Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In the humanities, scholars have traditionally worked autonomously. Digital technologies offer new possibilities for collaborating with colleagues and communicating with diverse communities.

University of Iowa graduate students Bridget Draxler and Peter Likarish are doing their parts to help change that approach and democratize the digital humanities as HASTAC scholars.

Draxler and Likarish are collaborating with HASTAC scholars at the University of Washington to host an online forum titled, "Democratizing Knowledge in the Digital Humanities: Making Scholarship Public, Producing Public Scholarship."

The discussion forum was posted on HASTAC's website at www.hastac.org Monday, and will remain open for conversation for one month. Available to all, these forums initiate insights and exchanges on timely issues related to digital media and the digital humanities.

HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) is a leading U.S. site for promoting the digital humanities that is housed at Duke University and overseen by Professor Cathy Davidson.

"Democratization is an issue that is at stake in this digital future in thinking about how different kinds of technology allow new ways of disseminating knowledge," said Draxler, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in English. "Service learning and engagement contribute to these democratic ideals."

Draxler and Likarish have proposed the following discussion topics for the forum: Your best practices for developing and implementing projects with your community, the benefits and risks to consider when developing community-driven or joint academic-community projects, and community partnerships' impact on perceptions and deployments of expertise.

As HASTAC scholars for the current academic year, Draxler and Likarish report on the work happening on their campus and in their region to an international audience by blogging, tweeting, vlogging, podcasting and other forms of networking with the online HASTAC community -- which currently has about 5,000 members -- and their local communities.

"The scholars program is all about keeping this larger organization informed about what's happening locally," said Likarish, who is working on his Ph.D. in computer science, and also had a creative writing degree. "One of the primary goals that Bridget and I have for this year is to share initiatives that happen at the university that would be of interest to the larger group of people who are working at the intersection of all these different fields."

Organizations such as HASTAC, Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, the UI's Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy, the UI's Center for Teaching, and the Simpson Center for the Humanities at Washington aim to democratize knowledge.

HASTAC scholars are graduate or undergraduate students nominated and supported by their home institution with a small stipend and an informal mentor. The Center for Teaching has provided Draxler and Likarish with financial assistance, and Teresa Mangum, an associate professor in English, is their mentor.

"The digital humanities are really proposing as a transformation of the disciplines the possibility for deep collaborative work," said Mangum, the co-director of the Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy, which is co-sponsored by the UI Graduate College.

"Now, your materials can be accessible digitally. Now, you can actually work in partnership with people. A lot of us are discovering how exciting collaboration is. It shifts the way we think about our writing as solely a person product to more of an ongoing, engaged learning process."