Category Archives: Fall 2013

Posts done in Fall 2013

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One Prof One Book?

I enjoyed Tom Schienfeldt’s presentation on his One Week One Tool initiative. One thing in particular has stuck with me. After his talk, the question of Project Management as applied to academia came up. Mr. Schienfeldt made the point that corralling humanists into working together is difficult. It’s really a shame this is true.

People can do so much more when they work in a team possessed of complementary skills, and this applies to academic pursuits in the Humanities as well as any others. It’s often said at this point that successful collaboration happens all the time in the sciences. What is so different about the humanistic fields that makes collaboration so hard?

Many say it is because a monograph, apparently the great proof of academic accomplishment, succeeds best as a solo undertaking. It’s the concentrated expression of a single person’s study and thought. Why is this valued? Partially because the subjects of the Humanities are thought of as subjective, or at least contingent. The monograph form also evolved partially as a response to the need to recognize academic accomplishments, designed to make it possible to give credit to one person.

But, the monograph isn’t the inherent form of humanistic expression. Group projects, while they look different from monographs, can still provide unique contributions to knowledge. They might take the form of an archive, or a ‘social edition’, or any number of arrangements not invented yet. And, if expectations change in order to recognize group work, some academics will consider it in their best interests to work together.

Even the monograph form doesn’t exclude group work. It is possible to assign appropriate credit for each author’s contribution to a multi-author monograph, eg, by assigning authors to write individual chapters. Imagine, however, a book written truly collaboratively, with each author’s text intermingling with the others’. Authors could use a version control system like Git, letting them work simultaneously on the same text without interfering with each other’s progress–and allowing judges to assign credit, using Git’s Diff function to see who wrote what.

By the way, I’ve employed just such a collaborative model using Git & Github (see the source code here), working with Alevtina Verbovetskaya, Robin Davis, and Junior Tidal, for a presentation we are making on the topic Life with Pi: Microcomputing in Academia to the CUNY IT Conference this next Friday, December 6th. Come on by if you’re interested!

Lessons

Great posts all about Tom’s presentation on Monday. What I think One Week/One Tool demonstrates is the positive benefit of using digital technologies to help us break free of the intellectual, organizational and psychological constraints posed by traditional academic thinking and work processes in order to imagine new ways to achieve academic/intellectual ends, whatever those may be. It’s less about figuring out if One Week/One Tool is the right approach for us to use in the Digital Praxis class moving forward and more about embracing that kind of unconventional thinking that Tom exemplifies about our conceptualization and production processes in the academy. How we get to that point (i.e. the exact procedures we decide to use) is less significant than our willingness to embrace new possibilities and new methodologies.

Catching Lightning in a Bottle

It’s interesting to reflect on the discussion channels pouring out of Tom Scheinfeldt’s presentation about One Week | One Tool. It seems we’re contending with how to infuse the energy and spontaneity characterized by some of the One Week | One Tool ethos into our yet to be, semester long projects next Spring. The attraction I, and certainly others see in a short term, intensive program like One Week | One Tool is exactly the phenomenon Tom Scheinfeldt remarked upon- this freedom within constraints, this ability for the clear (just the right kind of spooked) mind to shepherd in powerful concentration and creativity.

We make very fuzzy visualizations about what next semester’s project might really look like or turn into- and we’ve had plenty of time to let our imaginations run rampant without the ability to put any of this energy into doing the project itself. And I think this speaks directly to another of Scheinfeldt’s points- stress creeps in when we don’t know what’s expected of us. We haven’t gotten there yet, so we certainly aren’t able to grasp the expectations.

One Week | One Tool aims to catch lightning in a bottle by giving willing attendees the opportunity to collaborate and produce results under extreme pressure. How can we leverage that ‘camp’ like energy and combine it with more traditional project timelines for the better of our projects?

Perhaps we can start with an approach similar to how Scheinfeldt described this summer’s One Week | One Tool participants’ working process. First, a rapid brainstorming session, followed by a few rounds of viability and assessment discussions. Projects would be conceived in a short amount of time, and there would be an emphasis on developing and testing the tool quickly. I think it’s crucial to be really strategic and cognizant, yet make haste on the design and development side of things as often the concept and reality can get conflated and cause distortion- really putting a wrench in the project’s momentum. We could then take the results to our constituents: the end users and ‘funders.’ This would give us more of an opportunity to interface with crucial stakeholders beyond project participants, and hopefully enable reworking phase(s) in order to work out some kinks.

 

“Twitter and Blogs are first drafts of scholarship…”

Borrowing that line from samplereality’s Tweet, the writer Mark Sample was correcting a statement after realizing the project George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media and Tom Scheinfeldt was launching, Anthologize, planned to give ‘better binding’ to such scholarly works. As we have learned however, the One Week | One Tool project has done more than just provide an application for “publicizing” blogs and mapping texts with possibly related and funky imagery. Analyzing collaboration within a new realm of scholarship is the real gift of the seven day, twelve person project.

However, as was said by Ms. Stevens earlier, the One Week… project was an experiment in highly irregular circumstances. Time is an issue which obviously will present itself in any situation. Gioia is correct though: The focus should not be on “crash programs” strategy and management. Any group forming a consensus will run into problems of disagreement and the question of internal leadership may or may not also rise. But with regards to DH, how could people facing ordinary constraints (time, money, jobs, families, multiple competing projects, laundry etc.), complete projects with greater efficiency.

Unfortunately, I am unsure what more can really be added from the previous post.

Collaboration and creative constraints

The One Week | One Tool project shows that time and resource constraints really can be made to work in a project’s favor. Twelve strangers who committed to seven days of all hack, no yack, and very little sleep made some great tools (Serendip-o-matic, Anthologize). Creating severe constraints can foster both collaboration and creativity.  Tom Scheinfeldt pointed out three key lessons for successful collaborations: 1) embrace serendipity 2) let go and 3) collaboration is shared doing.

DH barn raising projects are inspiring, but they are artificial laboratories of collaboration. How many of the lessons will be useful outside of an intense, boot camp style workshop? I agree that collaboration is shared doing, but I started to wonder when Scheinfeldt pointed out that time constraints can mean sacrificing shared decision making.  My workplace culture focuses on consensus building, so I found it both slightly shocking and secretly delightful (those staff meetings are long!) when Scheinfeldt said “Moving on will mend hurt feelings more than talking about it.”

What about collaboration for the rest of us? Very few people have the luxury of attending a week long workshop. The real world has plenty of constraints (time, money, jobs, families, multiple competing projects, laundry etc.). What are best ways to use these constraints to promote collaboration and creativity? Maybe it’s less about crash programs and more about intelligent adaptation to existing conditions? Starting a business (designing the right product for the right market) or gardening (choosing the best plant to thrive in a particular location) could be useful examples for thinking about the best ways to use what we have to build something together.

Tools from GEOSPATIAL HUMANITIES: STEVE ROMALEWSKI

New tools for online cartography

Annotating online maps to provide context and narrative

Mapping tutorials

Alt-Ac Careers

I was incredibly grateful for the candor with which we discussed the state of academic jobs in the DH Praxis Seminar this week. The job hunt is a touchy subject (whether in the academic humanities or elsewhere), and I’ve enjoyed the fact that our seminar doesn’t shy away from difficult topics.

As a few people mentioned on Monday, it is a shame the term “alt-ac” even exists. This entire category of jobs is not defined by its own characteristics, but by that to which it is an alternative. As Katina mentioned during her lecture, until we truly establish an even playing field, where students are encouraged to blaze their own trails without a description of the “normal” path and the “alternative” path, the term alt-ac will have to do.

I also really appreciated the idea of making your own luck. As a musician, I am faced with a field that is built on relationships, networking, freelance, and entrepreneurship. While everyone has heard the story of a musician waiting for his “break,” there’s something to be said for creating your own opportunities and being ready for whatever comes your way as you passionately pursue your career.

What About Alt-Cubicle?

The question posed to MA students towards the end of class on the PhD/alt-ac debate was something like: “How does this make you feel?”

I would say “optimistic, but cautious.” But because my goal is ultimately a PhD, and because the job market is tepid at best, why am I optimistic about it at all? Why is anyone? I know that I want to teach, and I don’t have faith in the job market, yet I still convince myself that it is an option that will be open to me if I work hard enough. I think a lot of people who want to go into teaching are also optimists, and also want to help better the world and contribute knowledge and such. If there are other things we can do that would satisfy the same desires, shouldn’t we know about them?

A thread I found running through our conversation and the articles I’ve read about career identity in general seem to point to a common problem: When we start a career, how do we know what we’re really getting ourselves into?

My mom has worked as an attorney at the same company for the past 30 years. She thought that the current overflow of law school students would be solved if they knew what being a lawyer actually meant. Maybe the same problem could be fixed if a requirement for entrance into PhD programs was to follow professors around and see what it’s actually like to be a faculty member  (considering that you want to be one).

So why are we not given more information about potential careers before we embark on them (outside of “take your daughter to work day”)? Aside from dire warnings about the job market, I think some practical advice is in order before anyone continues down a rocky path.

This article  may be one example of why we don’t get more in-depth information about careers. Any honest transparency could mean that you lose your job or a reference. It’s the same reason people aren’t honest in exit interviews.

Something else about the alt-ac debate that I find disconcerting is this idea that people with PhDs in the humanities can fall right into publishing – a field that is often grossly underpaid and quickly losing momentum.

I think a lot of people from my generation look at their parents successful careers, pension plans and slight unhappiness and ask themselves what they can do differently while still finding success. For some, this is a constant exploration that may lead somewhere like graduate school. And because a lot of us are wholly unsatisfied sitting in a cube working at a boring job all day, maybe we just need to be fully aware of our options and what it takes to get someplace else.

Knowledge Workers Unite!

In May, 2012, ProQuest, the historical newspaper and scholarly journal database, introduced Udini, “an inventive new research service that provides individuals with access to premium content and cutting edge tools.” The “premium content” they advertised was pulled from select ProQuest databases which previously had only been available through research and academic libraries. According to their press release, Udini offers scholarly content to “knowledge workers without access to research libraries.”

Then in September, 2013, JSTOR, the online academic journal and e-book platform, announced JPASS, a subscription service also geared toward the unaffiliated scholar. For a small fee, you can access a set number of articles in the JSTOR archive. As the JPASS press release suggests, “It’s a great option if you are not able to get ready access through an educational institution or public library.”

Udini and JPASS, combined with increasing number of open access scholarly journal and monograph content, plus the full text titles available in Google Books, HathiTrust, and the Internet Archive, has made initial research for the unaffiliated humanities scholar easier than ever before. And if one adds the growing amount of content digitized from specialized libraries, plus access to library subscription databases, a curious mind need only to have an internet connection and a library card to begin her independent studies.

In fact, one could argue that many of the alt-ac career paths that were mentioned and discussed in class on Monday don’t require a PhD at all. Many don’t (or shouldn’t) even require a Masters degree. What many of these alt-ac jobs require are the same skills that many jobs require: clear writing and communication, research skills, organization, interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills, and intellectual curiosity and initiative.

Intellectual curiosity, while perhaps once only satisfied by classroom engagement and course readings, is now easily fulfilled by tools accessible to a large portion of the population. Indeed, syllabi, lectures, and like-minded scholarly communities are all now easy to find outside the academy. In fact, there are many articles and blogs written by non academic scholars and enthusiasts whose writing and research are more aligned with their academic brethren than their publishing platforms may suggest. And much of their work is increasingly intersecting and interacting with traditional academia in interesting and productive ways.

I’m not suggesting that the world of material available to unaffiliated scholars mirrors the deep archival content that can be found in a university or academic library, or that an independent researcher is necessarily the equal to a PhD. But in 2013, there is so much more available to whet one’s curiosity and engage in learning, to participate in communities, and to publish, speak, and collaborate outside of the academy than ever before. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a social scientist, or even a library scientist to do it.

11/18/13 Katina Rogers: Alt-Academic Careers

While many graduate programs continue to focus on tenure track placement rates, a growing proportion of humanities scholars are embracing a much broader range of intellectually stimulating careers in, around, and beyond the academy. Focusing both on her own career path and on her research at the Modern Language Association, the Scholarly Communication Institute, and the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia, Katina Rogers will discuss strategies to support professionalization, public scholarship, and career development across a wide array of possible outcomes.

Katina Rogers is managing editor of MLA Commons, the Modern Language Association’s new online platform for collaboration and scholarly communication. She previously served as Senior Research Specialist with the Scholarly Communication Institute, a Mellon-funded humanities think tank based in the University of Virginia’s Scholars’ Lab. Her current research focuses on graduate education reform, career paths for humanities scholars, and innovative modes of scholarly production. Katina holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Colorado.