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Hacking the Academy: New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities

Hacking the Academy: New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities

by Daniel J. Cohen

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Can an algorithm edit a journal? Can a library exist without books? Can students build and manage their own learning management platforms? Can a conference be held without a program? Can Twitter replace a scholarly society?

As recently as the mid-2000s, questions like these would have been unthinkable. But today serious scholars are asking whether the


Can an algorithm edit a journal? Can a library exist without books? Can students build and manage their own learning management platforms? Can a conference be held without a program? Can Twitter replace a scholarly society?

As recently as the mid-2000s, questions like these would have been unthinkable. But today serious scholars are asking whether the institutions of the academy as they have existed for decades, even centuries, aren’t becoming obsolete. Every aspect of scholarly infrastructure is being questioned, and even more importantly, being hacked. Sympathetic scholars of traditionally disparate disciplines are canceling their association memberships and building their own networks on Facebook and Twitter. Journals are being compiled automatically from self-published blog posts. Newly minted Ph.D.s are forgoing the tenure track for alternative academic careers that blur the lines between research, teaching, and service. Graduate students are looking beyond the categories of the traditional CV and building expansive professional identities and popular followings through social media. Educational technologists are “punking” established technology vendors by rolling out their own open source infrastructure.

Hacking the Academy will both explore and contribute to ongoing efforts to rebuild scholarly infrastructure for a new millennium.

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University of Michigan Press
Publication date:
Digital Humanities Series
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New Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.30(d)

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Hacking the Academy

New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities

By Daniel J. Cohen, Tom Scheinfeldt

The University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2013 Daniel J. Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-472-07198-2


Getting Yourself Out of the Business in Five Easy Steps

Jason Baird Jackson

Last year, did you get paid nothing to work hard for a multinational corporation with reported revenues of over a billion dollars?

If you have (1) done peer reviews for, (2) submitted an article to, (3) written a book or media review for, or (4) taken on the editorship of a scholarly journal published by giant firms such as Springer, Reed Elsevier, or Wiley, then you belong to a very large group of very well-educated people whose unpaid labor has helped make these firms very profitable. In turn, their profitability has positioned them to work vigorously against the interests of (1) university presses and other nonprofit publishers in the public interest, (2) libraries at all levels, (3) university and college students, (4) scholars themselves, and (5) particular and general publics with a need to consult the scholarly record.

I am not willing to freely give my labor to large multinational corporations whose interests align with their shareholders, but are antagonistic to my own. This is my view on one key aspect of scholarly communication today. Scholars can advance several different worthwhile causes by doing all that they can to stop becoming further entangled (individually and collectively) with for-profit scholarly publishers — particularly, the largest of the multinational firms that increasingly seek to exert a kind of hegemony over the entire domain of scholarly communication.

There is a great variety of steps that can be taken to build a different, more accessible, and progressive system of scholarly communication. My focus here is on five simple choices that scholars can make while sitting at their desks pursuing their own publishing work. These are choices that I have made and that I encourage my colleagues to consider making.

1. Choose not to submit scholarly journal articles or other works to publications owned by for-profit firms.

2. Say no, when asked to undertake peer-review work on a book or article manuscript that has been submitted for publication by a for-profit publisher, or a journal under the control of a commercial publisher.

3. Do not seek or accept the editorship of a journal owned or under the control of a commercial publisher.

4. Do not take on the role of series editor for a book series being published by a for-profit publisher.

5. Turn down invitations to join the editorial boards of commercially published journals or book series.

If taken, the preceding steps are individual in their point of action, even as they support a variety of more collective projects aimed at redirecting the scholarly communication system in more progressive, sustainable, and open ways.

If you care about university presses, these steps will help. If you are eager to resist corporate enclosure of public goods, resources, and ideas, they will help. If you care about reform in intellectual property systems, they will help. If you are worried that your college or university library is on the brink of financial collapse, they will help. If you want to make sure that your scholarship is as available as possible to colleagues, students, and the public, they will help. If you believe in open education and other approaches to transforming teaching and learning, they will help. If you are concerned about the harmful effects of media consolidation, they will help. If you are selfish and resent being taken advantage of, they will help.

What choices are you making? Are you ready to get out of the business?


Burn the Boats/Books

David Parry

When Marc Andreesen, the entrepreneur behind the first mainstream web browser, was interviewed by the popular technology blog, TechCrunch, on the future of publishing — in particular, journalism — his provocative response was "burn the boats." What he was referring to was the moment Cortez, fleeing from Cuba, and landing in Mexico, ordered his troops to "burn the boats," preventing any possibility of return. The lesson: don't defend lost ground; at times there is no going back; making decisions to insure that one does not consider a return is a good move. Andreesen's point was that old print-based media forms are dead, and it does no good to try and reenvision them for the twenty-first century. Rather, journalism institutions need to boldly move to future web-based models, giving up on their print-based biases.

Academics should similarly "burn their boats," or in this case, "burn the books," making a definitive move to embrace new modes of scholarships enabled by web-based communication, rather than attempting to port old models into the new register. Rather than providing the book with a digital facelift for twenty-first-century scholarly communication, academics should move past book-based biases — which structure scholarly communications, and instead imagine and execute digitally born scholarly forms — which leverage the evolving digital-media landscape.

This is not to suggest that we actually engage in book burning. Instead, we need to burn our love affair with books, and that out of reverence to the book, we stop treating it as the only, or even primary, means of scholarly communication. Not only are there better ways, but if academia wants to remain — or more skeptically, become — relevant, we ought to recognize that the book is no longer the main mode of knowledge transmission.

Faced with the transformation to a digital format, the newspaper industry chose to protect a business model, instead of preserving their social function. My fear is that academics are making the same mistake. Granted, this analogy is not perfect — there are contours and shapes, and nuance and details that matter here. They are not a direct equivalence, but the underlying logic is the same. It concerns me that academics and intellectuals, with some exceptions, seem to be repeating this mistake, following the digital facelift model, asking how they can continue to do what they do now, but do it in the digital space, rather than asking how what they do has been fundamentally changed in the age of the digital networked archive.

It is worth distinguishing here between the materiality of the book, and the ideologies and biases we associate with the book. At the most basic level, a book is a dead tree processed and bound together in leaves of paper and stained with ink. But many of the things that we have come to associate with the book are not in fact coterminous with its material structure, but rather biases developed over the "Gutenberg Parenthesis," the relatively brief period in human history when print was the dominant form of communication, following a long oral period, and now succeeded by a digital age that has much in common with preprint culture.

This librocentricism — or a book-biased way of thinking, where the book stands in for certain prejudices and ideas about knowledge — is pervasive. Notice how the word "book" often stands in for, or comes to mean, the entirety of the matter, as in The Book of Nature, to "throw the book at someone," or "The Book of Love." So often "book" comes to be an epistemological framework for knowledge, not just a material one.

The idea that knowledge is a product, which can be delivered in an analog vehicle, needs to be questioned. What the network shows us is that many of our views of information were/are based on librocentric biases. While the book treats information as something scarce, the Net shows us precisely the opposite — information is anything but scarce. Books tell us that one learns by acquiring information, something which is purchased and traded as a commodity, consumed and mastered, but the Net shows us that knowledge is actually about navigating, creating, participating.

Knowledge is no longer print-based, nor governed by the substrate of paper; indeed, while in many ways we might continue to harbor librocentric biases, as we move away from structuring knowledge to end up on paper, these framing structures will prove less and less necessary; indeed, may actually impede on our ability to participate in knowledge conversations.

We do not have to give up completely on books, freeing ourselves from all of the pages we have in our respective offices. Rather, we should start conceiving of our scholarship as if it will not end up in books — indeed it still might — but begin by asking ourselves what would scholarship look like if it were not designed to end up in books.

Here are some suggestions for this change:

Stop publishing in closed systems. If you publish in a journal that charges for access, you are not published, you are private-ed. To publish means to make public; if something is locked down behind a firewall where someone needs a subscription to view it, it is not part of the common knowledge base and thus might as well not exist. Academic journals are treating knowledge as if it is a scarce commodity: it is not; do not let them treat it as such. If someone wants to publish something you wrote, ask them if you can keep the copyright and license it under Creative Commons, and if they say no, do not give it to them, and find someone who will. Look for journals that publish only online, and only for free.

Self-publish. Publishing and editing are hacks based on the scarcity of paper; no need to carry it over to the new medium. Once, print-based publishing was the most efficient way to reach the largest audience. That is no longer the case, so let's get over our print-based publishing fetish. Publishing online allows you to engage a wider audience — faster, and more efficiently than any print-based journal. We think of an academic's role as presenting polished finished work and ideas, but this need not be the case. We should switch to presenting our ideas in process, showing our work — not just the final product.

Digital publications must interact with the web. A PDF document is not a web-based document. It is a print-based document distributed on the web. One of the principal advantages of the web is the way it connects, and operates as a network of connections within an ecosystem of knowledge where one can search, copy, paste, edit, and link with ease — none of which is true of a PDF. The PDF is just a way of maintaining print-based aesthetics and structures on the web. In the same way you wouldn't think of publishing a book without the appropriate footnotes, don't publish to the web without the appropriate live links.

Get over peer review. Peer review is another hack based on the scarcity of paper. Given the cost of producing knowledge, and the fact that academic journals or academic presses could only afford to produce so many pages with each journal, peers are established to vet, and to signal that a particular piece is credible and more worthy than others. This is the filter-then-publish model. But the Net actually works in reverse — publish then filter — involving a wider range of people in the discursive production. Why do academics argue for small-panel, anonymous peer review? One thing we know is that diversity of perspective enriches discourse.

Aspire to be a curator. We have to give up being authorities, controlling our discourse, and seeing ourselves as experts who possess bodies of knowledge over which we have mastery. Instead, we have to start thinking of what we do as participating in a conversation — an ongoing process of knowledge formation. What if we thought of academics as curators — people who keep things up to date, clean, host, point, and aggregate knowledge, rather than just those who are responsible for producing new knowledge. Do we really need another book arguing that throughout the history of literary scholarship the important field of "x" has long been ignored? No. But we could actually use some good online resources and aggregators for particular subject domains.

Think beyond the book. Think of the book as one form, not the form. Indeed, think of things that move beyond the book. What if what you are writing didn't have to be stable, didn't have to have a final version? What if you could constantly update, alter, and make available your work? There will be no final copy, just the most recent version. While the constantly-in-beta mode might concern those who aim for perfection, it can also be liberating when you realize that nothing is fixed, taking advantage of the fluidity of the Net. What happens when we give up on, or at least refuse to be limited by, librocentricism? What if a piece didn't have to be 20 pages for a journal article, or 250 for a book? There are economic constraints that place limits on the size and shape of academic writing — how much better can we be when we get rid of these? What would an academic argument as an app look like?

To be clear: the book isn't dead, but it is no longer central. Academia would do well to recognize this; to move into new directions, new grounds, where many already are. We should not continue to constrain our thinking by a librocentricism which no longer structures or limits the way that knowledge is produced, disseminated, or archived.


Reinventing the Academic Journal

Jo Guldi

The web is thirsty for efficient, effective ways of retrieving useful information about the state of the field. This pressure creates an enormous market for those instruments that help individuals locate authoritative discourses and situated scholarship, and this, of course, is one of the traditional roles of the academic journal.

Academic journals are in the course of rethinking their management, methods, and publication standards. If they face this transition with courage and ingenuity, journals have the opportunity to plant themselves firmly as pillars of professional utility, scholarly collaboration, and authoritative knowledge as a public utility. Much of it may require thinking in terms of shifting communities and the life of information, and shifting sharply away from current journals' dependence on issue- by-issue websites and PDF servers like JSTOR. If you're a journal editor, the first step in a shift away may indeed be so radical as taking down your website, sharing information in new ways even more deeply integrated with the flow of information on Web 2.0.

There are four major ways to adapt academic publication to a Web 2.0 world.

1) Journals must pursue interoperability with the other online tools that are shaping the techne of scholarly practice.

Web 2.0 requires public visibility and interoperability with other web tools, in order that a searching aid should be found, adopted, and rendered relevant to the new research paradigms being adopted by scholars and members of the public alike. The more journals fit themselves into this paradigm, the better they'll thrive in the new order, finding readers both academic and paraacademic as allies. They will function usefully as finding aids for the most relevant, expert material in their disciplines.


Excerpted from Hacking the Academy by Daniel J. Cohen, Tom Scheinfeldt. Copyright © 2013 Daniel J. Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt. Excerpted by permission of The University of Michigan Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dan Cohen is an Associate Professor in the Department of History and Art History and the Director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.
Tom Scheinfeldt is Managing Director of the Center for History and New Media and Research Assistant Professor of History in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University.

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