Evaluating Digital Scholarship
NINES/NEH Summer Institutes: 2011-2012

Digital Humanities Scholarship: Recommendations for Chairs in Language and Literature Departments

Authored by Alison Booth, Pamela K. Gilbert, Steve Olsen, Brad Pasanek and the NINES/NEH Summer Institute Group, 2011

Permalink for this paragraph 1 It is increasingly clear that humanities scholarship in the twenty-first century will be profoundly affected by the rise of digital media which are changing the practices and platforms of scholarly production.  It is in the strategic interests of English departments to foster faculty and student engagement with the new skills and forms of inquiry afforded by digital humanities and new media.  However important promotion and tenure guidelines and practices are to this process, equally important will be the creation of a departmental culture that successfully integrates digital humanities and new media into the department’s intellectual life and mission. The following remarks on leadership strategies are intended to help department administrators assist candidates and also contribute to the change in departmental and institutional culture that we hope to promote.

Permalink for this paragraph 1 Department chairs communicate in many directions: outward to national and international professional and scholarly organizations (Modern Languages Association, Association of Departments of English, Association of Departments of Foreign Languages, National Endowment for the Humanities); upward to administration, development officers, and college-level promotion and tenure committees; laterally to administrative peers and senior colleagues in the library and other departments, as well as downward through the curriculum to faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Chairs should consider the culture of their department and compare their practices to those of other departments, schools, and programs at their own and other institutions.  A survey of the field shows that digital humanities and new media are already embedded in many disciplines and institutional environments: public initiatives in the humanities, pedagogy, rhetoric and composition, media studies and library science or information technology training are all areas that may be affiliated with or even housed in literature departments. These fields, often collaborative in nature, are quickly evolving areas of activity and inquiry, and of broad significance and utility for all kinds of scholars in our departments.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 When exploring ways to better integrate the digital humanities into their environment, chairs of departments in languages and literatures might consider these suggested areas of approach.

Cluster Hiring and Human Resources

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The most direct way to change departmental culture is through hiring, and the most effective hiring brings in several faculty members at the same time. If a department can include only one or two faculty specializing in digital scholarship in some or most of their research, teaching, or service, then the department should ensure that this activity is fully supported by joint appointments across departments, where possible.  An additional strategy to promote a change in culture is to invite visiting scholars to consult or serve in short residencies, seminars or workshops, open to all members of the department.

Permalink for this paragraph 1 As in other disciplines, a faculty appointment in DH cannot succeed without additional allocation of resources, including staff.  DH research often requires qualified collaborators in IT, libraries, or other areas who have assigned time to devote to collaborating with a new faculty hire.  Such collaborators may or may not be tenure track but will have academic credentials and proven technical expertise and experience.  It is important to remember that such staff may not have any portion of their work week available for allocation to the project, and so their allocation of time must be negotiated at the time of hire.

The Dissertation

Permalink for this paragraph 1 The culture of the profession replicates in the dissertation. The dissertations of today are the scholarship of tomorrow. Therefore to transform and grow as a discipline, it is essential to intervene at the level of graduate education. Departments should introduce training in digital scholarship at the earliest stages of graduate study. The department chair is uniquely positioned to work with the director of graduate studies to encourage and reward participation in the digital humanities throughout the graduate career.

Development or Fundraising

Permalink for this paragraph 1 Chairs should identify internal or external resources (granting agencies, legitimating agencies like NINES, potential collaborators) or institutes and centers that focus on new media or digital scholarship.  Chairs might pursue collaboration between departments, programs, and schools at their home institution that would join in proposed initiatives, such as summer institutes or lecture series, as well as staff or space allocations.  Chairs may wish to consult with development officers to solicit donor support in the form of seed money or endowments for digital humanities.


Permalink for this paragraph 1 The Chair can help ensure that the department has access to servers, laptops, server space, and other materials, facilities, or support.  Perhaps more importantly, the chair can prioritize support for a dedicated, in-department IT expert, whose work goes beyond repair and basic IT maintenance.  See the MLA Guidelines for Institutional Support of and Access to IT for Faculty Members and Students .

PR and Education

Permalink for this paragraph 1 Departments may schedule presentations and symposia that bring experts and speakers from other institutions to talk about their work. In particular, chairs could consider adding to such events special workshops for graduate students and interested faculty. Note, these workshops should be small in number of participants and take place separately from the principal presentation and should emphasize practice, skills, and other hands-on aspects of humanities computing.

Department Ecology

Permalink for this paragraph 2 Chairs help new hires communicate with others and can integrate a cutting-edge practitioner into the existing culture of the department. (See recommendations below.) Expectations on both sides must be articulated. Chairs facilitate cross-talk by helping explain how a DH practitioner’s research and pedagogy fit into the broader intellectual work of the department.  As with any new hire, DH candidates should be encouraged to look at existing courses and projects and imagine how their work interfaces with, adds to or challenges the existing work of the department in order that they may be integrated into an existing scholarly conversation and be clear on their own relation to the department’s broader goals.  Current colleagues should be encouraged to review the new person’s work to discover unexpected points of contact among research interests and methods.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Interdisciplinarity requires interlocutors.  Colleagues in all fields should have incentives and formal opportunities to pursue dialogue with other communities of scholars.  If faculty members have used technology to collaborate with colleagues from other disciplines on the same campus or on different campuses, departments and institutions should seek the assistance of experts in those other disciplines to assess and evaluate such interdisciplinary work.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Also, chairs should consider hosting informal or formal meetings with other chairs or administrators to discuss how collaboration is handled in other disciplines.  That would help a good deal to provide models (whether to adopt or to critique) for reporting and crediting collaboration, and also for evaluating it.  Not all collaboration is equal, or equally successful.  Faculty within the department who have served on college or university tenure and promotion committees can be helpful here as well.

Specific Recommendations for hiring, midterm, annual review and tenure review for chairs and candidates

Permalink for this paragraph 2 ●  Articulate clear expectations upon hire

Permalink for this paragraph 0 ●  Reformulate and tweak these expectations, each year, to set benchmarks for achievement and for assessment

Permalink for this paragraph 0 ●  At mid-term review, collaboratively identify specific benchmarks, and the mode of evaluation that will be used to determine successful completion.  (This is a portion of a contract for tenure, in effect)

Permalink for this paragraph 0 ●  Identify potential referees early on and revise as necessary

Permalink for this paragraph 0 ●  Identify outside resources and potential collaborators at same time (granting agencies, donors, legitimating agencies like NINES, potential collaborators)

Permalink for this paragraph 1 ●  Identify audiences and expected impact of the research: what is it, who is it for and why is it significant?

Permalink for this paragraph 0 ● Document effort

Permalink for this paragraph 0 ●  Use informal avenues to communicate with colleagues in a collegial manner so all faculty feel an interest in and responsibility for success.

Permalink for this paragraph 2 Each hiring department should set clear guidelines for tenure and promotion for the candidate.  The chair might want to review departmental and institutional promotion and tenure guidelines to make sure they do not contain an unintentional bias against work in digital media (see ADE Bulletin 145 (Spring 2008), pp. 51-58, “Our Capacious Caper: Exposing Print-Culture Bias in Departmental Tenure Documents”). There are a number of existing documents to consult about this, including various MLA workshop documents.  But what is important is that clear guidelines be set and reiterated in annual review and especially at mid term (e.g., “third year”) review, so that the candidate and chair have a clear articulation of goals and sense of how the candidate is proceeding toward them (See James P. Purdy and Joyce R. Walker, Valuing Digital Scholarship: Exploring the Changing Realities of Intellectual Work,” Profession, 2010, pp. 177–195 (19) for recommended evaluative questions to ask about digital research projects.)

Permalink for this paragraph 1 Though important for all candidates in any field, this process is particularly important in DH projects, so as to educate all parties as to the effort involved in what may be an unfamiliar kind of work, and also because DH projects tend to be more fluid and may shift more over time in unexpected ways than other projects.  Part of this ongoing conversation should focus on clearly defining expected content, audiences, uses and impacts of the project, as well as documenting any unexpected additions or changes to those categories.  Conversations should also focus on how the effectiveness of the project will be evaluated, and who might be possible appropriate evaluators—so there is not a mad scramble at the end to find people who may not actually exist.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Informally, all colleagues at all levels should not underestimate the value of ongoing conversations—the hallway or mailroom encounter in which short conversations about day to day challenges and insights serve to familiarize senior faculty with new kinds of work and make the whole department aware of and invested in their success.  Such informal awareness of the progress of a project eliminates much of the “surprise element” for faculty when a dossier comes before them and also helps everyone to more accurately estimate the ongoing amount and type of scholarly labor that goes into it.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 [We have modified the guidelines approved by the MLA Executive Council at its 19-20 May 2000 meeting and were last reviewed by the Committee on Information Technology in November 2002.]

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