A May 23, 2010 article by Jennifer Howard entitled “Hot Type: No Reviews of Digital Scholarship = No Respect” features quotes from Julia Flanders, on the issue of achieving academic recognition for digital projects.
Here is the relevant section:
“Julia Flanders is editor in chief of Digital Humanities Quarterly and director of the Women Writers Project, which is part of the Center for Digital Scholarship, housed in the Brown University Library. A piece of digital scholarship has four components that have to be weighed, she told me when I called to talk about reviewing digital work. The key elements are the content, the digital tools used to build it, how its data are structured, and the interface. All of those help determine how a project can be used, whether it’s a model for other work, and what contributions it makes to the field.
“Each of those four strands is crucial from a reviewing point of view,” Ms. Flanders explained, “because they all contribute to the intellectual impact of the resource.” A successful digital project does not necessarily need to be strong in all four areas; its main contribution could be an innovative interface or a nifty bit of software that will let other researchers do equally nifty things with it. “The value may be 98 percent in the rigor with which the data was prepared,” she said.
The trick for a reviewer is figuring out how to assess that value and convey it to a reader. “It’s a challenging mode to write in, because you need access to information that’s often quite gigantic and detailed and isn’t easy to look at,” Ms. Flanders said. “Because each project is sui generis, each one poses its own kind of challenges of assessment. There’s a comparatively small pool of people who have expertise in the relevant area.”
Reviewing is already an under-appreciated activity, which busy scholars may be disinclined to take on. Ms. Flanders thinks that journal editors ought to play up reviews of digital work “so they get foregrounded: ‘So-and-so has done a major review of this site.'”
DHQ has published many self-critiques by digital humanists assessing their own work, Ms. Flanders said. Now it’s getting into reviews that function more like traditional book reviews but focus on digital projects. She thinks there’s a place for assessments of “software tools, sites, other kinds of innovations that need the same kind of critical scrutiny and benefit from the same kind of contextualizing review that a traditional book review offers.”
If such reviews do catch on as a genre, as the Mellon foundation’s Ms. Cullyer suggested, that could help digital humanists explain themselves and their work to colleagues who don’t get it yet. The old guard may be more baffled than unwilling.