Power cord on train track

CFP: The Scholarly & the Digital

Electric Feel” by Mitchell Joyce; CC BY-NC 2.0

What is new and which affects the idea of the work comes not necessarily from the internal recasting of each of these disciplines, but rather from their encounter in relation to an object which traditionally is the province of none of them.” ~ Roland Barthes, Image, Music, Text (155)

The suppression of self-expression is impossible.” ~ Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing (9)

By and large, digital work is not considered appropriate material for tenure and promotion at institutions of higher education. This despite the fact that nearly seven million students are enrolled in digital (online or hybrid) courses, many institutions of higher education have entered the arena of MOOCs, and that professors — those same whose digital work is not acceptable for T&P — are expected to work with facility in online environments (69.1 percent of “chief academic leaders say that online learning [and teaching] is critical to their long-term strategy”). The digital has proven to generate revenue, produce volumes of research, and to be a field rich with scholarship and innovation — and the grants that follow. Yet traditional tenure and promotion committees expect even digital work to be catalogued in the tombs of print journals, subject to double-blind peer review. The creative field of digital scholarship is not offered an equally creative reception. It is as if the dust upset by digital ingenuity must settle upon the same dry, fossilized bones that have always stood in the archive.

The reliance upon peer review — as much in its role in publishing as its role in tenure and promotion, employment, and the multifarious ways it’s structural to academic life and work — demands inspection in the digital age. As Kathleen Fitzpatrick has said,

The work we do as scholars is repeatedly subjected to a series of vetting processes that enable us to indicate that the results of our work have been scrutinized by authorities in the field, and that those results are therefore themselves authoritative.

But … the nature of authority is shifting, and shifting dramatically, in the era of the digital network.

Vetting and gatekeeping has become as valuable a process in the social contract of academic publishing and scholarship as the work itself. The digital threatens to undo that by refiguring authority, by making knowledge open access and public, by constantly inspecting and pushing upon the boundaries of academic work, its location in culture and its relevance to that culture.

When the nature, the centrality, of authority changes, so does the nature of the peer and the review that’s available and necessary to validate our academic work. This sense of authority has already begun to change in other fields, as Dan Cohen points out when he asks,

Can we get humanities faculty, as many tenured economists already do, to publish more in open access journals? Can we accomplish the humanities equivalent of FiveThirtyEight.com, which provides as good, if not better, in-depth political analysis than most newspapers, earning the grudging respect of journalists and political theorists?

Academia must push past its archaeological origins. What logic, what sense at all is there in digital work being presented upon a flat page, where it loses not only its relevance to its own subject matter, but also its vitality? The digital is above all else changeable, hackable, as renewable as a natural resource. To confine it only to print — or only to letters and words — is to deny it its own action, the premise of its research, the effect of its affect.

Our attention was recently drawn to an effort by Kairos editor Cheryl Ball to create a guide “to useful scholarship on evaluating digital work for T&P purposes that people across the humanities can refer to.” An annotated list created in a collaborative Google document and advertised through social media, the guide itself is exemplary of digital work. Here are scholars working together not only to share information across the Humanities, inter-institutionally, but also to bolster the validity of work being done digitally. The first note in the document reads: “Annotations should provide enough information so that folks know how they might USE that piece to help make arguments/cases for digital scholarly activities at their institutions.” Because we must make arguments and cases despite the fact that this work forwards understanding of our fields, our practice in communities of scholarship, and our work in our classrooms.

Digital work is both fundamentally different from traditional scholarship and also utterly the same. Behind the work are the same rigorous minds, similar methods of inquiry, similar dissatisfaction with mediocre results. Yet the work itself is emergent and expansive. It offers itself to us in moveable text, in image, in sound, in video, in code, in data. The hyperlink is the new citation; collaboration across disciplines is as common as collaboration across cultures. It is scholarship in a truer sense in that it relies entirely — from methods to conclusions — upon inquiry and investigation. The limitations of what can be done in the digital are unmapped; it is yet a territory of possibility. Shakespeare on paper might barely recognize Shakespeare in the digital, but the kinship and lineage remain intact. When Mozart meets Github, sparks may fly, but it will still be Mozart, mad and brilliant.

Digital scholars do not only risk causing sparks — fireworks, conflagration — when we do our work, we risk dismissal of the validity of that work. We are told to take risks later in our careers, after securing a job, after tenure, after promotion, after earning the approval of our less-digital peers; yet to delay is to hazard the ossification of our ideas, our creativity, and the ingenuity that makes us good scholars in the first place.

This Call for Participation is meant to toll a certain bell. Hybrid Pedagogy invites articles, stories, digital artifacts, interviews, videos, illustrations, comics, and more, which point to real scholarship being done digitally, or about how it can be done. Whether you use your words or another medium, these submissions should be evocative and provocative, showcases as much as compositions. And most importantly, as scholarly as they are digital.

Submissions may consider (but are not limited to):

  • How the digital and the scholarly interact;
  • The culture of academia which resists digital and public scholarship;
  • Tales of great success in pioneering (and finding acceptance for) digital work;
  • Digital pedagogy, especially as it challenges traditional pedagogy;
  • Lessons learned along the tenure track; lessons learned off the tenure track.
  • The pursuit of multimodal scholarship, teaching, and learning;
  • The hybrid scholar;
  • Meta-level consideration of what “counts” as scholarship, ideally in a form that pushes at the edges of what “counts.”

In addition to written-article-shaped submissions, we are especially interested in photo, video, audio essays, and these forms in combination. One technological constraint to note: We are not yet able to accommodate rhizomatic, multi-page webtexts. Our journal operates on WordPress, and therefore completed projects created for this CFP will need to exist on a single page within the WordPress environment. We’re absolutely willing to bend/push what we can do within our journal’s single-page-per-article structure.

In the case of multimodal submissions, please prepare some form of visually reviewable, randomly accessible document — such as storyboards for videos and (tran)scripts for audio. We generally operate within Google Docs, taking advantage of its collaborative revision and commenting systems; and so representing or sketching your project in that environment will facilitate review and discussion. Because submissions will be revised and edited prior to publication, please do not spend time/energy editing or polishing a project before submitting it. Submission begins a conversation; it does not signal the end of the project. We welcome letters of interest before you invest your time in development. To submit your work, visit our submissions page.

This is a rolling call for participation. However, our first round of publications will take place after March 13, 2015; and early submissions will be given preference on the editorial calendar. Please direct questions to Chris Friend (Managing Editor) and/or Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel (Directors). We look forward to hearing from you.

[Photo, “Electric Feel“, by Mitchell Joyce licensed CC BY-NC 2.0.]

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