The Death and Life of Digital Scholarship Centers
Stephen Ramsey, of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at U Nebraska - Lincoln, has a nice post on the vibrancy and impermanence of digital scholarship centers. Among other good points, Ramsey suggests that we make an effort to not just praise centers for the mere fact that they exist, or, worse, because now faculty can get tech support from other faculty instead of the IT group, but because in their best forms they can advance knowledge and educate students in a manner that is different than the silos of the rest of academia.
Importantly, he is not arguing for permanent centers, but for a mode of center development that recognizes the role of impermanence:
Universities are designed around subject areas. But what if they were designed, like centers, around methodologies or even questions? Right now, we have English Departments, and Political Science Departments, and Biology Departments. And these various units — made up of people who only occasionally talk to each other — band off to form things like the Graduate Certificate Program in Eighteenth Century French Drama, or the Center for Peace Studies, or the Bioinformatics Initiative. What would it be like if that was all there was — structures meant to bring people and students together for as long as a methodology remains useful or a question remains interesting? Such entities would be born like centers — born with all the excitement and possibility of not knowing what you're doing — of having to learn from each other what the methodologies and questions are really about. And they might also die like centers.
Digital Scholarship centers might then function as a means to bring people, even inter-institutionally, together around a set of questions as long as those questions seem pertinent. So how might we plan for this obsolescence (to borrow a phrase) in terms of academic hiring systems and promotion schemes, and how might such work be valued if the centers that support it are not as long-standing as the disciplines they bring together?
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