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Evaluating Digital Scholarship on its Own Terms: A Case Study

Samuel Huskey

University of Oklahoma

This paper will discuss how a multidisciplinary department made up of classicists and other humanities scholars at a large public research university developed and implemented a policy for evaluating digital scholarship. The challenges will be familiar to most faculty members, regardless of the nature or size of their departments. In this instance, the majority of faculty members were not engaged in digital scholarship of any kind. Some were firmly committed to the book as the gold standard of scholarly productivity. Others recognized the potential of digital scholarship, but had reservations about the ephemeral nature of so many digital projects. Still others took the view that building digital tools and resources is something other than scholarship; tools might support scholarly work, but they do not by themselves make an original contribution to scholarship. Nevertheless, with the university pushing ahead with a digital scholarship initiative, the department agreed that adopting a policy on digital scholarship would, at the very least, put it in the running for precious resources. Accordingly, the two faculty members who were involved in digital projects were charged with proposing a policy.

Many of our colleagues’ concerns reflect their frame of reference: the print-centered paradigm that has guided humanities disciplines for centuries. Although the print paradigm continues to evolve, particularly in light of Open Access and other initiatives to address costs, it is a valid model for certain forms of scholarship, just not all of them. Accordingly, we sought not to fit digital scholarship into a print paradigm, but rather to develop policies appropriate for a digital paradigm. Developing those policies is not a herculean task for scholars who work on a digital paradigm. The hard part is getting buy-in from those who do not.

In this paper, I shall focus on the hard part, since that is where digital humanities scholars need the most help. How do you persuade colleagues who expect a book that a digital scholarly edition is its equivalent? How do you persuade them that a tool for visualizing data is a scholarly product? Even if you can persuade them of those things, how do you help them assess and evaluate these and other outcomes as original contributions to scholarship? To answer these questions, I shall give an account of the process that we followed, which concluded with unanimous passage of our digital scholarship policy and its approval by the dean and the provost.

Session/Panel Title

Evaluating Scholarship: Digital and Traditional

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