produce through Twitter” or “What kind of infrastructure is necessary for long-form argument to operate in digital projects”, then no, historians weren’t doing it back in the day.
But if we’re asking, “What’s the relationship between historical knowledge inside and outside of the academy?” or “How does historical expertise interact with public understandings of history or with public forms of memory and memoralization” or “How ought historians to recognize publics and interact with them?” (and many of these essays are asking these questions in some form or another) then I think it’s right to recognize the existence of quite a large node of historiographical work urgently concerned with those issues which precedes the advent of digital media, which has continued to develop on its own since the advent of digital media, and which in some cases form an important intellectual predicate for the way that scholarship about and within digital history has developed.
This wish is not just about cultures of citation, deference to expertise or giving proper credit. I think it’s both a way to understand that the questions digital history is pushing forward have powerful endorsement in the work of pre-digital historians (and are therefore less insurgent or marginalized than we sometimes feel) and that there are things in that literature which can sharpen both the insights of the contributors about digital history and anticipate some of the epistemological and practical roadblocks ahead, keep people who are building digital projects from running into certain kinds of buzzsaws. Just one example that leaps to mind instantly is the long-running conversation about the 1990 exhibit Into the Heart of Africa at the Royal Ontario Museum, which has been dissected by art historians, public historians and scholars interested in the “production of history” ever since. There are both concrete episodes and general theoretical concerns to be found in this older literature which would really enrich some of these contributions. Instead, you often get the sense in the volume as a whole that the novelty of the digital is totalizing rather than particular.
Part of the omission may partly be an artifact of the word limits for the essays. I bumped up against the upper limit and faced a dilemma about how much to talk about digital projects and how much to explore comparisons with public history (such as the youth-history exhibits in Buffalo in the late 1980s or Chicago a few years ago). So my essay has only the most fleeting reference to the valuing of public history but not a deep discussion. I can see that the consequence of those choices by each author is the impression you gather from the set as a whole.
This project is as much an institutional and social experiment in the production of scholarly writing as it is a framework for collected views on how such writing is evolving within a particular humanities discipline “in the digital age.” Some of the most interesting formal questions it asks will only be answered as we watch it continue its trajectory into large and unforgiving systems of scholarly communication and into dialogue with a broader community of historians (many skeptical of or disinterested in the core topics taken up here). In both areas of action, Dougherty and Nawrotzki are on the right track — securing a MARC record submitted to WorldCat even for the draft version of the collection, for instance, and publicizing the experimental aspects of its peer review process in the Guardian. However, unlike most book manuscripts, some of the key framing ambitions for the project can only be proven out in future embodiments and iterations — both having to do with the extent to which the authors and editors respond to reviewers’ comments in making revisions, and the decisions that must be made in collaboration with the press about presentation and production. The polyvocal and “drafty” quality of the work at present (also, oddly, a strength) makes the standard query by Michigan UP — “How well does the manuscript accomplish this purpose in its current form?” — difficult to answer.
It is more than a bit disappointing to note that Michigan’s production decisions will be easier than they ought to be, given the subject matter of the volume. Not a single contribution to the collection is un-printable — in the sense that it takes advantage of affordances of digital media to make arguments and embody approaches impossible in print. Taken as a group, the formal properties of these essays answer the question, “What’s new about writing (about) history in the digital age?” with a resounding, “Not much.”
I share this not as a condemnation of the project — which has so much to recommend it that I unreservedly advise publication — but rather an observation about the collective force of habit and convention in academic writing. It would be interesting to hear the editors reflect, in the final version of their introduction, on the degree to which technology choices (CommentPress for paragraph-level response) and early communications about the project (referring to contributions as “essays”) shaped this response.
Still, I wonder if it’s not too late to return to many of the authors to ask if they have ready or could create multimedia supplements to the collection — a set of online appendices that would pose their own questions about multimedia rhetoric and sustainability, to be sure, but which might better embody the ethos of the digital history community and represent the subjects and energies driving the project. And the collection itself may serve as a testing-ground for some digital demonstrations. See, for instance, Shawn Graham’s comment on this page: http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/general-comments/#comment-822
The scholarship in the collection, by and large, is sound, although as a whole many of the authors seem less familiar with the history of knowledge representation and of the reading and reception of texts than I would have expected, and more of them participated in a kind of boosterism or teleological vision of the digital humanities than I might have liked. Further, classroom concerns and anxieties about Wikipedia and blogging seem over-represented, versus contributions that offer close explication of digital methods, discuss content modeling for historical representation, or survey the state of the art. Only rarely in the collection did all of these concerns (stressors and canards and all) interpenetrate in a useful way.
In terms of overall organization, I have made some small suggestions to the editors in comments throughout (see especially my comments on section 6), but would say that, in general, sections 3 and 5 are the strongest and ought to lead the collection. Beginning with crowd-sourcing and pedagogy may seem like easing in to the topics at hand, but I suspect that readers will find the whole collection more engaging if presented immediately with essays by Gibbs & Owens, Bauer, Tanaka, Theibault, Robertson, et al. It may also be that making necessary cuts in length will result in new obvious groupings — and that publication decisions for the final digital version will allow more flexible, on-the-fly groupings along thematic lines, derived from analysis of the text. (I offer this suggestion again out of a desire to see the digital object embody some of the approaches and possibilities it otherwise only talks about. Could the possibility of contributing to the project in this way be opened up to scholar-practitioners of the digital humanities?)
Finally, on the text: a good deal of copy-editing remains to be done and — because I worked down to the wire and will likely be the last substantive commenter to go through the essays — I can testify that the press will not be able to rely here on the labors of the crowd! (I, myself, often only marked the first grammatical issue of a class that I noted within a particular essay.)
I’d like to congratulate the whole community of participants in the project for the successes they’ve created together and the provocations they’re collectively offering to traditional notions of peer review. It takes a good deal of bravery to share draft versions of one’s work online, and maybe even more to comment openly on others’ writing. This is perhaps especially true for junior scholars and people working outside of the protections of tenure, so many of whom have contributed here — and during job season, no less!
I want to really second what Bethany Nowviskie writes above, both in general and specifically this comment:
“The scholarship in the collection, by and large, is sound, although as a whole many of the authors seem less familiar with the history of knowledge representation and of the reading and reception of texts than I would have expected, and more of them participated in a kind of boosterism or teleological vision of the digital humanities than I might have liked. Further, classroom concerns and anxieties about Wikipedia and blogging seem over-represented, versus contributions that offer close explication of digital methods, discuss content modeling for historical representation, or survey the state of the art. Only rarely in the collection did all of these concerns (stressors and canards and all) interpenetrate in a useful way. ”
I think this brings together beautifully some of my own concerns as expressed above and in comments on some of the essays. I feel somehow as if there has to be a way to explore what digital methods, digital media, digital audiences mean for the production of history without falling into a very old pattern in disciplinary work, of pronouncing the arrival of an insurgency at the gates of the last orthodoxy while beginning to argue for the privileged or special subdisciplinary character of the new practice.
Blog post on my experiences as a student engaging with ‘Writing History in the Digital Age’
Having finished working through the essays, five more thoughts.
1. One thing I really like about open peer review is the opportunity to see what other reviewers are saying and engage in a dialog with them. This is something worth singling out as a net strength and building on it in future experiments with the practice.
2. I think in the “lessons for the future” category might be asking whether there are other ways to structure relations between contributions to a project. The groupings here don’t always seem to me to make sense, there are essays which should be talking to one another more directly.I almost wonder if a project like this could work around a sort of “emergent order” where groupings organically grew from usage or dialog after initial postings. In the end, I don’t think this is actually as liquid as the editors aspire for it to be.
3. The limits on the size of contributions in some cases may be limiting their quality. But within those constraints, I also think some authors could be making better use of their allotments to quickly go to the most complicated, original or interesting components of their work or arguments. There are some tropes that get trotted out here almost ritualistically in many essays and begin to feel repetitive by the end.
4. I share the sense that many contributors have that historians (and other humanities and social science disciplines) are reluctant to embrace many of the aspirations or ideas of interest to the contributors, but at some point I really think we may collectively need better or more concrete evidence for this assertion. The figure of the “reluctant silent majority” functions as something of an Other for this project with really very few sharply pointed examples or specifics.
5. It’s possible that one role for editors or conveners in a project like this is less the cat-herding of the contributors who step forward in response to an RFP and more an identification of missing voices, important perspectives, potential provocations, leading to a careful selection of additional contributions or reflections that allow some sense of a counterpoint or debate within the project to arise more clearly.
I keep coming back to general comments as I spiral through the essays and comments one more time. One thing that’s really leaping out at me now on my most recent pass is how very different the material dealing with digital reworkings of and rethinkings of “data” are from essays that consider digital culture both as communicative platform and as democratizing/popularizing force. In the former camp, there’s a very interesting but largely unproblematized naming of cliometric analysis as newly possible or invigorated through digital media or tools–John Thiebault’s essay recalls at least one major episode within the discipline of history that framed that kind of work as problematic, but I don’t think many of the other contributors really consider this broader context much.
More importantly, I don’t think there’s much recognition in either group of just how sharply different these senses of “digital” really are. This is another case where some kind of bridging artifact or contribution would make a big difference.
These 5 comments previously appeared on Part 2: The Wisdom of Crowds(ourcing), but were moved to General Comments by the editors in order to preserve the original URL when the section introduction was revised for the Spring 2012 version.
October 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm
I wonder if the framing question is a little too stark. There are other possibilities, aren’t there, in between (or apart from) “irreparable damage” and “necessary challenge”? While certain of the essays here show ‘the crowd’ and ‘academics’ to be in an agonistic relationship, most seem to show them usefully complementing each other (e.g. Sikarskie) or learning from each other’s differences (Graham et al.).
October 12, 2011 at 6:36 pm
“from documented editing debates over Civil War history” I am not sure what this means – debates that have been edited or editors debating?
November 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm
I agree with Christopher Hager, who questions the starkness of the dichotomy drawn by the editors between democratized knowledge as “irreparable damage” or “necessary challenge.” It makes for a provocative intro, but don’t think the more nuanced essays in this section bear that reading out!
November 5, 2011 at 7:39 pm
I’d really suggest avoiding the diminishment of “and his student co-authors” for a collaboratively-written piece. I think you should either use all the authors’ names or stick with “Graham et al.”
November 27, 2011 at 6:37 pm
I agree — this should be Graham et al. (As an aside I think it is an inadvertent but telling reflection of who we all see as “real authors” in the historical profession. Does digital history become the venue in which we as professional historians re-consider the hierarchies of authorship that we often employ? For example, does or should the appellation “independent scholar” matter? Should we be more willing to treat students — grad or undergrad — as co-authors? Food for thought.)
Similarly, these 2 comments previously appeared on Part 3: Practice What You Teach, but were moved to General Comments by the editors in order to preserve the original URL when the section introduction was revised for the Spring 2012 version.
November 26, 2011 at 11:18 am
Because this section is largely a great sea of Wikipedia pedagogy and critique, I’d suggest that the editors consider better framing the discussion by placing the very solid and contextually-rich Harbison/Waltzer essay first
September 28, 2011 at 9:31 am
I’m looking forward to seeing it all up!
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May 18, 2013 at 5:36 pm
While you’re correct that a Zotero source record only has a single field for notes, you can have any number of associated text (i.e. note) records related that that source.
See in context
March 20, 2013 at 10:50 am
Our apologies for this frustration. We had temporarily suspended new registrations for technical reasons but have since reactivated it, so that both new registration and commenting without registration should now be possible.
March 20, 2013 at 10:00 am
This is the lesson that I’m learning right now. It’s so true, and so difficult. All of the authors on our project are also discovering that you have to hit hundreds of people you know, and thousands of others, to get just a few willing to visit and contribute to the site. Thinking about strategies in this area requires great creativity, and many of us historian types are unused to thinking creatively about human contact in the here-and-now. But you have to do it to get a the kind of interaction that delivers on the promise of the technology.
March 13, 2013 at 9:41 am
Unfortunately, it says above that you need to enter your details in full for each comment or register once … but when you click ‘register’ it says ‘registration is not allowed’. Mildly frustrating! :-)
March 13, 2013 at 9:40 am
Hmm … you’re asking ‘the public’ to comment on the essays in this journal, but then the first two or three paragraphs talk exclusively about ‘we historians’ etc. which might well put of ‘the public’ from commenting, I would have thought.
I can’t see how the digital revolution could not transform how historians write about the past – but it probably depends how far back you go. The past is yesterday – for yesterday’s history there must be a vast mine of information on the net, from the completely trivial (I hurt my knee, ouch – I’ve written a blog post about it) to major world news.
However, pre-web history will obviously not be affected in the same way. I’ve no doubt the way it’s written about will still be affected though and I look forward to reading more and finding out how.