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Shaping the Digital Dissertation: Knowledge Production in the Arts and Humanities

Shaping the Digital Dissertation: Knowledge Production in the Arts and Humanities Virginia Kuhn and Anke Finger (eds)

Shaping the Digital Dissertation: Knowledge Production in the Arts and Humanities
Virginia Kuhn and Anke Finger (eds)  | Forthcoming
ISBN Paperback: 9781800640986
ISBN Hardback: 9781800640993
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781800641006
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781800641013
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781800641020
ISBN Digital ebook (XML): 9781800641037
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0239
BIC subject codes: JNT (Teaching skills and techniques), H (humanities),JNV (Educational equipment and technology), CAL (computer-aided learning), U (Computing and information technology); BISAC: EDU037000 (EDUCATION / Research), TEC000000 (TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / General).

Part 1: Issues in Digital Scholarship and Doctoral Theses

1. Dissertating in Public (Kathleen Fitzpatrick)

Kathleen Fitzpatrick analyses the sudden isolation graduate students find themselves in during the dissertation process. In the humanities, she observes, graduate students are regularly habituated into an anxiety of intellectual independence whereby sharing ideas, collaboration and publishing work in progress is to be considered suspect and potentially diminishing scholarly value. Digital scholarship, she argues, can eliminate or at least sideline such anxieties (and their untimeliness) by creating a participating public, testing ideas, interesting possible publishers early and creating a community of scholarship that, together with the support of PhD-granting institutions, endorses ‘new kinds of open work’.

2. Publication Models and Open Access (Cheryl Ball)

Cheryl Ball emphasizes the need for open work in the form of open access facilitation. Adding a historical view towards digital scholarship formats and highlighting the library’s role in archival practices, she suggests that digital dissertations play a significant role in embodying the possibility of sharing scholarship publicly and that librarians are pivotal collaborators for any digital scholarship endeavor. Significantly, Ball also emphasizes the need for openness when evaluating digital dissertation forms: why not approach digital work ‘on its own terms’ in order to allow for ‘radical scholarship’?

3. The Digital Monograph? Key Issues in Evaluation (Virginia Kuhn)

Since defending her own digital dissertation in 2005, Virginia Kuhn has honed a loosely established rubric, refined in collaboration with a group of students, with which to assess digital theses. Three areas, ‘Conceptual Core, Research Component, Form + Content’, each feature three additional foci that leave ample room for epistemological play and space beyond a traditionally alphabetized, linear text-only dissertation. For example, digital scholarship need not be ‘thesis-driven prose’, it can establish a ‘controlling idea’ presented in media other than text. Any kind of rubric or assessment measure, Kuhn warns, also requires a rethinking of review formats, however: annotation and feedback, too, will necessitate multimodal features such that radical scholarship and deep collaboration, echoing Ball’s and Fitzpatrick’s terms, become part of evaluative considerations, and feedback formats allow for non-linear, creative interruptions.

4. #DigiDiss: A Project Exploring Digital Dissertation Policies, Practices, and Archiving (Kathie Gossett and Liza Potts)

Outlining the trials and tribulations of archiving born-digital dissertations, Kathie Gossett and Liza Potts detail a study they have conducted over more than a decade, the ultimate goal being the formation of a persistent, searchable database of these projects. The results of a National Endowment for the Humanities funded workshop conducted with stakeholders from several academic institutions, Gossett and Potts note their current focus as they partner with the Humanities Commons framework and also work on establishing a network of like-minded scholars for support when working in non-traditional formats.

5. The Gutenberg Galaxy Will Be Pixelated or How to Think of Digital Scholarship as the Present (Anke Finger)

Anke Finger presents an incisive argument about the shifting nature of the book as both a ‘medium and artifact’, and one which offers exciting possibilities with the affordances of the digital. However, academic institutions, Finger notes, have not kept pace with these new forms and this is due, in large part, to a lack of evaluative measures and experience in applying them, making it risky at best to embark upon a large-scale digital project. Using her experience as a PhD advisor and founding director of the Digital Humanities and Media Studies initiative at the University of Connecticut, Finger argues for support for digital literacy in humanities-based graduate education. Specifically, students need ‘access to scholarly inquiry and research innovation beyond print’, and this should come early in graduate education in order to provide the type of scaffolding needed if universities are seriously committed to digital scholarship.

6. FICUS? Findable, Impactful, Citable, Usable, Sustainable (FICUS): A Heuristic for Digital Publishing (Nicky Agate, Cheryl Ball, Allison Belan, Monica McCormick and Joshua Neds-Fox)

This is a collaboratively authored chapter by digital librarians, publishers and archivists, who have established a heuristic dubbed FICUS which stands for findable, impactful, citable, usable and sustainable. These will be widely applicable across disciplines, formats and topics.

Part 2: Shaping the Digital Dissertation in Action

7. Navigating Institutions and Fully Embracing the Interdisciplinary Humanities: American Studies and the Digital Dissertation (Katherine Walden and Thomas Oates)

Katherine Walden and her advisor, Thomas Oates, describe the questions they contended with and the steps taken to create and defend Walden’s interdisciplinary digital thesis project in the field of American Studies. While there are signs of the field’s recent support for and of digital scholarship, they note, many questions remain. And since many of the obstacles to Walden’s dissertation were logistical and administrative in nature, her dissertation became a springboard to a larger conversation among faculty at the University of Iowa. Walden and Oates argue for the power of a precedent, and their chapter joins the expanding catalogue of models, offering both conceptual and instrumental advice to future doctoral students as well as their advisors.

8. MADSpace: A Janus-faced Digital Companion to a PhD Dissertation in Chinese History (Cécile Armand)

Cécile Armand extends the call for rethinking the nature of the dissertation and academic argument in general. In 'MADSpace: A Janus-faced Digital Companion to a PhD Dissertation in Chinese History', Armand describes a digital database she created as a companion to her dissertation in Chinese history. This companion allowed her to make use of primary source materials that are not typically considered in scholarly work; these include newspaper advertisements as well as ‘professional handbooks, business materials, municipal archives (including correspondence, regulations and technical sketches), street photographs, and to a lesser extent, original maps and videos’. Although Armand’s first concern was the creation of a permanent home for these materials, this database actually impacted the written portion of her dissertation project since it allowed her a spatial view of her subject, for instance, which opened up new insights.

9. Publish Less, Communicate More! Reflecting the Potentials and Challenges of a Hybrid Project (Sarah-Mai Dang)

Sarah-Mai Dang, working from within the context of German academic parameters, questions a publication process that relies on economic structures often beyond the reach of the graduate and maintaining the ‘symbolic capital of the book’. Instead, she chose to publish her research in four different formats, trying to undo a staid and costly convention that not only prevented affordable (for both author and reader) public dissemination, but also a speedy delivery of scholarship and access to an international audience. Simultaneously, as a media studies scholar, she turned this process into a research project, taking stock of data to measure impact.

10. #SocialDiss: Transforming the Dissertation into Networked Knowledge Production (Erin Rose Glass)

The desire for and influence of a larger audience for academic work is the focus of Erin Rose Glass as she describes the background and process of #SocialDiss, a project in which she posted drafts of her dissertation to a variety of online platforms for public review. Gauging the reviews and the many types of public and community engagement produced, Glass argues that academic writing, especially at the student level, would benefit from digital infrastructure, practices, and incentives that emphasize collaboration and community building.

11. Highly Available Dissertations: Open Sourcing Humanities Scholarship (Lisa Tagliaferri)

Lisa Tagliaferri reinforces the need for academic work to reach a wider audience using her own dissertation as a case study.  In ‘Highly Available Dissertations: Open Sourcing Humanities Scholarship’, not only does Tagliaferri advocate for open source, hers was also the first chapter offered as a preprint to this collection, via MIT’s database. Her chapter describes open source, open access, and Creative Commons before offering suggestions for stakeholders to consider when navigating various levels of access.

12. Digital Thesis as a Website: SoftPhD.com, from Graphic Design to Online Tools (Anthony Masure)

Anthony Masure’s approach deepens the notion of his dissertation work’s readability, working from inside France’s academic system. Noting the technical hurdles of constantly updating a webpage, for example, he designs his PhD-thesis website by cleaning HTML code and without using a CMS, thus aiming for a ‘true’ version of his dissertation that, in fact, supersedes the version he submitted to obtain his degree. Ultimately, Masure leads us back to Tim Berners-Lee by advocating for sharing knowledge without borders and critically engaging with the potentially limiting affordances of specific media prescribed for knowledge production.

13. Writing with Images, Sounds, and Movements (Lena Redman)

Dismissing the epistemological confines of traditional thesis composition software such as MS Word, Lena Redman (aka Elena Petrov) devises her own theory of multimodal creativity by analyzing what she calls ‘deep remixability’ and its interdependence with ‘cinematic bricolage’ as a research methodology. Her thesis, composed with InDesign and the Adobe Cloud, employs mnemonic material and autobiographical information to enhance what Redman calls feedback loops. These loops deepen the researcher’s individualization of knowledge as her intellectual work merges with memory-work to allow for unique meaning-making processes and what Søren Brier has called ‘cybernetics of human knowing.’

14. Precarity and Promise: Negotiating Research Ethics and Copyright in a History Dissertation (Celeste Tường Vy Sharpe)

If the digitally networked world provides the ability to author with images as well as a more open form of academic scholarship, it also raises concomitant ethical considerations around areas such as privacy and copyright. Celeste Tường Vy Sharpe confronted these issues in her own dissertation project completed in a department of History in the United States. Sharpe’s research included extensive archival research of sensitive materials in her exploration of visual culture and disability. Given the topic, Sharpe found herself weighing the need for visual evidence with the ethics of exposing images culled from the March of Dimes.

15. Lessons from the Sandbox: Linking Readership, Representation, and Reflection in Tactile Paths (Christopher A. Williams)

Christopher A. Williams explores the deeper layers of web design to discover the communicative potential of ‘sticky web galleries’ for the multimodal and broad public dissemination of improvisation in music. He describes in great detail the collaborative process necessary to design his thesis, complete with paths and multimedia files that align with musical knowledge, beyond linear text. As a team, he and his collaborator arrive at a site that ‘as a whole functions as a sort of meta-score for improvisers’. At the same time, the thesis becomes not only a milestone within a research path, it also turns into a resource for practitioners outside of the usually closed publication loop as a ‘living meta-work.’