Digital Humanities Caucus: Survey of American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Members’ Technology Interests

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This past spring the Digital Humanities Caucus of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies conducted a technology survey of all members. The DH Caucus is sending a report detailing the results of that survey to all ASECS members. A copy is also available here, and summary remarks have also been posted on EighteenthCentury.org (http://eighteenthcentury.org/).

On behalf of the DH Caucus, this post serves as a forum for ASECS members to discuss the report and propose follow-up actions. What results were surprising? What suggestions offered should the DH Caucus and/or ASECS pursue? What terms need glossing? How might ideas be implemented?

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10 Responses to “Digital Humanities Caucus: Survey of American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Members’ Technology Interests”

  1. Dave Mazella Says:

    Very interesting survey, and I’m grateful the DH Caucus took it up. Totally agree about the ASECS website and official communications. One observation: on our campus, we’ve found a fairly drastic set of generational divides in communication technology used by faculty, students, etc. Older faculty prefer email and listservs, and some younger faculty, grad students, etc. prefer Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Whatever solution will need some redundancy, so that our very wide age range can be accommodated. A good first step might be adding a new social media/e-communications staffer to ASECS to maintain this kind of function.

  2. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks, Dave, for the feedback and good suggestions. The need for several communication outlets to accommodate different communication preferences seems sound (though I’m not sure if these preferences are always age-based). It also makes sense to remember that different tools have different strengths.

  3. Laura Rosenthal Says:

    Thanks for posting this. One thing I found surprising was that only half affirmed using digital technology for research and teaching. My guess is that this might be a sober reminder of access less than resistance. It’s hard to imaging using microfilm through interlibrary loan (which is what I used to do) if your institution had access to ECCO.

    Re implementation: what comes through to me is that (1) there is some need for upgrading. It seems like it would be productive to develop a centralized, user-friendly ASECS site for connecting digital programs and resources but also (2) ASECS members treasure the in-person back and forth of the traditional conference experience and the potential for intellectual depth in conference papers. We also seem to like roundtables, which can involve greater interaction but without losing the benefits of preparation and expertise.

    The lack of unequivocal embrace might emerge from overload rather than any kind of ideological opposition. It’s always hard to tell whether a new tool will repay one’s efforts.

  4. Dave Mazella Says:

    I agree with Laura on both these points: it would be interesting to do a follow-up to see exactly how many ASECS members had access of one sort or another to ECCO and other resources. I also think that there’s a dearth of opportunities for faculty to learn how to use these resources more reflectively, which is something that seemed to emerge from the survey.

    As for the conference question, I’ve always felt there’s no substitute for face to face interaction and the serendipity of a structured, informed conversation. One of the ways that we manage the “overload’ Laura describes is to work between synchronous and asynchronous conversations.

  5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Yes, I also found the responses about using digital tools for research and teaching surprising. Access is definitely an issue–a pressing, serious problem. Yet the survey was not referring just to subscription databases but instead to various aspects of the field at large. Time and overload are also very real problems–and overload as a deterrent cropped up numerous times in the responses. As Laura suggests, these issues do not necessarily translate into ideological opposition.

    Face-to-face interactions also were clearly valued. I was struck, however, by some reactions that seemed to view any digital innovations as a threat rather than as a complement to real-time, face-to-face exchanges.

    Dave’s note about needing more opportunities for faculty to learn about using these resources prompts me to mention a roundtable that Anna Battigelli and I are organizing for this coming ASECS in Cleveland: “EEBO, ECCO, and Burney as Tools for Bibliography and Book History: A Roundtable” We are seeking participants.

  6. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Eleanor, for this well-designed and clearly presented survey. I found it interesting for the reasons mentioned above.

    I agree that lack of access probably accounts for only half the respondents conceding that they used digital tools for teaching. Like Dave, I would like to hear more about how scholars use these tools as teachers.

    For example, what would an introductory class be like?

    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      I would also like to second Eleanor’s call for proposals for creative uses of EEBO and ECCO for our proposed panel at ASECS.

      Anyone interested should email me and Eleanor a brief (250-word) abstract.

  7. Laura Rosenthal Says:

    I think the sentence that surprised me was: “that over half of those responding used technology regularly as part
    of their research and teaching.” I would have thought it would be closer to 100%, given not just databases but Blackboard and ‘smart’ classrooms. But reading down it looks like the question was more about “expertise,” which is different, I think, from “using.” So it’s hard to tell what people were claiming when they answered it without the original question there.

    What were you thinking re: “the threat of any digital innovations…”? Was there a lot of this in other comments that aren’t reproduced in the report?

  8. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    One can view the original survey here. (In cases where an answer seems to be selected, just ignore.)

    Question 2 reads “How would you describe your expertise with technology?”

    • Not very skilled and often intimidated by technology
    • A beginner (MS Word and email only, for example) but interested in learning new skills
    • Fairly skilled and knowledgeable but anxious to enhance my skills and understanding
    • Use technology regularly for my research and teaching and am always interested in
      learning more
    • Highly skilled and willing to collaborate and share expertise with others
    • Not interested in technological developments beyond electronic resources such as ESTC,
      EEBO, ECCO, OED, DNB, and Burney, LION, etc.

    .

    And you are right, Laura, that this makes a difference. That said, I was surprised that the number selecting this response was not higher. Access came up in several open-ended comments, so I think I read Dave’s initial response in a cumulative light. (And the initial draft report had been prepared about two months ago.)

    As for the “digital as a threat,” there were not many of these comments at all. Yet a few remarks seemed to reflect an “either/or” mentality. The notion that taping the presidential address or the like would seriously jeopardize attendance or even the need for a conference offers an example. The idea that streaming or podcasting would be seen as eliminating the need for the conference would have never occurred to me. Every year numerous ASECS members can’t attend, and such podcasts or streaming might well interest them. Having podcasts of the key ASECS conference events would also help create a dynamic historical record of the organization as well as offer the public a sense of what we study. Similarly, a few comments suggested that the advent of the digital was replacing interest in the material artifact.

  9. thinking about the asecs dh caucus’s technology survey | The Long Eighteenth Says:

    [...] looked at the survey and discussion about this at EMOB today, and found that technology-triumphalism notwithstanding, there is an [...]

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