Introducing Digital Humanities Now

Do the digital humanities need journals? Although I’m very supportive of the new journals that have launched in the last year, and although I plan to write for them from time to time, there’s something discordant about a nascent field—one so steeped in new technology and new methods of scholarly communication—adopting a format that is struggling in the face of digital media.

I often say to non-digital humanists that every Friday at 5 I know all of the most important books, articles, projects, and news of the week—without the benefit of a journal, a newsletter, or indeed any kind of formal publication by a scholarly society. I pick up this knowledge by osmosis from the people I follow online.

I subscribe to the blogs of everyone working centrally or tangentially to digital humanities. As I have argued from the start, and against the skeptics and traditionalists who thinks blogs can only be narcissistic, half-baked diaries, these outlets are just publishing platforms by another name, and in my area there are an incredible number of substantive ones.

More recently, social media such as Twitter has provided a surprisingly good set of pointers toward worthy materials I should be reading or exploring. (And as happened with blogs five years ago, the critics are now dismissing Twitter as unscholarly, missing the filtering function it somehow generates among so many unfiltered tweets.) I follow as many digital humanists as I can on Twitter, and created a comprehensive list of people in digital humanities. (You can follow me @dancohen.)

For a while I’ve been trying to figure out a way to show this distilled “Friday at 5″ view of digital humanities to those new to the field, or those who don’t have time to read many blogs or tweets. This week I saw a tweet from Tom Scheinfeldt (blog|Twitter) (who in turn saw a tweet from James Neal) about a new service called Twittertim.es, which creates a real-time publication consisting of articles highlighted by people you follow on Twitter. I had a thought: what if I combined the activities of several hundred digital humanities scholars with Twittertim.es?

Digital Humanities Now is a new web publication that is the experimental result of this thought. It aggregates thousands of tweets and the hundreds of articles and projects those tweets point to, and boils everything down to the most-discussed items, with commentary from Twitter. A slightly longer discussion of how the publication was created can be found on the DHN “About” page.

Digital Humanities Now home page

Does the process behind DHN work? From the early returns, the algorithms have done fairly well, putting on the front page articles on grading in a digital age, bringing high-speed networking to liberal arts colleges, Google’s law archive search, and (appropriately enough) a talk on how to deal with streams of content given limited attention. Perhaps Digital Humanities Now will show a need for the light touch of a discerning editor. This could certainly be added on top of the raw feed of all interest items (about 50 a day, out of which only 2 or 3 make it into DHN), but I like the automated simplicity of DHN 1.0.

Despite what I’m sure will be some early hiccups, my gut is that some version of this idea could serve as a rather decent new form of publication that focuses the attention of those in a particular field on important new developments and scholarly products. I’m not holding my breath that someday scholars will put an appearance in DHN on their CVs. But as I recently told an audience of executive directors of scholarly societies at an American Council of Learned Societies meeting, if you don’t do something like this, someone else will.

I suppose DHN is a prod to them and others to think about new forms of scholarly validation and attention, beyond the journal. Ultimately, journals will need the digital humanities more than we need them.

25 thoughts on “Introducing Digital Humanities Now

  1. Melissa Terras

    This is great, Dan. A fantastic, tailored news site for DH. I wonder whether at some point there is room for a hybrid model – where those “editors” can pop in and fill in the gaps, write a couple of sentences of text under entries, tidy up the automated titles, etc. That’s probably a few weeks down the line in the twitterverse though.

    And I believe, and hope, that joining in this type of activity will become something that people can refer to on their academic CVs. This is exactly the type of “impact” that we have now to use to justify our existence (and paypacket) in the UK.

    Parkside

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  3. Kimon Keramidas

    I wonder if there is something we need between what we think of as the bad model of a journal and the unvetted content online. Like it or not the rigors of peer reviewing and the composition of journals isn’t going away anytime soon, and probably shouldn’t as far as providing a platform for a certain kind of content in a certain format.

    The question really is what makes a journal article important and how can we highlight those things while shedding the imposed constraints of the journal article generated during the era of print media. I think that there is something to be said about changing the expectations of the journal article so that it focuses on multiple media and even multiple paths of narrativity in such a way that it aligns with the concepts of digital humanities. This way we can abandon old models of publication and scholarship without eschewing those aspects of the journal that make it important to academic processes.

    Key to this is probably helping authors cross the gap of digital production more easily because most scholars spend their time more on researching and writing than necessarily master digital media. How publishers and institutions enable that process will be a really important factor in all of this and one that we are currently interrogating at the Bard Graduate Center.

    Aside from that however, the Digital Humanities Now project will certainly help follow these types of conversations and at least help us all gather the discussion more centrally. Thanks.

  4. Cornelius Puschmann

    Congratulations to what I think is an extremely promising concept. I’m not sure if this kind of aggregated publication will supplant traditional journals any time soon, but it is the ideal way of making what is out there much more visible.

    Your commentary, especially the well-made point about DH being fairly traditional when it comes to its modes of scholarly communication reminded me of a presentation I gave earlier this year on intersections of DH and Internet Studies (apologies for shameless self-advertising: http://blog.ynada.com/130).

    Keep it up!

  5. Derek Bruff

    This is just awesome. What a clever and useful application of crowdsourcing. I can certainly see this application working in other areas, at least ones with active Twitter communities.

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  7. Nele Noppe

    This looks extremely promising, I can’t wait to see how helpful it will turn out to be. And thank you for making that Twitter list.

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  10. Craig Bellamy

    Hi Dan, a fantastic idea and thanks for the initiative. I would like to hear more about how your experimentation with Twitter has eventuated. I have just stated a similar blog here in Australia aggregating Digital Humanities blogs (yours included).

    Kind regards,

    Craig

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  12. Joe Raben

    Hi Dan,

    I have been looking for someplace to publish my acceptance speech for the Busa Prize, so that I reach a larger audience than those present in London. Would DHN be the appropriate place?

    Best regards,

    Joe Raben

  13. Dan Cohen Post author

    @Joe: Alas, probably not. It is a decentralized journal, meaning that it focuses attention on “published” works wherever they are online. Nothing is published on the DHN site itself.

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