When Kathleen Fitzpatrick casually described her “all-digital dossier” (196), I was completely arrested. For those of you who haven’t had the glorious opportunity to build a dossier, it is an arduous, old-fashioned process—at least at CU. I work for the English staff here, which means I’ve been in charge of putting together faculty dossiers for tenure evaluations. The process is extraordinarily frustrating: not only was I required to print every document, single-sided, but I had to do it twice (naturally, we needed a backup copy). The scanning took days, and the end result was numerous binders per person, each with more than 500 pages of material. Faculty were required to read the material, but for security purposes, were not allowed to remove the binders from the main office. Imagine being trapped in a dusty, poorly lit room for hours as you flip through a colleague’s academic career. The binder is heavy. The print is small. Also, there are five of them. Now imagine trying to assess digital materials in this environment. Fitzpatrick correctly identifies the resulting “career anxiety” felt by junior media scholars, who are “reluctant to challenge long-standing systems” for fear of rejection in a dying market (170). These words hit home for me as I waver between traditional scholarship or a new media project this semester. After all, if evaluation takes place in an environment like the one I’ve just described, it’s safe to assume that the project will be totally castrated by the time it ends up in a printed dossier.
I can’t help but agree with Nowviskie when she says “we come at these conversations backward” (169). In each of this week’s readings, critics use words like “practical” and “pragmatic,” insisting that we lay a concrete foundation for the evaluation of medial materials. But equally, each critic acknowledges the impossibility of such a task: Svensson argues that the disciplining of digital humanities results in a pathetically “patchy map,” borders which constrain, and definitions which fail to satisfy. Rather than becoming attached to an imaginary end product, he goes on to explain, scholars should embrace “the mapping activity itself” (181). Our attempts to define the digital humanities ironically undermine the creation of a bounded discipline. As Kirschenbaum notes, the process of exploring the ephemeral boundaries of this field “underscore[s] the limited and arbitrary nature of any medial ideology” (58). However, in our failed attempts to establish the borders of digital academia, we have discovered new methods of knowledge transfer. The invention of the hypertext necessitates the creation of a new model of reading, one that breaks away from the individualization of today’s internalized reading process. As reading becomes more interactive, collaborative, and sensory, we’re pushing further away from the dead text Plato originally reviled.
I’ve been looking into alternative reading platforms for some time, and this week, I’m particularly excited about UT’s Digital Writing and Reading Lab, which recently released its “Excitable Media” initiative. This interface focuses on the interactions of social media and academic scholarship. It also helped me answer a question we posed in our last class (“Will Twitter ever be on our CVs?”). Rather than positioning social media as “antithetical to critical thinking,” the DWRL attempts to explore “mainstream discourse” as a method of rhetorical reflection. I’ve attached my favorite essay from the series, Allie Thayer’s “The Q[WERTY] Question,” which features videos, screenshots, photographs, and all sorts of old social media posts from the author herself. I’d encourage everybody to check out the numerous other authors and essays currently posted on this interface, as many seem to be in conversation with each other!
“Excitable Media” main page: http://em.dwrl.utexas.edu/index.html
Thayer’s essay: http://em.dwrl.utexas.edu/qwerty.html
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “Peer Review, Judgment, and Reading.” Profession 2011.1 (2011). Web.
Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Print.
Nowviskie, Bethany. “Where Credit is Due: Preconditions for the Evaluation of Collaborative Digital Scholarship.” Profession 2011.1 (2011). Web.
Svensson, Patrik. “The Landscape of Digital Humanities.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 4.1 (2010): 1-36. Web.
Thayer, Allie. “The Q[WERTY] Question.” The QWERTY Question. University of Texas: Digital Reading and Writing Lab, 2015. Web. 12 Sept. 2015.