How much does digital humanities count?

How much does the digital humanities count?

Even in what you might term the year of the Digital Humanities (2012–but pick your own date), this is a vital question for the digital humanities, not to mention the disciplines themselves for a variety of obvious reasons that have to do with careers, audiences, and the future of the academy.  In history and public histoy, the AHA and the NCPH have argued forcefully that digital humanities and public engagement matter in promotion and tenure (see the precursor to the report, here.) The MLA has also made its position that the digital humanities counts. Great letter here supports the digital humanities, as well as a fabulous aggregation of emerging standards from the University of North Carolina‘s digital humanities initiative, and from Hastac.

At this point, we all get the point, of course. Digital scholarship should count in tenure and promotion. But, that is *not* what I am asking. Instead, I am asking how does it count or, rather, how much does it counts? Yes, I am asking it literally.  And, yes, this might seem shallow. Given the links I’ve cited, I should (presumably) be taking the lead myself. I have been, but as an ordinary (tenure, but not full) professor, I am often at the whims of administrators–as we all are.

So, what I am asking is simple: does a blog counts as much as a journal article? Is an online collection of documents worth as much as a collection of oral histories? How should I (specifically me and my collaborators) count our effort on Cleveland Historical, with its 300,000 words, and thousands of thousands of multimedia components, not to mention hundreds of collaborators, and an audience measured in the tens of  thousands?

Why the concern about such mundane counting, you ask? Well, I ask because higher education, as we know it, has been under pressure for quite some time to become more efficient. As the funding of higher education comes under increasing public scrutiny at state universities, and as private colleges face questions about their tuition. More recently, Internet-based education (including online degrees and programs, as well as a variety of e-learning strategies that is evolving rapidly) will amplify already beleagured universities.

Coupled with easy data availability, higher education is moving, inexorably and with increasing speed, toward quantifying productivity and output, with widespread use of services, such as  Academic Analytics, increasing.

On the face of it, this effort does not seem so preposterous as it allows for a more standardized way to assess scholarly impact (i.e. H-index), scholarly productivity, and other measures of service and teaching.  But, note, these almost all count traditional peer-reviewed presses and journal sources. Of course, we all know that standardizing scholarship across disciplines, and even sub-disciplines, is difficult (if not impossible.) Likewise, measuring scholarly “impact,” while more desirable is equally fraught. The coin of the realm has long been peer review, which is (of course) flawed and letters of recommendation or reviews are often not worth the pages on which they’ve been printed (or sent electronically.) Thus, even with objections about the value and validity of standardized measures of output, we will see it upon us imminently.

What are the stakes? Most obviously tenure and promotion are at stake. Yet, I would argue that these will continue to follow mixed procedures (individuals make cases about scholarship, external reviewers offer insight, and internal committees deliberate.) No, the stakes are likely less sexy and more mundane, although perhaps will have  more of an impact. Standardized productivity will become the basis for workload decisions (i.e. whether a faculty member teaches a 2/2 load or a 4/4 load) and decisions about whether hiring occurs at all (i.e. your unit–department, etc.–is not as productive as it could or should be or as those at peer institutions are, so it will not be rewarded with new hiring lines.)  We may care more about tenure and promotion, but the truth is that workload and hiring colleagues (verse part-timers) both speak to the bottom line as it regards the number of tenure-track decisions. Think about it. If a department were to move 6 of its members from a 2/2 teaching load to a 3/3 teaching load, it would be the equivalent of hiring two new faculty members. In that environment, will there be replacement positions for retiring or leaving faculty? Will there be positions for adjuncts or part-time instructor? Quite simply, the number of positions will dwindle. And, a dwindling number of positions will have an adverse impact on the disciplines more broadly.

So, my question of “how does it count” matters. My institution has moved decidedly toward assessing our productivity, assigning points and conditions and so forth, as a way of determining workload.

Below is a quick list (only partial), that suggests some important milestones for our University. So, here is the question for my audience. Where would digital humanities endeavors fit? Think about the variety possible: blogs (either sole authored or communal done), digital exhibitions (large, small, etc.), collaborative projects, programming, contributions to blogs or exhibits, developing a collection, annotating a text, participating in a TEI project, etc… What are the criteria for judgement? How do we approximate peer review? How does audience matter in determining the impact? How do ongoing projects count? What about different production values? and, so forth.

So, I leave it to my audience. What counts? and How much?

Here is a partial list of items being explored at my university as guidelines about a scholars’ production. In the parlance of the University, one large contribution equals two standard contributions, equals four small contributions.

Large
major book with a respected publisher (includes research monographs and creative fiction); PI on a major external grant. > $100,000 for Social Sciences; >$50,000 for arts and humanities; Curator of a major external exhibit at a professional venue; major (i.e., symphonic) composition; major film, contracted for national distribution or the recipient of a major national award.

Standard
solo-authored journal article or book chapter in a significant research collection; (primary-author) co-authored journal article or book Chapter in a significant research collection; Editor of a collection of original scholarly essays; single items accepted at a group exhibition; Curator at a university or local venue; PI on a medium external grant $5000-$99,000 for social sciences; $5000-$49,000 for arts and humanities; Successful performance as co-PI on large grants as defined above; smaller film or documentary; scholarly translation of a major work; play; chapbook of poetry; standard-sized short story; textbook; book contract + ½ of a completed (but unpublished) book manuscript.

Small
co-authored journal article or book chapter (not primary author); PI on an internal grant or small external grant $1000-$5000; short short story; poem; revision (new edition) of a textbook; encyclopedia essay or book review essay in a major journal; scholarly translation of a smaller work.

So, where does DH fit??????????????????????

Added 2/19/2013. So there are a number of examples, University of Florida, Center for Humanities and the Public Sphere and the University of Nebraska Lincoln both have concrete policies and guidelines. HASTAC makes some suggestions, albeit vague ones; the University of Southern California’s VP for Research celebrates being liberated from paper, even as his colleagues and provost make concrete recommendations about what to do about digital projects as the basis for tenure and promotion.

Peer review surely matters, but we need to think carefully about how we evaluate digital work, according to the Digital Humanities Quarterly. There is little doubt that the world of scholarship is changing, dramatically and perhaps dramatically as new forms of authorship emerge.

Finally Sean Takats recent discussion of his tenure case, and some responses to it, including the blog “Exploring the Past,” which took this observation from the American Historical Association, calling for a redefinition of what constitutes “historical scholarship.” Here’s an excerpt:

Digital tools are transforming the practice of history, yet junior scholars and graduate students are facing obstacles and risks to their professional advancement in using methods unrecognized as rigorous scholarly work. Their peers and evaluators are often unable or unwilling to address the scholarship on its merits. Opportunities to publish digital work, or to even have it reviewed are limited. Finally, promotion and tenure processes are largely built around 19th-century notions of historical scholarship that do not recognize or appropriately value much of this work. The disconnect between traditional evaluation and training and new digital methods means young scholars take on greater risks when dividing their limited time and attention on new methods that ultimately may not ever face scholarly evaluation on par with traditional scholarly production.

The arguments here are clear. Digital Scholarship does matter…

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