How Should Scholars Publish in a Digital Age?

Last week I wrote about DH being a public service and the difficulty that humanities scholars have created for themselves by only viewing other scholars as their primary audience. This week’s readings for LBSC 751 follow right along that thread by examining humanities publication in this digital age.

I heartily agree with Shawn Graham, Guy Massie, and Nadine Feuerherm’s chapter “The HeritageCrowd Project: A case study in crowdsourcing public history” in Writing history in the digital age: A born-digital, open-review volume, when they stated that “the need to reach out to the public has never been greater.” In these times of limited resources, humanities scholars need to stop talking to each other about how significant and relevant they are as interpreters of cultural heritage and prove it to the public through their actions!

As Leslie Madsen-Brooks (2012) points out in “‘I nevertheless am a historian’: Digital historical practice and malpractice around black confederate soldiers” from Writing history in the digital age there are Facebook groups, wikis, blogs, and even digital exhibits created by amateur historians all over the web. While some of these are useful and significant resources many of them suffer from poor historical analysis such as those that misrepresent the position of black men in the Confederate army. Madsen-Brooks notes that no professional ‘academic’ historians have taken on these web historians and their resources. There are many reasons why not, most notably that professional historians gain nothing professionally by doing so.

Maybe, though, we can anticipate a change (entirely too slow, but maybe finally) from humanities academics in publishing. More and more humanities scholars are discussing open access and digital publishing.

There are still concerns as Robert Wolff notes in “The Historians craft, popular memory, and Wikipedia” from Writing history in the digital age. These concerns deal mostly with the open process of drafting and editing one’s scholarship in a digital arena. Writing in public can be a messy proposition and you might end up walking outside with your slip hanging out from below your skirt (oh my!).

Additionally, Humanities professionals still have trouble with the notion that quality scholarship can be freely available online. It can be disheartening to see years of work freely available to any and all (I suppose). But as Kathleen Fitzpatrick (2009) recounts in Planned Obsolescence, what’s the point to all that hard work if you can’t even get your work published by an academic press because they fear there isn’t a sufficient market? Fitzpatrick is in favor of digital publishing but rightly recognizes that peer review is still critical. Peer review is part of what separates professional humanities scholarship from amateur humanities scholarship.

However, humanities scholarship is being written all the time online. As William Cronon, president of the American Historical Association, stated “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” when urging professional historians to contribute to historical topics in Wikipedia. Cronon used his position to call for historians to be more active in online venues which discuss history in Perspectives on History in February 2012. He recognizes that there is a significant amount of historical scholarship being written online and professional historians need to be contributing their expertise to these discussions.

Cronon, William. (February 2012). Scholarly Authority in a Wikified World. Perspectives on History, 50. Retrieved from:

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. (2009). Obsolescence (&) Peer Review. In Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. Retrieved from:

Graham, Shawn, Guy Massie, and Nadine Feuerherm. (2012). The HeritageCrowd Project: A Case Study in Crowdsourcing Public History. In Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki (Eds.), Writing History in the Digital Age: A born-digital, open-review volume. Retrieved from:

Madsen-Brooks, Leslie. (2012). “I nevertheless am a historian”: Digital Historical Practice and Malpractice around Black Confederate Soldiers. In Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki (Eds.), Writing History in the Digital Age: A born-digital, open-review volume. Retrieved from:

Wolff, Robert S. (2012). The Historians Craft, Popular Memory, and Wikipedia. In Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki (Eds.), Writing History in the Digital Age: A born-digital, open-review volume. Retrieved from:

Have a great day and keep smiling! :)