Journal of the Digital Humanities: The Community as Gatekeeper

Earlier today I posted on ongoing sense of mild disorientation making my way through the thickets of Digital Humanities, noting with complaint that roads and pathways toward destinations were none too clearly marked, and that gateways “in” seemed obscured by a resistance to the notion that there were insiders and outsiders to begin with.  It’s probably a good thing I posted this morning, since this evening I was pleasantly surprised by the arrival of a roadmap and a gateway on my iPad screen in the form of the newly minted Journal of Digital Humanities.  Not only does it look like a really fantastic read, with articles ranging from theory to the problems related with specific projects and tools to the question of the privileging of racial and gender stereotypes in DH discourse, it actually has  an article written just for me and my fellow “noobs” whom I evoked in my post earlier today:  Lisa Spiro’s “Getting Started in the Digital Humanities”.  It’s really a little bit more of a catalogue than an article, and I would have kind of liked a little more reflective or evaluative analysis, serving perhaps as a form of a bibliographic essay of sorts. The very large number of possibilities and the fact that they are all existing on a more or less equal plane still leaves one groping just a bit. But still, mostly I found it really informative.  I also found it comforting because I recognized a lot of the resources and felt like I and my group here at Messiah College had been pursuing the right things, consulting the right sources, looking in the right places, the feeling a little like one who has been wandering around in the woods for several hours and crests a hill to discover she’d been going the right way all along.

Perhaps more than that article, however, the fact of the journal struck me as a kind of beacon–although I know there are other journals related to DH and I’ve looked some of them.  Perhaps I felt this way because of its unique editorial and publishing agenda, embodying an open-review ethos and practice. From the editors introduction to the journal:

Nothing herein has been submitted to the Journal of Digital Humanities. Instead, as is now common in this emerging discipline, works were posted on the open web. They were then discovered and found worthy of merit by the community and by our team of editors.

The works in this issue were first highlighted on the Digital Humanities Now site and its related feeds. Besides taking the daily pulse of the digital humanities community—important news and views that people are discussing—Digital Humanities Now serves, as newspapers do for history, as a rough draft of theJournal of Digital Humanities. Meritorious new works were linked to from Digital Humanities Now, thus receiving the attention and constructive criticism of the large and growing digital humanities audience—approaching a remarkable 4,000 subscribers as we write this. Through a variety of systems we continue to refine, we have been able to spot articles, blog posts, presentations, new sites and software, and other works that deserve a broader audience and commensurate credit.

Once highlighted as an “Editors’ Choice” on Digital Humanities Now, works were eligible for inclusion in the Journal of Digital History. By looking at a range of qualitative and quantitative measures of quality, from the kinds of responses a work engendered, to the breadth of the community who felt it was worth their time to examine a work, to close reading and analyses of merit by the editorial board and others, we were able to produce the final list of works. For the inaugural issue, more than 15,000 items published or shared by the digital humanities community last quarter were reviewed for Digital Humanities Now. Of these, 85 were selected as Editors’ Choices, and from these 85 the ones that most influenced the community, as measured by interest, transmission, and response, have been selected for formal publication in the Journal. The digital humanities community participated further in the review process through open peer review of the pieces selected for the Journal. Authors selected for inclusion were given time to revise their work to answer criticisms and suggestions from the community and editors, prior to a round of careful editing to avoid typographical errors and other minor mistakes.

This strikes me as ingenious since it combines a high standard of quality control with a community based ethos.  Theoretically, this produces a work that is neither the idiosyncratic preference of an editor, nor is it simply a scattershot random collection of the individual preferences of readers or writers.  It really is in some ways the embodiment of the values of a particular academic community, demonstrating and enacting the standards by which membership/participation in that community is determined.  In my post earlier today I discussed the importance of gatekeepers as a “way in” even though the presence of gatekeepers can feel exclusionary or hierarchical.  This kind of approach to an academic journal strikes me as a way of embodying the community as gatekeeper, something that comes closer to embodying the kind of egalitarian ideals that DH folks obviously hold dear.

In any case, kudos to the editors and the community that built this journal.  I’m looking forward to the read.

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2 thoughts on “Journal of the Digital Humanities: The Community as Gatekeeper

  1. Pingback: Dispatches from the Digital Revolution | Read, Write, Now

  2. Pingback: What is the Digital Humanities and Where can I get some of it? | Read, Write, Now

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