Born Digital Scholarship

by lisafthenakis

This week we have been reading about issues surrounding ‘born digital’ scholarship. One of the articles I looked at was The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities an early example of a born digital article and a later essay by one of the authors, Writing A Digital History Journal Article from Scratch: An Account examining the process of authoring the article. Exploring the original article was particularly interesting, it took the component parts of a typical article and separated them into unique webpages. This made the distinction between thesis, analysis, evidence and historiography particularly evidence, which I would imagine would be particularly useful for anyone who is not used to the structural cues of a scholarly article.

The Differences Slavery Made Web Article

Writing Digital History revealed that format was one of the most difficult parts of authoring born digital scholarship and that this set of webpages was the result of several rounds of edits. As he says,

Our decisions revolved around three major questions: first, what would the narrative or argument look like, second, how would the navigation and interface work, and third, what technology would support or drive the article. Of course, all of these were interrelated, and decisions about one affected the others.

While I think the format they settled on is effective, it is interesting to see the versions they considered and how difficult it was to find a useful and effective format. A lack of understanding how people read in the digital format as well as a lack of conventions for digital work meant that they had to re-think decisions usually decided by professional conventions. Robert Townsend also addresses this need for conventions in his article How is New Media Reshaping the Work of Historians? He points out that while tenure committees generally accept born digital scholarship, lack of procedure is the major obstacle to recognizing digital scholarship in journals. It seems a shame that good scholarship is not getting the attention it deserves because of a lack of conventions. Understandably, this is also becomes a hurdle in convincing scholars to undertake digital scholarship.

It seems the answer to all of this is simple, to create conventions for digital scholarship. Even if the conventions need to be revised over time , it seems like such a small hurdle to expanding tools available for historians.