HASTAC will have a tent at Mozilla Drumbeat in Barcelona next month, and I'm very lucky to be a part of it. The theme is "Storming the Academy." In particular, I'll be helping us think about tools for digital publishing and peer review.
What is Drumbeat? Here's a little taste, from the Mozilla website:
Drumbeat is for anyone who wants to lend their skills and creativity to the cause of keeping the internet open. It’s a chance to for everyone — not just software developers and testers — to get involved. Who? Teachers. Lawyers. Artists. Accountants. Plumbers. Web Developers. Anyone who uses and cares about the internet.It isn't a conference or an unconference, but a festival: we'll be in a tent, wrangling interested sundry folk from the above-mentioned list to participate in our activities. We may have some brainstorming sessions; we do some hands-on tool-building; we may have some participatory video performances. It's open to whatever creative fun we can think up!
Which is where I need your help. I've used this blog as a space to test out a few digital projects, and talk about scholarly webtexts in general. I've often expressed my frustration that more scholars aren't experimenting (despite that fact that an increasing number of journals are accepting creative webtext submissions). A frequent response is that humanities scholars aren't given the tools or skills they need to produce creative digital work -- and the few experiments in producing digital publishing tools for academics (like NINES' "Exhibits" feature) have been (in my humble opinion) less than successful. So what is needed?
Here are a few off-the-cuff ideas from a brief brainstorming session:
- Mindmap publishing. Mindmapping software is readily available; but most tend to act as little more than photoshop-like systems designed to create connectable bubbles, and exporting options are slim and static. By contrast, some great visualizations have popped up on the web (e.g. the options from flare, a Flash/Flex data viz toolkit), but their "interactivity"is usually limited to navigating through a system someone else has constructed. Can we think of a way to transform data visualizations from presentation tools into mindmap-like authoring systems? How would you write differently if your mindmaps could be interactive, networked journeys through a chunk of information? How could these be "published" — or support traditional publications? How could they be tools for collaboration? Could an interactive, multi-user-produced mindmap produce an argument?
- One-click digital commonplacing. Digital text is manipulable; it can be copied and pasted elsewhere with a few clicks. Printed words on paper can also be copied elsewhere. For centuries in the west, readers maintained "commonplace books," in which they would copy and categorize interesting quotes or sententiae they came across while reading. Bibliographic software like Zotero allow us to manage and manipulate documents or files (an entire article, an entire webpage) but do not, to my knowledge, allow for scrapbooking chunks from within documents. What if you could highlight text, hit (e.g.) SHIFT-S, and the highlighted text pops into a digital scrapbook, complete with citation, link and date saved? This could be done as an applet for the web, so you no longer have to sift through entire bookmarked websites to find the one quote/bit of information. This way, your research points to quotes, to words, rather than to files.
(Incidentally, we’re probably seeing a shift in how manipulable digital text actually is. Reading on an iPad is delightfully haptic, but you can’t copy/paste most text — only highlight, as in a book. So, when it comes to manipulability, you kind of get the worst of both worlds, digital and paper. Steven Berlin Johnson has a great post on this very topic.)
Maybe these tools have been made before. Maybe not. For now, the goal is to think creatively around how digital scholarship is done; then I'll spend some time researching what's out there, and where the gaps are in tools available.
Which brings me to my second point. This section of our tent activities is titled "Storming Scholarly Publishing and Peer Review" -- but I've been thinking of it more in terms of "Storming Writing and Publishing" or "Storming Writing Practices" (less aca-specific). In his keynote at Material Cultures this past summer, Jerry McGann pointed out that the biggest problems facing digital humanities are institutional, not technological — which strikes me as correct. Collectively, we have the skills to build tools to facilitate digital peer review; what we don't yet have is the critical mass (or gumption) needed to transform a slow, tedious publishing process not suited for a twenty-first century information ecology. Likewise -- again -- more and more journals are accepting digital projects; they just aren't receiving very many of them, because to produce these weird little webtexts is to rub against the grain of every "good" research habit we've adopted in academia. By shifting the focus from "Scholarly Publishing" (a phrase already laden with assumptions) to "Writing Practices" (or something similar), we're no longer thinking about how to insert technologies into our present systems, but imagining what we want our digital practices to be.
(Do you watch Mad Men? Do you remember the scene early this season when Faye Miller told Don that the experiment failed, that the women she tested for Ponds cold cream weren't interested in ritual but just wanted to get married? And Don got mad and said how do you know that's the truth, a new idea is something they don't know yet, so of course it's not going to come up as an option? It's kind of like that. If we want to see change, we have to create it.)
What if we all agreed to stop writing in MSWord? What would happen? What historical models do we have for these shifts (e.g., what can a practice like commonplacing teach us about the gaps in our own writing systems)? How does changing the material circumstances of textual production change what is produced?
These are the some of questions we want to ask at Drumbeat -- but they aren't the only ones. I haven't mentioned systems like CommentPress or the wonderful work going on at MediaCommons. I haven't mentioned much about peer review, although that will be a topic we'll be discussing. You're welcome to think with us. From the big issues to the nitty-gritty details, I want to hear what you have to say on the future of (digital) scholarly publishing.