Does Digital History Count as Scholarship?:
In several of the readings for this week, I noticed that the main theme was not only about practical ways to publish content online, but also how that content is valued. In Alex Cummings and Jonathan Jarrett’s piece, “Only Typing? Informal Writing, Blogging, and the Academy,” the authors talk about the informality of blogging, but also discuss the ways in which this informality can reach people. They emphasize that “dense writing deters an audience” and for non-historians “the historical blogger can help decode the field.” This makes blogging invaluable for reaching a wider public and catching interest. Yet, the authors remind readers that the importance of blogs (and really digital scholarship in general) is being questioned. Sloppy writing, descent into professional gossip, inaccurate information, and the biased nature of opinion are all points of criticism. These are valid concerns, but adaptation and willingness to change for the enrichment of the field of history, as well as for the benefit of those who wish to learn from historians but need to do so in a different way than traditional scholarship, is something that must be considered here.
New Methods of Imparting Knowledge:
Blogging is quickly becoming, if it hasn’t already, one of the main mediums of information exchange to vast amounts of people in an easily understandable way. If you google advice on blogging, you will find hundreds of different people telling you the best way to start, maintain, and improve a blog on almost any subject. The articles this class read over for discussion on this subject are only a few out of the mass of articles we could have looked at. Mignon Fogarty’s post, “How to Write a Great Blog Comment,” insists that one of the requirements for a good comment is that you respond to someone else’s work with an acceptable level of knowledge about the subject you are discussing. If this medium is becoming so important in the age of technological innovation we live in today, and if it clearly is something accessible to a giant audience, it already merits value as a communication tool. If you add to it the fact that people who may be experts in their chosen field, hobby, or really anything, can share their knowledge to help improve the lives of others, it seems that blogs and other digital tools should be held in higher esteem than they are by the academic community.
Audiences can learn so much about a historical topic from a website or blog in a shorter amount of time than it takes to read books and articles. The colors, images, and design aspects of online content also draw in more viewers of varying demographics than other media can. As a viewer with almost zero knowledge of the racial violence happening in Harlem during the Great Depression, I was impressed by the two online publications telling this history that were assigned for this class to read. The first website, “Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930,” while a bit less user friendly than the second website, “Year of the Riot: Harlem in Disorder: A Spatial History of Race and Violence in the Great Depression,” it was helpful in showing me the context for the events surrounding race violence in this period. It also made it clear with informative captions and just a general representation of the geography both how many speakeasies and nightclubs actually existed at this time in Harlem that I had never actually thought about, along with the pure volume of violence that occurred at these places. I learned this information by simply clicking on the picture entitled “Nightlife” on the site’s home screen. This site is also a blog, making it even more relevant to this point of the importance of this type of digital media in the world of history. The author provides documentation of source materials used, and interestingly enough they are predominantly primary sources. Does this not make this site a piece of scholarly work worth appreciating and learning from? I learned more from the interactive and colorful nature of the website than I would have ever learned trying to skim through a book on the subject with few pictures.
The second website on Harlem, linked earlier, was even more informative than the first. The design was attractive but not distracting, and it drew me in to start clicking on links to learn more. The best part about this site is that it is still in progress, and is constantly updated with new information and improvements. Stephen Robertson, the creator of both sites, is working on a digital historical project and planning to continue building upon the work he did in his previous website/blog “Digital Harlem.” Looking over this ‘work in progress’ I have already learned more about the events mentioned than I would have thought upon first glance.
I say all of this to remind people that this kind of work is educating many people who don’t have the ability to learn more about historical topics through schooling and reading countless books and journals on important and relevant historical moments. Maybe this should be considered more valuable than it is? It could be bringing history forward as a field, acting as a way to reach wider public audiences and educate larger numbers of people on historical topics.
Cummings and Jarrett accurately sum up my feelings on the subject when they claim that we have to stop hoarding our knowledge and viewing ourselves as the only ones able to “master” it. They suggest approaching our knowledge in our field as curators. We can share the information we possess with a larger audience, and facilitate their learning of it, adding to the development of knowledge instead of keeping it to ourselves.
5 replies on “Should We Value Digital Scholarship?”
In the Jarrett and Cummings article, they disagree about whether or not blogs are “where scholarship is done.” Do you think blogs should be fully included as historical scholarship, or are they just supplements to it?
Personally, I think they should be included as legitimate scholarship IF they use the same methods of professional research practice as any academic would when writing a book or article. I feel like accepting online scholarship could open up doors within the field, but people have to be consulting primary sources and peer reviewed sources in order to create their content. Does that answer your questions?
This is an interesting interpretation of the reading, especially the Jarett and Cummings article. It’s amazing how opinions can differ. Blogging certainly can be a great way to break down barriers and address that ever persistent issue of “hoarding” knowledge. My thoughts behind potential cons for this idea relate to risks posed by blogs. Should academic work be performed on more free-publishing platforms free from peer review, or at least much less reviewed than a traditional journal article, could this spark a trend of other blogs following suit, perhaps some written by authors that are less credible or perhaps even malicious in their motives to spread false information. I’m certainly weary of using blogging in such a way but there are obviously advantages.
I think one of the most curious aspects of moving scholarship to blogging platforms is how our current institutions of “qualification” could be changed. Ignoring whether or not this is for better or worse, academia is notorious for hierarchy and high barriers to entry. It is built into the system. Advantages of blogging certainly help to do away with that system but much of our economy, and job searches, are based on meritocracy. Without that institutionalized piece of paper saying “yeah, I’ve done this” holding value, what happens to our current idea of qualifications should blogging become an acceptable medium for sharing “accurate” knowledge? Change can be for the better, or worse, I would be curious either way to see. I think overall I am more pessimistic about blogging in terms of legitimate scholarship. I would love to hear ideas from others about how we could harness the positives of low-barriers to entry and no pay walls without compromising integrity in information.
I agree with you about the potential issues involved in accepting this kind of scholarship. I do think that there will always be people trying to take advantage of whatever platform is used to spread false content and cause problems. Blogging as a platform makes that easier for sure, because it requires less peer review and is updated so frequently it is hard for people to catch the false info until it’s too late! One potential solution could be to require more peer review of historical blogs and websites. Maybe if these platforms start being treated to the same standards as academic scholarship, then other historians will review the content posted in them and the will get more attention from the field. This might help police some of the possible troublemakers. Considering the accessibility of blogs, it might make it easier for some historians to jump in and review content almost as soon as it is posted. Of course, this does worry me a little in terms of people getting into unprofessional arguments through this method…let me know what you think?
This captures a lot of my similar thoughts, Elizabeth. I appreciate your comment that blogging can bridge this notion that academics in the field are the only ones who can “master” the subject. School students and people off all ages often have an impression of historians being the ultimate gate-keepers of knowledge and as long as they themselves are not part of this historical profession, they cannot engage in productive conversation.
Blogging serves as an excellent technology resource to bring more people into the historical conversation and become their own gate-keepers of knowledge. However, in this notion as Jarrod noted, there is a concern of the level of work and professionalism coming from the blogging platform. I believe that the more we educate future generations on the proper ways of blogging and the blogging websites themselves improve, this will be less of a concern.