Thursday, April 5, 2012

JDH 1.1 (minimal reflections on an ongoing process)

The inaugural issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities—a PressForward publication—is out today. Dan Cohen and Joan Fragazsy Troyano graciously invited me to guest edit a special section on digital humanities and theory. My introduction to the special section, which has not appeared elsewhere, is here.

I'm excited and intrigued by JDH, as well as cautious. What excites me most about JDH is the postpublication review model that it enacts, insisting on indexing work that has already seen a wide readership. In that sense, JDH is itself a digital humanities project, a fascinating trial version of a program for reshaping scholarly communication that has been much discussed but too rarely attempted.

Editing is always a somewhat heartburn-inducing affair, and I experienced some of that during the process, despite Dan and Joan's continual support, intervention, and hard work. The table of contents of the main body of the issue (the "Articles" section), over which I had no control, was and remains heavily white- and male-authored, a dismaying development that certainly contributed to recent discussions of gender in DH. At that time, through the vagaries of the editorial process, the preliminary table of contents for the special section on theory also came to be very heavily skewed, not only as to crude metrics of authorial identity but also in approaches to what constitutes DH or theory. Considering the terms of the discussion, and the very crucial role that #transformDH had played in it, this seemed maddeningly, frustratingly wrong. (Heartburn ensued.) Postpublication review, then, had its drawbacks, and they had to be painstakingly corrected for.

As it later turned out, DHNow had not been indexing most of the #transformDH group's work—an accident, but a bad one—and the theoretical shorthands for DH that were being rethought in this very special section also acted as filters for what came to "count" as DH work that might be indexed in DHNow. Is the Crunk Feminist Collective an instance of DH, for example? If not, why not? I was so, so pleased when crunk feminist and Emory DiSC fellow Moya Bailey agreed to contribute a piece that spoke to those very boundaries.

Postpublication review is also a hard thing to get used to simply as a humanities scholar. As an editor, I found it a little bit mindblowing to know that the authors' pieces were already accepted—postpublication, you know—and that they were under no obligation to revise according to my suggestions. Several authors did anyway—Alexis Lothian, Jean Bauer, and Patrick Murray-John were particularly thoughtful in this regard. It was wonderful to work with the authors, but, as an editor, slightly terrifying to have committed to this postpublication element.

JDH is a work in progress, and the JDH team are mensches all around. I'm honored to have been a part of the inaugural issue. But a (very recently) past involvement is less interesting to me than seeing where JDH will go from here. Will the problems with skewed demographics subside? (And how?) How will scholars respond to a publication comprising mainly pieces they have already read—comprising those pieces because they have already been widely read? What will the editing conventions ultimately turn out to be for authors contributing to JDH? What culture of open peer review—if any—will grow up around it?

I look forward to finding out.


Alexis Lothian said...

I just want to say a public thank you for your efforts in assuring representation from the work of continually rethinking and retheorizing DH that is taking place through #transformDH and in the academic and nonacademic spaces where feminist, queer, and critical race analysis intersect with the digital. The discussion would be incomplete without those voices, regardless of whether they/we were gathered by the metrics that measure conversation; I thank you also for drawing attention to the limitations of those post-gathering metrics.

Natalia said...

Thanks for your contribution to JDH, Alexis! It's a wonderful piece, and such an important part of the picture. The editors at JDH realized early on that metrics would be insufficient and added a significant human editorial component to the process, and I'm glad that's happened. But the vast amount of stuff out there can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to have things on your radar that don't show up in the metrics. The problem with the metrics this time around was that the #transformDH conversations weren't even being indexed (and in some cases were not even online—e.g. the ASA panel). Even with the help of metrics, it's a complex process.