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Digital Week Keynote explores academia online

| Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Office of Digital Learning continued its ND Digital Week events with a discussion of digital scholarship and its potential impact on the humanities lead by University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts associate professor Tara McPherson Monday in Carey Auditorium.

“I want to talk to you as a humanities scholar on how we can imagine scholarship anew given the networked ecology that much of our data and scholarly archives now inhabit,” McPherson said. “I teach in a school of cinematic arts. These archives which are being built without any mind or preservation or any sustainability for the future could be the textual or visual evidence for countless dissertations in my field for decades to come.”

McPherson said humanities scholars’ ability to include meaning, emotions and consciousness in archived data is invaluable. She said the USC’s Shoah Foundation dedicated to providing audio and visual testimonies regarding the Holocaust.

“Humanities scholars are building really rich datasets of our own,” McPherson said. “There are over 54,000 testimonies in this rich archive — hundreds of thousands of hours of footage. … We’re not going to figure out what this means as evidence or as archival testimony without the work of humanities scholars. They’ll be really important to help us think through the emotional aspect, the embodiment, trauma, memory, on how … they carry the gesture of a survivor’s body as they recount a memory.”

McPherson said the newfound range and depth of data ready to be published and accessed by an unprecedented number of people mandates changes made to the practices, the publication and medium of the academia in humanities.

“Then there are a variety of ways new scholarly practices have emerged as we think about what the digital age affords us,” McPherson said. “There is a project undertaken by Kathy Rowe at Bryn Mawr  that opened a particular issue up about open peer review as opposed to closed, blind peer review practices we tend to fetishize as scholars and they found an interesting set of practices in open peer review that were no less rigorous than blind peer review.

“Another increasingly important thing for scholars to think through now is who we let publish our work so that a public library of science that makes scholarship free and public to all and not behind paywalls and not behind subscription magazines,” McPherson said.

McPherson said she experiments with new mediums of academia like the USC-hosted online journal Vectors, which features interactive Adobe Flash projects. Scalar, another academic online platform automatically links publications’ citations to other relevant scholarly pieces and multimedia, McPherson said.

Although these emerging platforms employ kinesthetic components to convey information in more meaningful ways, they face the issue of credibility, McPherson said.

“I really love Vectors and continue to work in it but there are lots problems as well, particularly from a librarian’s point of view,” McPherson said.

McPherson said that the accessibility of digital scholarships is a double-edged sword.

“Just click ‘Go Live’ and put a link on your website,” McPherson said. “But very few tenured university committees are going to take that seriously because we advocated a responsibility to reevaluate work [in traditional mediums].”

Even so, McPherson said digital scholarship increases the mediums of ingenuity and ingeniousness.

“Anybody could do some work in Scalar and it could be brilliant,” McPherson said.

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