This roundtable will engage labor issues raised by the practice of the digital humanities. By practice we mean the day-to-day, week-to-week work that is done by a variety of individuals to create digital objects that are then in turn worked upon by others (scholars, students, readers, users of every sort and kind). For the purposes of this roundtable digital objects under discussion may refer to something as technically complex as Nines or the William Blake Archive; or it may refer to an online class created by an individual teacher. Among the issues that may be raised are those having to do with the way credit is assigned for the work done; who has intellectual property rights in the digital object; how prestige is shared (and symbolic capital accumulated) among workers; among labor and management; the distinctions made by institutions between tenure track, non tenure-track, and other categories of employees all of whom may be working on the same project but who may have considerable differences in rates of pay, benefits, and job security; how authority and autonomy are managed between labor and management--who reports to whom? Questions relating to the use of the labor of graduate and undergraduate students; the use or potential use of outsourced labor on digital projects. Merely suggesting to employees that labor could be outsourced is a powerful psychological tool for keeping down wages, refusing or degrading benefits, creating a climate of fear and uncertainty. Another possible question turns on what "workplace" means when a work site may be distributed across continents--what does outsourcing mean when there is no one "origin point?" Is outsourcing being encouraged by certain funding models? What are the working conditions among people laboring together (even if dispersed) like? How much digital labor is also union labor? Non union labor? We may also be interested in discussing possible health and safety issues that can be associated with labor in the digital humanities, for instance, repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.
It is our hope that the roundtable will help clarify these issues and raise more questions for further discussion.
We invite your questions and ideas now for discussion in January. If you want to contribute any, please send them to William Thompson, the roundtable moderator, and he will provide them to the panelists so they may prepare for them.
The MLA Committee on Information Technology has a tradition of trying new things with technology. This year we are experimenting with bringing in speakers from distant locations. Mark Childs will joining the roundtable from the UK via Skype.
is a Teaching Development Fellow for Elearning at Coventry University in the UK. Over the past 12 years he has worked on close to 30 projects involving technology-supported learning; at Coventry and in previous posts at the Universities of Wolverhampton and Warwick.
Although having worked with a range of technologies, including digital repositories, podcasting, video and audience response systems, Mark Childs' specialism is learners’ and educators’ experience of synchronous communication platforms. The majority of his work has been with drama and theatre studies, conducting webconference-based performance workshops and managing the Theatron project in Second Life, which created simulations of theatrical spaces. He also recently worked with Birmingham Royal Ballet in using virtual worlds for set design. His PhD on learners’ experiences of virtual worlds focused on the role of presence in effective learning through the creation of virtual body identities and schemata.
Mark Childs is currently working on publications on identity, theatrical spaces and ethics in virtual worlds, and continues to frustrate editors by failing to explain the terms “steampunk” or “furry”.
- Mark Childs writes regarding the ethics of labour issues in the introduction of information technology to teaching:
This consideration of labour issues was prompted by the most recent of a series of government-funded projects in Higher Education by the author. Previous initiatives had involved academics who were co-authors of the projects, and were therefore self-selected innovators or early adopters. This most recent project was the Coventry Online Writing Laboratory project, aimed at providing online support for students in their academic writing. The project brought in tutors to take part in the experiment who were already teaching face-to-face, and required them to adopt new practices. This meant these new project members were “conscripts” as opposed to “volunteers” and this led to a series of additional complexities with implementing the project, due to divergent expectations, values and assumptions from some of these tutors.
The ethical questions raised in this presentation are the extent to which these different values and assumptions can be legitimate, the degree to which institutions and teams should adapt their policies, or insist that tutors, lecturers and academics should be expected to adapt. The presentation does not offer any answers to these questions, but provides some clarification of where these different values may arise.
Difficulties in the use of technology for tutors and lecturers can arise at two levels. The first of these is the set of factors associated with accessibility, time, training and support (Gamlo, 2010). An expectation that teachers take on the use of technology without adequately supporting them in these capacities places them at risk, and so must be considered by those managing change. Projects and change management programmes will put in place staff development programmes and technical support and assume that the barriers have been removed. However, some teachers are more risk averse in these circumstances than others (Thackray, Good and Howland, 2008; 331-332)
Second order barriers consist of lack of skills of the tutors and teachers, lack of confidence regarding their use of technology but also attitudes and values that oppose the integration of technology (Gamlo, 2010). These first two can also be addressed through development, but it is the last that is often overlooked and can lead to culture clashes in the implementation of technological innovation.
Beliefs identified from conversations with peers and colleagues that underlie this resistance are:
- ICT have no benefits in their teaching and their students’ learning (Gamlo, 2010)
- ICT is dehumanizing, replacing face-to-face interactions which are the only authentic forms of communication
- ICT is economically divisive, contributing to the digital divide, particularly that which exists between developed and developing countries
- ICT risks exposure to inappropriate content or transgressive behavior, this is particularly the case with education that involves social network platforms such as Facebook or Second Life
- ICT trivializes education, this is particularly true of education using games or virtual worlds (Whitton and Hollis, 2008; 223)
- ICT undermines the employment rights and security of workers, for example the fear that ICT is being introduced to save on money, cut down on the number of posts, or increase staff-student ratios.
On this last point, opinions can cut across political lines, and arise not out of a political perspective, but in how that perspective intersects with a personal feeling of empowerment or disempowerment through technology. For example, the Luddites were a movement who used hammers to smash mechanised looms, not through an opposition to technology itself, but because the looms were owned by mill owners. In this metaphor, an educator who felt disempowered through technology may equate ICT with the mechanised looms; another (with identical political views) may equate ICT with the hammers. These two contradictory views of the role of technology in human endeavour have been identified by Lawson and Comber (2010; 421) as Dystopian and Utopian approaches.
- “The Dystopian view is concerned with issues of surveillance and commodification. The potential for new technologies to document and track the activities of individuals and groups is seen from this perspective as an extension of the ability of the state to control the activities and thought processes of the citizenry ... The Utopian view, on the other hand, stresses the potential of the information superhighway to empower individuals by allowing them to promote on the Internet their own ideas and information rather than just passively receive the messages of others.” Lawson and Comber (2010; 421)
The view of technology as inauthentic and dehumanising runs, perhaps far deeper than political motives and springs from a deeper value-driven approach to human reliance on technology. This view of technology as dehumanising has its roots in what Mitcham (1994; 277) refers to as ancient scepticism. Ancient scepticism is a “distrust of uneasiness about technical activities (that) can be detected in the earliest strata of Western philosophy” (Mitcham, 1994; 277). Mitcham discusses a passage in Plato’s The Republic in which the character Socrates states:
- Because it cannot convert or emancipate the mind from the cares and concerns of the world, technology should not be a primary focus of human life. The orientation of technics, because it is concerned to remedy the defects in nature, is always towards the lower or weaker. (Mitcham, 1994; 280)
and “For Plato, and the Platonic tradition, too, artifice is less real than nature” (Mitcham, 1994; 282). Mitcham contrasts these with two other philosophies of technology, that of enlightenment optimism which “argues the inherent goodness of technology and the consequent accidental character of all misuse” (Mitcham, 1994; 283) and romantic uneasiness which “reflects an uneasiness about technology that ... distinct from ancient scepticism and modern optimism, in its parts it nevertheless exhibits differential affinities with both” (Mitcham, 1994; 290).
Incorporating ICT into one’s role therefore is not simply one of skills and resources, and opposition to it is not overcome simply by providing training and having a technical department in support. Colleagues may have profound reservations about the role of technology in their teaching. This is not to suggest, however, that an anti-technological position cannot be countered, or even over-ruled (just because a position is a profoundly held one, does not necessarily mean it is a valid one). However, in considering the labour issues that arise when introducing ICT, the ethical dilemma becomes one of the degree to which change managers, or staff developers (or Teaching Development Fellows) can insist on colleagues adopting ICT in their practice and needs to be aware of, and take into consideration, these various value-based attitudes towards technology.
- Gamlo, N.H. (2010) Barriers and Enablers of ICT Integration into Teaching, presentation at Warwick Institute of Education Research seminar 2010, Centre for New Technologies Research in Education, University of Warwick, 28th October, 2010
- Lawton, A. and Comber, C. (2010) 'Introducing Information and Communication Technologies into Schools: The blurring of boundaries', British Journal of Sociology of Education, 21: 3, 419 — 433
- Mitcham, C. (1994) Thinking Through Technology: the path between engineering and philosophy, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
- Thackray, L., Good, J. And Howland, K. (2008) Difficult, Dangerous, Impossible...: Crossing the boundaries into Virtual worlds, Proceedings of the ReLIVE 08 conference, 20th and 21st November, 2008, Open University, 324 – 333
- Whitton, N. and Hollins, P. (2008) Collaborative virtual gaming worlds in higher education, ALT-J,16:3,221 — 229, accessed on 23 December 2008
is the Associate Director of Digital Cultures & Creativity, an honors program at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) and a Research Associate at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). She has a PhD in English and an MFA in fiction. She has published articles on the digital humanities in several books and on text mining and Gertrude Stein in Literary and Linguistic Computing and is the editor of In Transition: Selected Poems by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven at http://www.lib.umd.edu/digital/transition/
- Tanya Clement is the recent recipient of an NEH start-up grant from the Office of the Digital Humanities for a symposium she is coordinating with Doug Reside to include luminaries from libraries, information schools, the humanities, and digital humanities centers to come together and write a much-needed set of recommendations entitled "Off the tracks: laying new lines for digital humanities scholars." These recommendations will serve as en example for librarians, administrators, and academics who are evaluating the work of the practitioners within these centers, whether they are librarians, computer programmers or English professors. Please see the event information at http://mith.umd.edu/offthetracks.
is Professor of Media Studies at Pomona College and co-founder of the digital scholarly network MediaCommons
. She is author of The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television, published in 2006 by Vanderbilt University Press, and of Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, forthcoming from NYU Press and available for open peer review online at MediaCommons
- Dr. Fitzpatrick would like to recommend two readings to persons coming to this panel. Both are posts by Bethany Nowviskie.
is currently THATCamp Coordinator at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, where she helps people all around the world organize scholarly “unconferences” on humanities and technology. One of her primary professional interests is in teaching digital methods to the next generation of humanities scholars, an interest she has pursued both for the Digital History Across the Curriculum project at NYU and as a Council on Library and Information Resources Postdoctoral Fellow at NCSU. She earned her doctorate in English from the University of Virginia in 2004, where she encoded texts in TEI for the Rossetti Archive and the Electronic Text Center. Her dissertation is a history of the villanelle, the nineteen-line poetic form of Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night"; she is currently at work on a book titled Here is a Verbal Contraption: The Art of Twitter.
has been working as a Digital Humanist since the mid 1990s, when he began constructing the Romantic Circles website (http://www.rc.umd.edu)
, which he continued to co-edit until 2009. In addition to creating and maintaining a host of academic websites, he has also worked as a computer programmer and system architect for a variety of governmental, academic, and commercial technology initiatives over the past twenty years.
Stahmer has served as the Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology and the Humanities at the University of Maryland, as a member of the Advisory Board of the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Studies (NINES), and as Director of Technology for Lynchinteractive Inc., where he was lead developer and system architect for a variety of internet-based, advanced data-integration solutions, including medical, distance learning, and government information systems. His research has been funded by various organizations and institutions, including National endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the University of California Humanities Research Institute, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies.
Stahmer currently holds a Research Scientist Appointment at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he serves as Associate Director of the English Broadside Ballad Archive (http://ebba.english.ucsb.edu
- Dr. Stahmer writes: According to a not too distant Chronicle of Higher Education posting by Thomas H. Benton/William Pannapacker, “Amid all the doom and gloom of the 2009 MLA Convention, one field seems to be alive and well: the digital humanities. More than that: Among all the contending subfields, the digital humanities seem like the first 'next big thing' in a long time” . More than enough scholars have already commented on whether or not the rise of Digital Humanities represents a positive or negative shift in the overall landscape of institutionalized academic study of the humanities—and, because reality on the ground is never as neat and clean as we'd like it be, there are valid arguments on all sides of this debate. One fact is, however, not debatable—the fact that an ever increasing number of both available jobs and external funding opportunities (connect the dots...) demand some form of engagement with the digital in one form or another .
As the specific topic of this panel is “Labor in the Digital Humanities,” I feel justified in completely sidestepping the apparently, if one spends any amount of time in the blogosphere, perpetually interesting topic of what the Digital Humanities is or should be, focusing instead on the question of the particular set of knowledge and skills required for a scholar to have a successful career as a Digital Humanist. I want to offer some concrete suggestions, based upon my now nearly 20 years working in the field, about “How to Succeed in Digital Humanities Without Really Trying” .
My first rule of digital humanities professional success is: Acquire as little direct, concrete, and or practical knowledge as is possible of anything digital. If one peruses the Curriculum Vitae of a sampling of the most recognizable (and professionally successful) names in digital humanities, one finds a striking and obvious similarity—that almost none have any real, in-depth practical experience with actual ones and zeros. Homey don't code!
Notice that I specifically did not say, “No technical knowledge.” However, many of those best known in the Digital Humanities were smart enough to realize early on that the institution was not going to recognize code itself as a contribution to Humanities scholarship, nor would it gain them professional recognition. As such, they rightly shifted their early attempts to master the code to a more traditional model of humanities scholarship—that of observing and deconstructing (both in the Derridian and nuts and bolts sense of the term) digital works produced by others, sometimes directly under their supervision, such as myself in my work over the years with a number of recognized scholars, rather than coding themselves.
Those who have successfully built digital humanities careers, of which I would not include myself, although I've participated in a larger list of funded digital initiatives than nearly any other scholar of whom I am aware, have rightly configured their careers as scholars of “Digital Humanities” in the same way that, for at least the past century, scholars of, for example, “British Literature” have configured their careers. They have devoted the bulk of their work effort to “writing about” works rather than “writing” works. In so doing they presented their effort in a form that was recognizable to (even in its various digital forms as electronic publications) and operable from within existing systems of academic peer review.
This brings me to my second rule of Digital Humanities success: Use your words! Specifically, whenever possible, write and publish an article about what could or should be built (or, even better, was built by someone else) rather than actually building it. Coding is fun, but its the King's English that will get you tenure, not that nifty little widget you actually built, even if it wins awards and accolades from major funders and guardians of cultural.
The simple fact is, however, that, despite my own insistence and hope to the contrary, there simply isn't enough time in a grant cycle to sling all of the code necessary to produce the “deliverable,” teach, and write about the deliverable at the same time. As such, in all but the rarest cases (and I think here of scholars such as Laura Mandell and Julia Flanders who must never, and mean never, actually sleep), the work involved in the project will, in the end, segregate, despite the wishes of everyone involved, into a class structure in which coders code and others write and get professional credit for the project.
A great deal of time has (and will, no doubt, continue) to be spent debating whether or not the above should be true. Such debate may or may not be useful to some scholar some time in the far distant future. It will, however, make almost no difference to anyone attending the 2011 MLA convention. Institutional culture rightly moves very slowly. As such, my best advice to any scholar currently interested in Digital Humanities is to choose now—right now—what kind of work you want to do. If at the end of the day you enjoy coding itself more than writing, leave the humanities immediately and join the computer science department. If, on the other hand, you enjoy the labor involved in thinking and writing about culture produce, uninstall your Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and fire up your word processor.
: http://chronicle.com/blogPost/The-MLAthe- Digital/19468/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en.
: See John Unsworth, “State of Digital Humanities 2010,” http://www3.isrl.illinois.edu/~unsworth/state.of.dh.DHSI.pdf
: In the 1960's stage musical and movie (based on the 1952 book by Shepherd Mead) “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” the main character follows the advice of a self-help guru on how to climb the corporate ladder. (“Rule 1: Don't get stuck in the mailroom.”) The comedic irony of the both the musical and the book stems from the fact that the advice actually works, but turns out to actually be a lot of work—in other words, contrary to his initial hopes, the main character actually has to work. What changes is not the amount of work required but the nature of the work.
(moderator) is an Associate Professor at the Western Illinois University Libraries where he works at the Reference Desk, when not providing bibliographic instruction, or acting in his capacity as vice president of the campus chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois, the union representing the faculty and academic staff at WIU. Professor Thompson became interested in the labor issues surrounding the digital humanities while at the bargaining table. Subsequent history has done nothing to decrease his interest or his concern. His next publication is a chapter in Coming Out From Behind the Desk
, a book about the experiences of gay librarians.