When Academics Go Digital

Last week we discussed if the values that the Digital Humanities community intends to embrace should be - or already are - applicable to academic history. Going through Spiro’s proposed set of values for the DH “This Is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities - On Lisa Spiro’s This Is Why We Fight: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities , we found that many of them, specially those that focus on collaboration, interdisciplinarity ,collegiablity and openness, to name just a few, are not reflecting current scholar’s academic practice in the humanities. We mentioned institutional limitations, but also a still persistent idea of the scholar’s authority and professional identity that operates in an opposite way than these values do. This week, the aim is precisely to discuss about professional identity in the realms of the digital age. Should scholars cultivate a digital identity through different social media, create their own websites and/or blogs? If so, to what extend? Moreover, do digital identities make possible the development of a public persona that may or may not be aligned with an off-line identity? The articles I’ll be commenting on this week reflect on some of these questions, and propose different answers to them.

Academic Tweets?

  • In A Defense of Academic Twitter Patrick Iber reflects on academics’ public engagement, and the anxieties that Twitter may provoke. Does Twitter serve for academic purposes? He says it does, and for several interesting reasons. First of all, it allows academics and people in other knowledge industries to interact directly. But also, it allows academics to interact with other people that share their research interests. So either to connect with people outside or within their fields, Twitter opens up the possibilities for sharing -and learning- knowledge. Twitter also allows scholars to share their work, readings, interests, to be known and to get to know.

  • Katrina Gulliver also refers to the use of Twitter for academics, and she mentions several vantage points, such as connecting with scholars that you have never met before, receiving and sending copies of articles in a much more faster way than using a traditional interlibrary loan and building new networks through the creation of specific hashtags. But also - and this is interesting -

“tweeting only when you’re engaged in worthy academic activity creates a sterile feed. It looks artificial, like you’re trying to present yourself as an academic robot”.

In a few words, “you are allowed on Twitter to admit to having a life outside of academe” And this is cool, as we do and should have a life outside the academia.

Blogs and Websites.

So now, what about scholars having their own blog or website? In Do You Need Your Own Website While On the Job Market?, Jentery Sayers says that although having professional-oriented websites such as Academia.edu, LinkedIN or RSS, scholars - and graduate students preparing for the job market - can find a difference in creating - and maintaining! - their own websites.

Having your personal website allows you to exhibit your work, to create a “portfolio for ‘middle-state publishing-, (…) ‘a web publication that exists between a blog and a journal’”. Moreover, your work can be discovered before, during, or after conferences, and it will not be tied to the interface of the professional-oriented sites that we mentioned before. Design matters, and as Sayers says “design is an argument”. Likewise,

“a professional site can also offer your audiences opportunities to navigate through your materials in a non-linear fashion not easily afforded by print materials, PDFs, or DOCs.”.

And blogs? Do they serve to academic purposes? Chuck Tyron, in Blogging, Scholarship, and the Networked Public Sphere, reflects on the public sphere, and the possibilities that scholars may have in engaging with it through blogging. New practices for scholarly communication allows scholarship to become increasingly networked. Additionally, the practice of blogging, and of doing it regularly, allows to pose and propose provisional forms of knowledge, to raise questions and to experiment. It also asks for feedback and may generate new insights and alternative ways of approach. But most importantly, it allows and encourages multiple types of readers and responses, which can enrich and expand the scholars’ work. Moreover, as Tyron says,

“provides the opportunity not only to benefit from the expertise of a wide range of readers–whether scholars or industry professionals–but also to build a well-developed, cross-referenced archive that can serve as a kind of history of the present.” 

Christopher Long also talks about blogs and the practice of graduate students. Does blogging help graduate students? It does, and in many ways. As he says,

“first, the simple attempt to formulate your thoughts in words accessible to an imagined reader will help you give shape to your ideas. Writing for an audience, particularly one situated in a public sphere in which a real response is possible, requires a certain rigor. It compels you to put words to thoughts in ways that make them accessible and relevant to a wider community.”

I find that statement important, and totally true. Blogs can also operate as a “micro publishing platform” and it allows the graduate student to be known. By cultivating the habit of public academic writing, the student becomes more productive, and I also agree to that point. It also helps building networks and to find new material more easily and quickly. Lastly, it facilitates connecting the student with other people from different places with common academic interests.

Online and Off-line Identities.

Finally, I would like to briefly comment on the article of Kim Barbour and David Marshall, The Academic Online: Constructing Persona Through the World Wide Web. As the authors say,”persona creation is a much more conscious process in online settings as opposed to off-line”. There is an intentional strategy in the self-presentation in online settings,”because communicators must consciously re -present themselves online”. The authors analyze different types of constructed academic personas, and some of the characteristics that each of them assume. Although they trend to differentiate these constructions, I believe that many of these identities can also overlap and that you can in fact construct different digital identities depending on who you’re interacting to. For instance, the fact of myself interacting with my students through a specific platform designed for a particular course, doesn’t limit me to also create a different self, let’s say a networked one to connect with a different audience. In any case, the important point here is the relation between a professional off-line and online identity. As the authors say,

“The academic persona, like other online persona, also has to connect authentically to an individual’s professional work. It is not hype or spin, but more an elaboration of what one is conceptualizing or thinking about, developing, and achieved. In the micro–publics of academia, the online persona will resemble other peer reviewed systems of knowledge production and be primarily judged on its merits.“

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