Variants, Digital Scholarship at MLA 2009


A two-part post:

    Part 1: Reviews of electronic and digital tools

A recent announcement by Wim Van-Mierlo, the reviews editor for Variants: Journal of the European Society for Textual Scholarship, speaks to the growing recognition of the importance that digital tools are acquiring in scholarship.

I am planning to introduce a new regular feature in the journal with reviews of digital editions and electronic archives. … At the moment, only very few organs and organizations take the matter of reviewing these edition at heart. In an academic climate that increasingly depends on impact and
bibliometrics, it is of huge importance that digital editions deserve this kind of rigorous assessment.

Wim’s decision to include reviews of digital editions and electronic archives as a regular feature of Variants responds to a pressing need for a peer-reviewed forum for these resources. Having reviews of digital editions and electronic archives will heighten awareness of their existence as well as their strengths and weaknesses. The review process will also, it is hoped, draw attention to such projects as respected forms of scholarship that should be considered in tenure and promotion decisions and more. While it is not clear whether Variants will also review commercial databases devoted to providing digital facsimiles of texts, scholarly assessments of these tools are indeed needed. Librarians have taken a leading role in reviewing these resources, but reviews by scholars in disciplines that use these tools are scarce. Given the textual and bibliographic issues associated with these databases, reviews by scholars could help identify shortcomings and also provide valuable commentary about their strengths. Such a discussion, moreover, could assist in the planning and development of future databases.

    Part 2: MLA 2009 Panels on Digital/Electronic scholarship & teaching

For those attending the MLA 2009 conference in Philadelphia, 27-30, 2009. the following list offers a sample of panels of possible interest.

Sunday, 27 December

  • 2:00–5:00 p.m.
    2. Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon C
    Program arranged by the MLA Ad Hoc Committee on the Structure of the Annual Convention
  • Monday, 28 December

  • 8:30–9:45 a.m.
    141. Locating the Literary in Digital Media
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon A
    Program arranged by the Division on Literature and Science
  • 10:15–11:30 a.m.
    170. Value Added: The Shape of the E-Journal
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon C
  • 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m.
    212. Language Theory and New Communications Technologies
    Loews, Jefferson
    Program arranged by the Division on Language Theory
  • 1:45–3:00 p.m.
    264. Media Studies and the Digital Scholarly Present
    Philadelphia Marriott, 411-412
    Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Media and Literature
  • 1:45–3:45 p.m.
    265. Getting Funded in the Humanities: An NEH Workshop
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon A
    Program arranged by the Office of the Executive Director
  • 1:45–3:00 p.m.
    245. Old Media and Digital Culture
    Loews, Washington C
  • 1:45–3:00 p.m.
    254. Web 2.0: What Every Student Knows That You Might Not
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon C
    Program arranged by the MLA Committee on Information Technology. Presiding: Laura C. Mandell, Miami Univ., Oxford
  • 7:15–8:30 p.m.
    322. Looking for Whitman: A Cross-Campus Experiment in Digital Pedagogy
    Philadelphia Marriott, 410
  • Tuesday, 29 December

  • 8:30–9:45 a.m.
    380. Digital Scholarship
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon A
    Program arranged by the Division on Nonfiction Prose Studies, Excluding Biography and Autobiography
  • 8:30–9:45 a.m.
    361. Making Research: Limits and Barriers in the Age of Digital Reproduction
    Philadelphia Marriott, 411-412
    Program arranged by the Division on Methods of Literary Research
  • 10:15–11:30 a.m.
    420. Digital Scholarship and African American Traditions
    Philadelphia Marriott, 307
    Program arranged by the Association for Computers and the Humanities
  • 1:45–3:00 p.m.
    490. Links and Kinks in the Chain: Collaboration in the Digital Humanities
    Philadelphia Marriott, 410
    Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Computer Studies in Language and Literature
  • Wednesday, 30 December

  • 8:30–9:45 a.m.
    625. Making Research: Collaboration and Change in the Age of Digital Reproduction
    Philadelphia Marriott, Grand Ballroom Salon L
    Program arranged by the Division on Methods of Literary Research
  • 8:30–9:45 a.m.
    643. New Models of Authorship
    Philadelphia Marriott, Grand Ballroom Salon K
    Program arranged by the MLA Committee on Information Technology
  • 10:15–11:30 a.m.
    656. New Technologies, New Rhetorics
    Philadelphia Marriott, 309
    Program arranged by the Division on the History and Theory of Rhetoric and Composition
  • Readers are invited to offer any other relevant panels that should be included, and additional details from presenters on these panels are also welcome. Conference attendees who attend any of these or other relevant sessions should feel free to contribute summaries of what transpired.

    On Monday the 28th, the 1:45 to 3:00 pm slot offers a wealth of digital topics (and thus conflicts), so it would especially be helpful to hear about these sessions. Among the panels taking place at this time is Web 2.0: What Every Student Knows That You Might Not, organized by the MLA Committee on Information Technology with Laura Mandell presiding. At the same 1:45 pm time slot on Tuesday the 29th is a panel whose title embodies many the issues and concerns we have been discussing on emob: Links and Kinks in the Chain: Collaboration in the Digital Humanities. Abstracts of this panel’s presentations are available electronically. Laura Mandel is presenting at this session.

    Early Tuesday morning the 8:30 am panel, Making Research: Limits and Barriers in the Age of Digital Reproduction, features four presentations, two of which seem especially germane to our discussions. The first paper, “The History and Limitations of Digitisation,” is by William Baker, who has served as the editor for Years Work in English Studies (Oxford UP) for many years and handles, often with another colleague, the section devoted to Bibliography and Textual Criticism. The fourth paper, “A Proposed Model for Peer Review of Online Publications,” by Jan Pridmore, Boston Univ., pertains to Wim’s review plans discussed above.

    Although not dealing with electronic resources per se, Laura Mandell, David Mazella, and Laura Rosenthal, all of whom post to emob, will be together on the following panel dedicated to assessment:

    215. Learning from Assessment
    12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Liberty Ballroom Salon A, Philadelphia Marriott
    Program arranged by the MLA Office of Research
    Presiding: Donna Heiland, Teagle Foundation
    Speakers: Laura C. Mandell, Miami Univ., Oxford; David Samuel Mazella, Univ. of Houston; John Ottenhoff, Associated Colls. of the Midwest; Laura Rosenthal, Univ. of Maryland, College Park

    As someone who is overseeing assessment for my department, I have increasingly been working on employing digital tools to facilitate the process. In addition, assessing information literacy skills seems as it should be a significant part of evaluating humanities programs, especially English and history.


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    9 Responses to “Variants, Digital Scholarship at MLA 2009”

    1. Anna Battigelli Says:

      Thanks, Eleanor, for this informative overview.

      By contrast, a search for MLA panels on Restoration
      and eighteenth-century English literature produces
      three results, each a division panel. The digital divide
      is perhaps working in more ways than one! The
      panels are well worth listing:

      Kathryn Temple’s “Approaches to Poetic Form”
      Dec. 28 7:15-8:30 p.m.

      Toni Bowers’ “Religion, Politics, and Literature”
      Dec. 28 7:15-8:30 a.m.

      Cynthia Wall’s “Global Defoe”
      Dec. 30 10:15-11:30 a.m.


    2. Dave Mazella Says:

      I wonder if this digital divide is caused at least because the MLA convention has almost entirely ceased to function as a clearing-house for the dissemination of our research? It’s striking to me that the nationality-, period-, author-, and genre-based specializations that constitute our working identities are so little reflected here. And I’m saying this as someone interested in digital humanities. But this kind of gap between the interests of the convention and the daily work we do is not a good thing. (I suppose that’s why I’m going to be speaking about assessment . . . )


    3. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Interesting, telling comments, Anna and Dave.

      I would also add that part of the problem is the way that MLA categorizes the panels for subject fields.

      If one searches for “eighteenth-century” as a keyword, one comes up with 28 sessions containing the word in either the session or a paper title. This problem caused me lots of trouble in compiling the list of book history/print culture panels at MLA. If one relies on the subject search for 2009, the return yields just two panels. Although I am no longer the one compiling this list, these results matched similar numbers I obtained in past attempts. Reviewing the program through other key word searches (authorship, reading, print, book history, publishing, etc., etc) yielded a much larger potential pool. When I reviewed those results, I would end up with a good many relevant panels–about five pages or more, or 50 to 75 sessions.

      This phenomenon again speaks to the importance of indexing in electronic databases and related issues.



    4. Anna Battigelli Says:

      Good point, Eleanor. I see that searching by keyword is absolutely necessary. In fact, eliminating the MLA subject search altogether might be a good idea.

      I agree, however, with Dave’s suggestion that the field of Restoration and eighteenth-century studies needs to be more clearly visible within MLA’s conference program for the conference to reflect adequately the stuff of our working lives.


    5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Yes, the subject searching is very misleading.

      As for the visibility of the long eighteenth-century studies at MLA, I definitely understand Dave’s and your points. But I also wonder how many eighteenth-century scholars propose special topic sessions and how many are rejected. I’ve proposed and presented at MLA on more than a few occasions, but my papers have been on titling practices (at times addressing early modern and/or 18th-century studies), copyright, Google Books, and the like. In other words, do we bear some responsibility for this situation? I also wonder if the vibrancy and size of ASECS contributes to the diminished presence of 18th-century work at MLA.

      With the new timing of when MLA is held, the situation might change. I know that I often do not like to travel any more than I need to do so during the holidays, so I have often intentionally skipped MLA. The AHA conference that takes place early after New Year’s has often seemed like a much better time for me, and I have attended some of its meetings as a result.


    6. Anna Battigelli Says:

      To return to Part 1 of Eleanor’s post, Variants’ plan to review digital editions and electronic archives is timely. The credibility of online scholarship requires a reliable vetting process, both at its outset, through juried evaluation, and also after electronic publication, through reviews. Variants’ decision is a welcome step toward establishing scholarly standards for electronic sources. I hope other journals will also take up this charge.


    7. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Yes, and it is interesting to see that several of the MLA panels listed above appear to be devoted to either reviewing these publications and archives or establishing the value of such products in assessing the work scholars do.


    8. Anna Battigelli Says:

      One panel I’d like to hear more about is “Making Research: Collaboration and Change in the Age of Digital Reproduction” (12/30 8:30-9:45 a.m.)

      Andy Stauffer (administrator of The Hoarding) and Dana Wheeles (NINES Project Manager) will discuss new developments at NINES, including the publication of peer-reviewed scholarly essays based on digital objects in archives and collections. They have an authoring tool meant to facilitate the creation of born-digital essays. It will be linked to print-on-demand publication via university presses.

      I hope we’ll learn more about the papers after the conference.


    9. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      We have heard from Wim Van-Mierlo, and his plans do include reviews of commercial databases. To do so it might be necessary for the publishers to grant trial access to the reviewers of these products. I suspect that publishers will be quite willing to grant such access to facilitate reviews.

      What might be quite useful would be a “review essay” of the various commercial databases featuring newspapers and periodicals.


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