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Evaluating Digital and Traditional Scholarship

Gregory Crane

Tufts University

The first question is not how to evaluate digital scholarship but to articulate the contribution that scholarship on the Greco-Roman world makes to society as a whole. In practice, most departmental reviews of scholarship assume that the field deserves to exist and the paid professionals within have full autonomy to decide how to assess what does and does not matter. Those of us who have had the opportunity to earn tenured positions at established institutions may, of course, be able to assume that the existence of Greco-Roman studies is settled because our own positions are expected to be secure until we choose to retire. The reckoning comes, of course, when we do retire and our institutions must decide whether to replace us, to give that position to another department, or simply to allocate those resources elsewhere. When funders in nations such as the UK require proposals to describe the impact of funded research, they are not simply asking that we invent rhetorical explanations of impact for a research project that we have already designed. The prodding questions about impact challenge us to go back to first principles and to ask what work our scholarship should accomplish. Specialist assessment of the technical quality plays an absolutely essential but, by itself, utterly insufficient role in assessing scholarship. The goal is not to abandon professional standards but to deploy them in the service of some goal beyond impressing other specialists. I see at least two complementary justifications for research. First, an analysis of popular culture would (in my view) demonstrate enough interest in the Greco-Roman world to sustain -- and even to expand -- the number of positions devoted to research in this area. Publication behind subscription walls, writing that assumes too much specialist understanding (even in monographs that purport to reach a wider audience), and inadequate use of new interactive forms of publications all limit the realizable intellectual value of the scholarship that we produce. Second, our research must relentlessly demonstrate transparent, evidence-based reasoning. This entails that we provide, insofar as humanly possible, links to openly licensed versions of the primary sources upon which we base our conclusions. This requirement creates a demand for at least a generation of editors who can create born-digital editions that can be personalized to serve the general backgrounds and immediate needs of many different audiences. True philology -- broad in its scope, transparent in its use of evidence, open to different interpretations, and rigorous in its argumentation -- is possible and can demonstrate the contributions that Greco-Roman culture can make to human society.

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Evaluating Scholarship: Digital and Traditional

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