A view from academia on digital humanities research

This is a guest blog post from Charlotte Hastings which describes a event recently held at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) looking at the impact of the digital humanities. Charlotte is a graduate student from the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh who has been researching gender and the development of education policy in colonial Nigeria.

I’m interested in digital publishing following a focus group organised by the #jiscPUB project into attitudes to ebooks amongst researchers. I’m really just starting to find out about digital publishing. As a way to find out more, and to report back to the project team on current initiatives and thinking I attended the recent Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) seminar on digital humanities for early career researchers (ECRs) & postgrads: The future might be digital.

A full room heard the varied programme, with a wide range of research interests represented, from Music to Law. Digital publishing clearly interests a lot of people. Following a key-note by Prof Claire Warwick, of the digital humanities team at UCL, the day was split in two between professionals and academics, and postgraduates and ECRs sharing their experiences of working on digital projects.  The full programme is here.

A blended future

Prof Warwick’s keynote was upbeat and inspiring. She emphasised the opportunities available for academics able to work across fields, and demonstrated the success of her department in achieving this through  projects such as http://www.qrator.org/ (a project which uses iPads to enable museum visitors to interact with museum objects and each other).  However, rather than suggesting digital formats would replace hard copy, she suggested a future filled with both.  To support this reading of the different ways people experience reading, she tantalised the audience with evidence from soon-to-be published  research into different brain imaging results when reading electronic and printed texts.

Demand driving supply

Less positive (or perhaps representing the cold hard publishing bottom line?) was the representative from Cambridge University Press, Richard Fisher, who argued that the growth of humanities research going on in the UK means there is too much to publish. He suggested publishers could only react to the demand of their customers. Not enough academic e-books available?  That’s our fault, people! I find the price of ebooks off-putting (rather than the devices themselves). I’m also tired of lugging books up and down the country. As a result I’m hoping prices drop and I can access more electronic resources on the move.

Embracing the digital

In contrast to the view of CUP as a major publisher, the head of publications at the Institute of Historical Research, Dr Jane Winters, drawing on research conducted by the IHR into digital publishing in academia emphasised the importance of taking every opportunity to use digital resources, stressing the importance of citing digital tools, for example, rather than their paper equivalents, a radical thought to many of us in the room.  Dr Winters emphasised graduates shouldn’t worry about the digital publishing of their thesis by their university risking subsequent publication prospects. Subsequent publishing in academic journals or as printed monographs is not affected.

Digital projects to note

The grad students and ECRs spoke about their specific experience on digital projects. The projects outlined were really different.  For example, Dr Alexi Baker and Katy Barrett described their work on the Board of Longitude Project.  Their work was part of a larger project supported by AHRC grants and the Maritime Museum. In contrast, Marie Leger-St-Jean set up Price One Penny site independently (although it’s now hosted by Cambridge U) to catalogue early Victorian penny fiction. It’s an impressive achievement, representing a genuine solution to the problem of disparate sources in her area, and now adding donations and recommendations of others as the site becomes more well known.

The rise of the academic blog

Katy Barrett described the contrasting challenges of the project blog (closely supervised by museum staff) and the freedom to write in her own personal academic blog, concerning the issues raised by her research.  Whereas the project blog was closely controlled by museum staff in order to fit museum priorities, her personal blog could reflect more accurately the shape of her project. However, those bloggers present did raise the importance of caution and brevity in reporting yet-to-be-published research.

The plenary discussions and informal networking sessions led on from these presentations. The wide range of interests in the room meant that there was a real enthusiasm for the subject.  I came away inspired to think again about the use of an academic blog as a way to shape an academic web identity. Prof Warwick spoke of their use by interview committees in evaluating the work of researchers. It was also viewed as a good way to develop writing skills and share your research with an interested community (however small!). Where to start?  Just begin, I was told.   WordPress came recommended as a good tool to use. I’d read other academic blogs in the past and found them useful. In particular, I’ve followed academics writing about fieldwork in my area, and reflecting on designing and running courses.  I had not thought about them as an ECR or postgraduate tool: but will do so now.

 

This is a guest blog post from Charlotte Hastings which describes a event recently held at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) looking at the impact of the digital humanities.
Charlotte is a graduate student from the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh who has been researching gender and the development of education policy in colonial Nigeria.
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  1. Pingback: Making EPUB from WordPress (and other) web collections | Digital Monograph Technical Landscape study #jiscPUB