Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Learning About Digital Scholarship

After fifteen years devoted to the digitization and presentation of historical materials, I have been asked to investigate the emerging field of digital scholarship with an eye toward supporting at least several of its constituent activities on the Northern Illinois University campus. As a historian, I will begin with the digital humanities and attempt to work my way toward understanding digital scholarship in other disciplines.

This will certainly involve familiarizing myself with the considerable literature discussing digital scholarship in general, as well as the bodies of work discussing major subdivisions in it, like digital publishing, data/text mining, Geographic Information Systems and other forms of data visualization, and the retrieval of digital data via Application Programming Interfaces.

My task presents a challenge very much like that confronted by our present IMLS-funded study of how medium-sized and smaller institutions lacking large financial resources might achieve increasingly high levels of preservation for digital objects. From my present perspective, without the benefit of great familiarity with the field, it appears that successful digital scholarship and/or digital humanities programs at universities and colleges require significant amounts of resources. Proprietary software requires the payment of purchase/subscription fees. Open-source software requires the contributions of skilled programmers and developers. Both require the contributions of other skilled professionals familiar with their use in the different specialties making up digital scholarship and/or digital humanities, as well as their relevance to existing, more traditional scholarly discourses. These are luxuries that I have reason to believe my university, dependent for funding upon the worst-governed state in the nation, cannot presently afford.

Thus I will undertake my new work with an eye toward discovering ways in which members of the university community might produce digital scholarship with the least possible outlay of financial and other institutional resources. In these early days, I am planning to attempt to discover those faculty members on the NIU campus already doing digital scholarship of one type or another, in the hope that I might learn from them and enable them to learn from and support each other.