One elucidation just leads to another challenging question

Mark Sample’s view of digital humanities simply makes more sense to me than Stephen Ramsay’s.   Before I even began to learn more about the field, the term digital humanities to me evoked more of a sense of openness and independence. Sample’s article supports my initial perception of digital humanities.  However, Sample’s ideals also make me want to further question the legitimacy works published and released online.

Sample begins by explaining how we should not try to define digital humanities based on its divides and tensions.  He writes, “The heart of the digital humanities is not the production of knowledge; it’s the reproduction of knowledge.”  This single statement elucidated the idea of digital humanities for me better than reading several articles on the topic.  It seemed to me that I had already known this, but I needed to see it expressed in this simple and clear way.   In the example of our Mrs. Dalloway mappings, we didn’t produce knowledge, but we reproduced what Woolf had already created into a different medium.

When I read Ramsay’s definition of digital humanities, I was dismayed to think that digital humanities could be a more restricted field than I once believed.   However, I could swallow this concept because if DH was more restricted, it seemed like a more legitimate study.  After reading Sample’s work, I agree more with Sample’s view of DH, but with such open and unrestrained sharing of works as he suggests, I think comes the question of legitimacy.  I know he states that we shouldn’t be preoccupied with this matter now, but I disagree.  I think quality of the works should come before unlimited mass sharing.  In theory, it’s nice to say we should look forward and not be “complacent, hesitant, or entrenched in the present”, but I don’t think anyone is.  Some people who responded to this article listed several self-publishing units already up and running.  Parlor Press for example looks well established and has developed works from 400 authors.   I simply hope that publishers such as this one have dependable reviewing before the works become available for everyone and anyone to read and reference to.

7 Comments on “One elucidation just leads to another challenging question”

  1. Lisa Park says:

    I think (and hope) that when Sample refers to the sharing of knowledge, he assumes that information has already been quality checked. Of course nobody wants unreliable information going around, there’s enough of that already.

  2. Candice Bang says:

    Yes, Sample calls for “greater support of peer-to-peer review”, but that does not always guarantee reliable scholarship, especially if the top, most knowledgeable scholars don’t care to review works to be published digitally.

  3. Brian Croxall says:

    I’m glad that you’ve found Sample’s piece provocative and that you’re extending a provocation back at him, Candice. I do not agree, however, with your saying that our making maps of Mrs. Dalloway only reproduced what Woold had already put into the novel. Naturally, the places and quotations that you employed in your map of Elizabeth’s motions were things that you gleaned from the text. But the interpretations that you made from the patterns your group observed in the map are absent from Woolf’s book. Unlike House of Leaves, Woolf doesn’t provide her own interpretation of events.

  4. Reina Factor says:

    I think this discussion is very interesting. Could there perhaps be a middle ground between the views; that digital humanities serves to create and build new things, but sometimes the building is perhaps a readjusting of previous work, presenting it in a new light, which then leads to a new product?

  5. Dear Candice:

    I hope you don’t mind my responding to your post. A Google alert automatically notified me that you mentioned Parlor Press, so I read your post and wanted to add some support for your position. I’m Parlor Press’s publisher (and also a prof at Clemson). One of the most important goals for Parlor Press from the beginning has been to ensure the integrity of peer review and (thus) the quality of scholarly work we publish. So all work is reviewed at multiple levels, both in-house by series editors (all major scholars themselves) and then by outside scholars as well. What makes this process even more rigorous is that throughout the development and publication process, the only people who make the key decisions are professionals in the field. Publication decisions aren’t made by nonspecialists, marketing people, or others who may not understand the scholarly merit of the work. Unfortunately, this is not always the case at even the best university presses. Parlor Press actually operates through or out of Clemson University, though technically speaking we are independent.

    In terms of “production” and “reproduction” in the digital humanities, you could say that Parlor Press is one example (there are other good ones) of the ways that digital technologies have democratized production and distribution, making it possible for people closest to the creative work of scholarship to retain control over the whole publication process. Traditionally, scholars have farmed that responsibility out to big publishers with lots of capital, including those giant conglomerate journal farms that have a stranglehold on our libraries with inflated subscription rates.

    I hope I haven’t interrupted your conversation. Feel free to email me (dblakes [at] clemson [dot] edu or editor [at] parlorpress [dot] com) if you have any questions or want to chat further.


  6. Brian Croxall says:

    Thanks for chiming in on this topic, Dave, and for clarifying the process. How much of Parlor Press’s peer review process is pre-publication and how much is post-?

    • There are two components of the peer review process: before publication, it’s used to help authors/editors develop the work and the press to decide whether to publish it. After, works are typically reviewed much more widely (in journals, magazines, blogs, etc.) and eventually through citations. The post-publication peer review can’t affect the publication decision, obviously since that commitment has already been made. I was reading yesterday some arguments on behalf of self-publishing in epub format that post-publication peer review can be just as valuable measures of merit, even in the eyes of tenure and promotion committees (see It’s a form of review that we’re developing for the journal The Writing Instructor (a la slashdot). I think both are valuable, as is review in the between stages (like the kind made possible by CommentPress, the WordPress plug-in). It is interesting to watch academia wrestle with these new possibilities when it comes time to assign value to scholarly and creative work.