[iDC] MLA flunks humanities in recognizing online scholarship

Jon Ippolito jippolito at umit.maine.edu
Fri Feb 9 13:40:45 EST 2007

Thanks to the iDC subscribers who expressed interest in Still Water's efforts to expand the criteria for academic excellence. If anyone knows of another school with enlightened promotion & tenure policies, please let us know.

In the meantime, the Modern Language Association ("CAA for the humanities") released a disheartening study last December on the absence of such recognition in American humanities departments today:

"The task force was dismayed by a widespread lack of experience in evaluating digital scholarship. More than 40 percent of departments at Ph.D.-granting institutions said, in response to the survey, that they did not know how to gauge the merit of
refereed electronic articles, while 65.7 percent reported that they had no experience judging monographs in that format."

How can 40% of America's smartest brains in the humanities "not know how to gauge" refereed journals in electronic form? If the process of refereeing is comparable to print, I can only assume the answer is fear of the unfamiliar: the lack of
brand-name recognition for upstart journals, and a lack of experience with new scholarly tools--like, uh, a Web browser.

Interestingly, the MLA prodded reviewers to get used to such tools in promotion & tenure guidelines released as early as 2000:

"Review Work in the Medium in Which It Was Produced. Since scholarly work is sometimes designed for presentation in a specific medium, evaluative bodies should review faculty members' work in the medium in which it was produced. For example,
Web-based projects should be viewed online, not in printed form."

I guess we shouldn't be surprised that the study documented even lower acceptance rates for online scholarship that doesn't look like refereed journals. Nevertheless, the 2006 MLA report counters that:

"in evaluating scholarship for tenure and promotion, committees and administrators must take responsibility for becoming fully aware both of the mechanisms of oversight and assessment that already govern the production of a great deal of digital
scholarship and of the well-established role of new media in humanities research. It is of course convenient when electronic scholarly editing and writing are clearly analogous to their print counterparts. But when new media make new forms of
scholarship possible, those forms can be assessed with the same rigor used to judge scholarly quality in print media. We must have the flexibility to ensure that as new sources and instruments for knowing develop, the meaning of scholarship can
expand and remain relevant to our changing times."

Sounds like it's time for humanities departments to offer a crash course in Slashdot karma ;)


What do pigs' wings, alien planets, and computer viruses have in common?
They're all At the Edge of Art.

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