Call for Submissions to Anvil’s Built Upon Series

Following last week’s call for archives to participate in Anvil Academic‘s Built Upon initiative, I’m now pleased to announce that we’ve released our call for authors to contribute to the series. If you are interested in producing a work of digital scholarship that makes creative, effective use of digital collections, please consider submitting a proposal.

Current archives partners include:

We hope to announce additional partners soon. You’re welcome to work with digital collections other than the ones listed here.  Initial “Built Upon” works will be clustered based upon the broad categories listed above.

Call for Digital Collections to Participate in Anvil’s New Built Upon Series

Although there are a number of excellent digital collections in the humanities, I’m troubled that many don’t get the scholarly recognition and usage that they deserve.  Moreover, it seems that there are too few examples of works of digital scholarship that make use of such collections in imaginative ways, such as by employing text mining, image analysis, or other algorithmic approaches,  crafting scholarly arguments that take advantage of the affordances of digital publishing, or inviting the audience to explore supporting evidence. I suspect that one reason for the paucity of such scholarship is the lack of appropriate publishing venues (although there are some terrific journals in this space, including Vectors, Southern Spaces, Kairos, Sensate and Archive).

That’s why Anvil Academic (the start-up digital publisher for which I serve as program manager) is launching the Built Upon series.

Building Blocks by Holger Zscheyge

Building Blocks by Holger Zscheyge

Contributors to Built Upon will develop digital scholarly arguments or pedagogical projects that make innovative use of digital collections and tools. These contributions will be arranged into thematic clusters (such as “Civil War America”), and we expect that the contributions will be in conversation with each other and with their larger audience.

Soon we will release our call for authors, which will provide more details about our expectations for Built Upon contributions. At this stage, we are inviting digital collections (aka digital archives, digital libraries, etc) in the humanities to participate in the Built Upon series.  As Built Upon partners, digital collections would make their resources available for scholarly use (which many already do) and provide limited technical assistance to authors. We also invite partners to participate in the peer review process and to assist with outreach and promotion efforts. Already Anvil has lined up some first-rate partners, including Visualizing EmancipationValley of the Shadow, many of the NINES federated projects, and ORBIS.  For more about this initiative, please see yesterday’s announcement on the Anvil web site.

Opening the Humanities Part 1: Overview

Today marks the fifth anniversary of my blog. Over the course of those five years, I’ve learned a simple, vital lesson: sharing is good. When I began my blog, I planned to document the process of remixing my dissertation (completed five years earlier, in 2002) as a work of digital scholarship. I got distracted by other topics, such as making the case for social scholarship, summarizing the year in digital humanities (a task that seems far too daunting today), examining collaboration in DH, and providing resources for getting started in DH. Since I didn’t really expect that the blog would find much of an audience, I was jazzed when people commented on my posts and talked with me about my blog at conferences. Blogging opened up new opportunities for me– invitations to speak or to contribute to essay collections– and made me feel like I was part of a lively community of scholars. Sharing made my work more visible and gave me a greater sense of purpose.

An interest in sharing also led me to team up with several other librarians to start the Digital Research Tools (DiRT) wiki. As I tried to keep up with all of the tools that help researchers find, manage, analyze and present information, I figured it would be better to take on the task collectively and produce a community resource.

Program Building @ THATCamp Vanderbilt by derekbruff

Program Building @ THATCamp Vanderbilt by derekbruff

With DiRT, I was struck by the willingness of the community to share; as I recall, both Alan Liu and Dan Cohen invited me to grab resources from their own tool collections and include them in DiRT, and people volunteered their time to add new information to the wiki. But I also learned that it  requires continuous effort to maintain an active community of contributors; no matter how good our intentions, we only have so much time (and I myself had only limited time to commit to DiRT). Now DiRT has achieved what many start-ups aim for: it’s been acquired by a larger organization. Reborn as Bamboo DiRT, it is nurtured by a steering/ curatorial committee (led by Quinn Dombrowski, who did much of the work creating Bamboo DiRT) that shares its time and expertise to maintain a resource of value to the community.

In retrospect, I see that my attraction to digital humanities comes not so much from a love of technology or method, but of the community and its values. It’s difficult (and perhaps presumptuous) to define the values of such a diverse community, but I would point to openness, collaboration, collegiality and connectedness, diversity and experimentation (as I did in my chapter in Debates in the Digital Humanities). Underlying all of these is openness, broadly defined: openness to new ideas and new participants, openness as a commitment to sharing.

We see openness throughout the digital humanities. As the Manifesto for the Digital Humanities declares, digital humanists are “building a community of practice that is solidary, open, welcoming and freely accessible” as well as “multilingual and multidisciplinary.” This community calls for “open access to data and metadata,” open source software, the development of “collective expertise” and the sharing of best practices. I would point to THATCamp, with its openness to all, spirit of sharing and discovery, and emphasis on collaboration, as the embodiment of this community (appropriately enough, the Manifesto was produced collectively at THATCamp Paris). Openness defines how much of the DH community operates and animates its larger goal to promote the growth of knowledge. Indeed, Mark Sample proposes that The digital humanities is not about building, it’s about sharing, arguing that the “promise of the digital” comes in the circulation, sharing and discussion of knowledge. Instead of tolerating the slow dissemination of knowledge through antiquated print processes and allowing knowledge to be restricted to those with access to well-funded libraries, Sample suggests, we can develop open solutions that promote conversation, sharing, reuse, and the growth of knowledge.

Noting how frequently terms like “open” and “collaboration” are used in definitions of digital humanities, Eric Johnson suggests that the digital humanities have much in common with the public humanities. Like museum professionals and librarians, digital humanists embrace values such as collaboration, open access, and “[i]nvolvement of the public and/or public ‘communities of passion.’” (I love that term “communities of passion,” which captures the generosity, sense of common purpose and enthusiasm I see in DH).  Many digital humanities projects aim to share knowledge with the public and even engage the public in the construction of that knowledge. Eric advances a useful definition of the open humanities: “those aspects of the humanities aimed at democratizing production and consumption of humanities research.” (I would add teaching and learning).

With this post, I am beginning a series on the open humanities, elaborating on ideas I discussed in my November 2 talk at WPI’s Digital Humanities Symposium. I’ll look at the contexts around open humanities, explore the rationale for open humanities (drawing many examples from digital humanities), and examine challenges facing open humanities, particularly cultural and economic ones. Along the way, I’ll discuss the ongoing development of Anvil Academic, an open publisher for the digital humanities (I’m the program manager).  I hope this series shines a light on some of the great work being done in the DH community and stimulates further conversation about the open humanities.

Thanks to everyone who has commented on a post, spread the word about my blog, encouraged me, shared ideas with me, and helped make the DH community (as contentious as it sometimes can be) one of passion.

Presentations on the Future of Libraries and Open Humanities

Yesterday I started the day by discussing the future of academic libraries with an sharp, engaged group of faculty, librarians and staff at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and ended it by advocating for open humanities at WPI’s conference Digitize This: Exploring/Exploiting the Rise of Digital Arts & Digital Humanities. It was a kick that three people whom I consider to be leaders in open humanities–John Unsworth, Julia Flanders and Tom Scheinfeldt–were at my evening presentation.

Here are the slides from my presentations (PDF):

For those who want more, I’ve been obsessively bookmarking resources on open humanities and the future of libraries.

Thanks to Dr. Tracey Leger-Hornby, WPI’s Dean of Library Services and my classmate at the Frye Leadership Institute (go class of 2003!), for hosting my visit, and Prof. Joshua Rosenstock for making it possible for me to speak at the DH symposium.

Update, 11/16/12: After being notified by an attentive reader (thanks Dad!) that my slides contained some typos, I’ve uploaded corrected versions. I hope I caught ‘em all.

Anvil Academic Launches

Since June, I have been working as program manager of Anvil Academic, a new all-digital, open publisher for the digital humanities. Anvil LogoOver the past four months, we’ve built a stellar editorial board, met with our advisory board and with colleagues at the University of Michigan’s MPublishing, done some preliminary work identifying potential publications, and developed a web site in partnership with Interactive Mechanics. I’m pleased to announce that our web site is now publicly available and that Anvil is officially launched. Like Anvil itself, we expect that the web site will undergo significant changes; for now it functions mainly to promote our vision and to offer basic information for potential authors. In the coming months, it will provide an access point for our publications.

So what sort of publications will Anvil produce? Anvil focuses on born-digital humanities scholarship that could not exist in print form, such as works that are built upon rich collections of data and offer tools for analyzing and exploring that data; multimodal compositions that incorporate audio, video, images, simulations, and/or other rich media; works of networked authorship, which engage the community in ongoing online conversation; and flexible, interactive educational content. But we are open to forms and genres beyond what we’ve identified here. In evaluating potential projects, Anvil will consider factors such as their quality, contributions to scholarship, technical robustness, level of innovation, and likely audience.  Please get in touch with Fred Moody, Anvil’s editor, if you would like to discuss a potential project.

Anvil has the potential to make a significant contribution to the humanities and to academic publishing. It addresses the need to bring publishing services such as peer review, distribution, and editing to the digital humanities. I hope that Anvil will help to increase the visibility and credibility of digital humanities scholarship and perhaps assist the field in continuing to develop argumentative and interpretive frameworks. Since I’ve had a long-standing interest in open access publishing models for the humanities, I welcome the opportunity to help build the structures to support open scholarship. I see open access as an ethical obligation, a means to increase the value and visibility of humanities scholarship, and an opportunity to foster scholarly conversations with diverse, engaged communities. As a start-up, we have latitude to experiment with different dimensions of publishing in a way consistent with the values of the digital humanities, including peer review (open, peer-to-peer, hybrid), business models, genres, etc.  We plan to share the results of such experiments.

If you’d like to learn more about Anvil, please participate in a Twitterchat with  me (@lisaspiro), Fred Moody (@moodyfred), and Korey Jackson (@koreybjackson, Program Coordinator and Analyst) on Friday, October 5 at 12 EDT; we will be using the #anvil hashtag. The Twitterchat will be facilitated by editorial board member Adeline Koh (@adelinekoh), who recently wrote two ProfHacker pieces about Anvil: an introduction to Anvil and an interview with Fred Moody.  Of course, I also welcome questions and comments.

Scholarly Communication, Open Education, and Digital Humanities Support Models

Over the past few months, I’ve co-written a working paper on open education and made several presentations, including ones on new models for scholarly communication and digital humanities support models at liberal arts colleges. This post is a catch-all catch-up, an attempt to share this stuff (albeit rather late).

  • “New Models and Modes for Scholarly Publishing in the Digital Age” (PDF of PowerPoint) is a presentation that I gave in March at the Association of Research Libraries Leadership and Career Development Program‘s Institute on Transforming Research Library Roles and Scholarly Communication.  It attempts to synthesize innovative approaches to scholarly communication, with a particular focus on peer review (e.g. peer-to-peer, post-publication), publishing models, and business models. [Update, 11/17/12: I corrected a typo on the slide about the number of eprints in arXiv.]
  • Open Education in the Liberal Arts: A NITLE Working Paper, which I co-wrote with my colleague Bryan Alexander, explores the significance of open education (broadly defined) in the liberal arts context. The paper is made available using the CommentPress platform, which reflects our hope to foster discussion. A PDF version is also available.
  • Models for Supporting Digital Humanities at Liberal Arts Colleges (PDF of PPT) looks at the challenges for small colleges in supporting digital humanities initiatives, as well as strategies such as establishing a center (with brief case studies of Hamilton, University of Richmond, and Occidental), inter-institutional collaboration, and integrating with the co-curriculum.  I gave presentation this as part of a Five Colleges of Ohio Next Generation Library workshop hosted by the College of Wooster.

Startups and the Digital Humanities

THATCamp ranks as my favorite conference experience, mostly because it blows apart the passivity and formality of a traditional conference to get to the essence, bringing people together to share ideas. After attending Startup Weekend Houston a few weeks ago, I now have another event to add to my list of favorite conferencey experiences. Just as THATCamp challenges attendees to set and steer the agenda, Startup Weekend leaves a lot up to the participants, who have 54 hours to pitch a product idea (typically tech-related), form teams, validate their idea, develop a business model, and put together a demo and a longer pitch.

Houston Startup Weekend Saturday Nov 2011-4 by sarahmworthy

Houston Startup Weekend Saturday Nov 2011-4 by sarahmworthy

Like THATCamps, Startup Weekends are low-cost ($99 or less), community-driven events that take place around the world and are run primarily by volunteers, who receive help from the Startup Weekend’s central office in staging the event. Startup Weekend provides the key challenge, overarching structure, and access to many of the resources you need to build your project, such as excellent mentors, tools that help you to flesh out your ideas, coffee, good food (including a nirvana-inducing chocolate malt cupcake from Houston’s fabulous Kitchen Incubator), and meeting space.

Kitchen Incubator feeds Houston Startup Weekend Nov 2011-2, by sarahmworthy

Kitchen Incubator feeds Houston Startup Weekend Nov 2011-2, by sarahmworthy

Some might wonder what entrepreneurship training has to do with the digital humanities (DH), but I believe that the two communities have much in common and can learn from each other.  As startup guru Steve Blank suggests, startups exist to “search for a repeatable and scalable business model,” which itself is “how your company creates, delivers and captures value.” While DH projects typically don’t form companies and don’t aim to make a profit, most do need to consider how to define their value, find users and sustain themselves. To get off the ground, DH projects go through a process similar to a start-up: identifying a need and potential solution, drafting project plans, putting together a team, building a prototype, iterating on that prototype, and disseminating the product (whether a tool, collection, model, publication, or large-scale research). Both the DH and lean startup communities have embraced similar principles, such as agile development, user-focused design, open source software, and iteration. In a broader sense, I believe that DH brings the spirit of entrepreneurship–taking risks, experimenting, building something that serves a need, innovating, tolerating failure–to the humanities. We can see this spirit manifested in the NEH’s Digital Humanities Start-Up grants, the many digital humanities “Labs” (a term also used frequently by startups and tech companies), and One Week One Tool, which was inspired by “crash ‘startup’ or ‘blitz weekends’.” In a sense, many DH centers serve as startup incubators, providing the know-how and support to help get an idea off the ground.

Events like Startup Weekend could address a need in the DH community for more training in successfully launching projects. Often graduate training in the humanities does not prepare people for the complexities of getting a major DH project started and keeping it going. Such training is now being offered at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (taught by Lynne Siemens, a professor in U Victoria’s school of public administration who does research in entrepreneurship and academic team development), at THATCamp workshops (such as Sharon Leon’s Introduction to Project Management in Digital Humanities), as part of DH educational programs such as UVA’s Praxis Program, and in publications such as Sharon Leon’s Project Management for Humanists:Preparing Future Primary Investigators.  I think StartUp Weekend offers another compelling model for providing training in a fast, fun and experiential way.

Here some ideas from Startup Weekend that I think have relevance for the DH community:

  • challenge & competition: At Startup Weekend, your team competes against others to persuade a panel of expert judges that your product is the best. Competition adds energy and intensity to the weekend (and a little stress).
  • criteria: In evaluating projects, judges assess customer validation, business model, and execution, as well as overall effectiveness. These criteria help to structure the challenge and give teams concrete elements on which to spend their limited time. If you look at grant guidelines, different terms are used, but the criteria are similar. Have you conducted needs analysis to determine whether there is an audience for your project? Have you validated whether your ideas will meet those needs? Do you have a model for sustaining the project?
  • collaboration: Like many DH projects, Startup Weekend requires collaboration among a range of people, including developers, designers, and business development specialists. Not only do you create a better product, but you also learn from each other–and have more fun in the process.
  • mentors: Startup Weekend Houston recruited a great group of mentors who gave up part or all of their weekend to work with project teams. Mentors asked tough questions, suggested ways to approach problems, connected us with people who could help us test or advance our ideas, and provided feedback on startup ideas and business plans. The DH community also offers mentors, such as through the ACH mentoring program.
  • communication: As you try to explain your project to a range of people, from a provost  to your next-door neighbor, it helps to know how to pitch an idea succinctly and persuasively. At Startup Weekend, the first big event (following noshing and networking) is the pitch, where you have one minute to describe your project idea and persuade others to join your team. Startup Weekend culminates in a pitch contest, where teams make four-minute pitches to convince the judges that their project is the best. Mentors can help you to develop an effective pitch, and you learn by doing.
  • tools: The startup community has created some handy templates that help teams crystallize the core elements of their startup idea, particularly the Lean Canvas or Business Model Canvas. Developing such a model forces you to think through key questions and gives you a handy reference as you share your ideas with others.

Startup Weekend has recently begun sponsoring events focused on education, as documented by Audrey Watters’ great series of posts on gatherings in DC, Seattle and San Francisco. Why not Startup Weekend Digital Humanities? Of course, the digital humanities community already offers some events that serve a similar purpose. For example, at this year’s MLA Convention the DH Commons is hosting a workshop in which veteran digital humanists will share tips on succeeding in the digital humanities and lead small group sessions on topics such as project management, community building, and topic modeling. Although the workshop is now full, DH Commons is also sponsoring a project mixer where people can learn about DH projects that they can help out with. If you have a DH project and want to recruit volunteers or spread the word about it at the mixer, please sign up. (I’m a member of the DH Commons team and would be happy to answer any questions.)  In a broader sense, I believe that entrepreneurial thinking can help higher education tackle some thorny challenges, such as improving learning, reducing costs while maintaining quality, and reforming scholarly communication. Thus I’m exploring how to bring entrepreneurial thinking to the liberal arts community through my work at NITLE.