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An Evolving Anthology

Our Digital Literary Legacy: Producing and Preserving Digital Dissertations in English

Jojo Karlin

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 This draft essay has been chosen by the editors for open review. You are invited to read this draft and comment on it. The editors may then ask the authors to revise their work in the light of your comments, with the goal of eventually including the revised essay in the anthology.


2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Various scholars have been undertaking multimedia research from early experiments of Johanna Drucker1 and Jerome McGann to contemporary interactive maps and visualizations exploring everything from the Archimedes Palimpsest2 to RateMyProfessor.com comments3. As these practices increase and diversify, humanities departments seek to stabilize the guidelines for these works. To allow digital dissertations to count towards degree completion, departments must consider what these documents are, what ends they serve, and who has the authority to guide their progress and judge their merits. Much depends on how libraries can preserve these documents, who can access them and how, and what implications these projects have in academic shifts resulting from increased digitization at all levels. In order to expand the possibilities of the English dissertation, we need to make room for more digital work. To this end, preservation of digital objects of knowledge demands our collective attention at all stages in the production of the dissertation.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Any dissertation process involves a variety of actors: student authors, faculty, university departments, libraries, and potentially extra-academic parties like publishers and researchers. Students seek infrastructure and guidelines, mentorship, and models from past students. Faculty seek comparative examples for reference and develop means of evaluation. Departments demand standards to maintain academic rigor and govern successful evaluation. Libraries, often charged with maintaining the records, look to grant access to future students, make the work discoverable, and preserve it for future use. As more and more students are embarking on digital projects for credit towards doctoral degrees, the customary supports come under strain. Students find less substantial infrastructure and instruction and have fewer models to emulate. Faculty face technology beyond their purview even as they contend with more comfortable critical content. Departments confront discrepancies between non-traditional and more standard print dissertations. Libraries have the job of making sure the digital form subsists in the institutional repository, keeping records that last well beyond the student’s degree completion and exit from the university auspices.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Looking at current practices within the realm of dissertations as well as the ways digital media are absorbed into library, university and scholarly systems, I will outline current projects and practices of preservation. A dissertation fulfills assorted functions, not limited to:

  1. 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0
  2. the culmination of doctoral scholarship,
  3. a credentialing device,
  4. an example of a scholar’s work for her portfolio or job application,
  5. a proto-book,

  6. a contribution to disciplinary discourse offering fresh ideas as fodder for the academy.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 For the purposes of this paper, “digital dissertation” refers to born-digital scholarship, not just the digitized versions of would-be print scholarship. The category of "digital dissertation" encompasses many modalities. Digital dissertations may be nonlinear, providing a number of non-chapter paths through arguments. They may be non-textual, incorporating image and sound to make their arguments. They may be more traditional textual dissertations that incorporate extensive multimedia features. They may involve interactivity, complicated interfaces, or ephemeral components. As they describe in “What Is This Thing Called a Dissertation,” Melissa Dalgleish and Daniel Powell have collected a number of examples of the directions digital dissertations might take. They discuss ways that we must reconceptualize the dissertation in a time when academic mechanisms are changing and when 80 percent of PhDs are finding work in alternate academic or “alt-ac” positions. The dissertation’s role in accreditation, acculturation and professionalization should reflect the shifting role of English scholars in the world.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 In any dissertation process, a number of concerns arise: mentorship, tools, education, evaluation, community and culture, models, and preservation. For this paper, I focus on preservation, which I consider pivotal in each of the other concerns. Preservation has two main facets: how long can the thing being preserved last and how well can the thing be discovered and disseminated. These concerns become more pronounced when the object is not a traditional text.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 People committed to the study of English in the digital age must come up with a system for gauging born-digital dissertations by these constraints and beside traditional textual works. To create such a system, we must consider how to treat the digital dissertation as an object; virtual space is not immaterial.

  1. 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0
  2. If doctoral scholarship in the humanities involves the growing area of new media, how does the scholarship culminate? What objects might now enter institutional and cultural repositories?
  3. How do we evaluate and assign credit for these works?
  4. How do we maintain and make available the digital object for a candidate’s portfolio?
  5. How do we publish and review born-digital works? What is the scholarly “book” that binds web pages?
  6. How do we put these new objects in conversation with other digital and with more traditional textual scholarship?

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 I contend that preservation of these objects lies somewhere at the center of this issue. Preservation is already at the center of the issue when people propose their dissertations — worries about sustainability, fears of potential friction with more traditionally preserved products, and departmental resistance– and may present sufficient obstacle to many students wishing to produce a digital dissertation. This anxiety about how the dissertation will last in the academic context must contend with preservation. Not only does preservation present a degree of anxiety early in the digital dissertation process (whether avoided or undertaken), but also preservation should be inherent to students’ dissertation. As the Blue Ribbon Task Force Report on Digitization states “without preservation, there is no access” (9). The Blue Ribbon Task Force, created in 2007 with funds from the National Science Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in partnership with , made recommendations to the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy in a 2010 report “Sustainable Economics for a Digital Planet: Ensuring Long-Term Access to Digital Information” “to ensure that the knowledge of today is available for use for tomorrow.”4 Knowing how and where to find born-digital scholarship comes to bear on its archival treatment by institutions and discourses. Access to past digital dissertations also influences the culture — discoverability provides models for students, gives examples to departments, and makes new modes of scholarship viable.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Beside the relatively stable written textual form, the nonlinear or multi-modal born-digital dissertation may present a perceived threat to existent institutional authority. The digital dissertation challenges traditional methods of archiving; however, adjustments made to overcome these obstacles could precipitate necessary expansion of humanities scholarship. How do we enable ourselves to address our objects of study — books, authors, cultural phenomena, historical literary trajectories, etc. — while maintaining an environment of common referents, of available discourse, of preserved thought made open to elaboration and recombination in which we can build sustaining careers? We can partly make sure we are looking beyond teaching the methods as we know them by incorporating changing elements of our profession into our sustained practice. By addressing the ways digital media necessarily infiltrate our daily work, we can become more aware of how these methods inflect our actions and how they may impact our writing and thinking. The reasons for and archival limitations of digital dissertations go hand in hand.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 The notion of a nontraditional dissertation project is no longer categorically rejected, but the ongoing concerns about evaluation and preservation can often be enough of a burden to discourage its attempts. Precisely because these archival practices are in beta modes, English scholars should join the fray. Rather than expecting computer scientists and archivists to solve digital translations for them, English scholars should take the opportunity to imagine new modes of argumentation while practices are still embryonic. New media scholars like Wendy H. K. Chun point out the ways the language of programming can activate and mobilize systemic bias that we lament in English departments. Why not consider how we might incorporate humanistic concerns in the decisions around preserving digital cultural artifacts?

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Students of the humanities must invest in modes of digital publication to build their portfolios and their careers. Why not enable a system for crediting this work as part of their English doctorate? By pursuing a digital dissertation, an English scholar can not only explore the possibilities beyond linear text and the new outer limits of English research, but can also gain experience in the methods of digital reproduction, preservation, and interactions of work. Innovation in humanities scholarship must necessarily be concerned with how these innovations will keep. Traditional dissertation writers have become inured to many of the fears of preservation thanks to librarians’ assigned role as caretakers of this aspect. Derrida’s framing in Archive Fever of the archive forever anticipating the “future to come” puts preservation in a position of greater exigency. Making preservation part of the dissertation process, rather than considering it the after-the-fact snapshot of the finished product, enriches the scholarship and enables greater reproducibility and citation.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 If the dissertation represents the time and labor devoted to accruing expertise, then its form must necessarily persist at least through its author’s career. The dissertation as proof of mastery ought to be available as a site of institutional continuity and as a document of individual articulation. What do English scholars stand to gain by getting involved in the transformations of English artifacts? Discerning ways of preserving digital work and working its preservation into the structure of the work flow seems necessary as digital media pervade our daily existence. I do not mean to ignore the many computer scientists and archivists who are deeply experienced in language and literature, but by necessity their bottom-line objectives diverge from English scholars. English students may have different priorities of what needs saving. Scholars like Dennis Tenen, Plain Text (Stanford University Press 2017), and Matthew Kirschenbaum, Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (Harvard/Belknap 2016), describe the human and literary involvement in the practices surrounding the production of text and argue for increased transparency of who contributes to and governs text. We must consider ways to participate actively.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Opening communication with those invested in the evolving practices of archiving born-digital work seems the obligation of anyone hoping to contribute to the archive. Digital research is now an academic reality that we cannot avoid and that does not simply replicate past research modes in digital ways; humanists should approach, implement, and absorb its advantages.

Digitizing the University

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 By preserving digital dissertations, institutions can deploy both their contents and their mode of creation to build better teachers, better scholars, and better scholarship. Digital technology has already changed universities. The very material of academic work is increasingly digital, as evidenced by the proliferation of professional and trade oriented e-journals and blogs, academic Twitter feeds, Linkedin profiles, Academia.edu or Google Scholar updates and searches, and the technical elements within classrooms, ubiquitous smartphones, cloud computing enabled presentations, YouTube citations, and “live-googling” (as my friends and I call it). If we leave the digital future of preservation, knowledge production, and knowledge distribution to corporate interests or consider it an extracurricular phenomenon, we relinquish the opportunity to push the edges of our scholarship and its interactions.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Digital publication has dramatically affected how and where dissertations live after their completion, and anxieties about the after-defense life of any dissertation play into more specific concerns about digital dissertation preservation. Librarian Denise Troll Covey makes a strong, if inflammatory, argument for opening dissertations advocating openness as a necessary step for the salvation of PhD programs in toto. She writes,

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Opening access to dissertations is an important first step, but insufficient to end the crisis.5 Only opening other dimensions of the dissertation – the structure, media, notion of authorship, and methods of assessment – can foster the digital literacy needed to save PhD programs from extinction. (Covey 1).

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Language of “crisis” and “extinction” may incite skepticism from more moderate adopters, but consciousness of open access may help bootstrap digital awareness in English departments. Open access, a practice of making research available without restrictions on use typical of traditional copyright, does support preservation through easier dissemination. Beyond her aggressive endorsement of open access, Covey makes the important point that humanities departments must develop better digital skills to safeguard PhD programs and ensure the continuing production of relevant work. Because classroom activities increasingly rely on digital methods at all levels, engagement with these formats during the dissertation becomes more important. At this moment of transition, academics must incorporate preservation and step-by-step documentation into their processes. Preserving the procedures that go into a digital dissertation not only helps with the ultimate preservation of the object, it also demonstrates the critical thinking that goes into each stage of the digital dissertation itself.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 To make a digital dissertation, whether a website, virtual model of an argument, interactive game or visualizations, its creator must archive the tools she requires to implement and maintain the dissertation’s design. Keeping precise requirements list for software versions, operating systems, and hardware, the dissertation author develops critical awareness of her medium while establishing precedents and points of argumentation for other scholars of English. Proper archiving builds the practice of the dissertation and expands its opportunities. When a scholar records the environment of her digital work and the devices for which she designs, she must determine what the non-textual components add and for whom she must make those components available. How do scholars archive interactive web pages in ways that allow their work to interact with traditional scholarship? Whether presented as a series of paths through a number of textual pages, as in a digital critical edition along the lines of Amanda Visconti’s Infinite Ulysses, as a digital element of research along the lines of Gregory Donavan’s My Digital Footprint, or as social media along the lines of Jade E. Davis’s Vintage Black Beauty tumblr, digital dissertations must find their way to the archive and communicate with more traditional dissertations via discovery and citation.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 English as a field needs strong examples of digital work that include documentation of the critical decisions that comprise the digital dissertation effort. On her dissertation website, Amanda Visconti gives a useful template for digital dissertation evaluation. In her dissertation Infinite Ulysses, an interactive annotated edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses which enables students to author and share annotations, Visconti established a process by which other scholars might develop their own digital work. By sharing the procedures of documentation and scaffolding she created at University of Maryland, she strengthens her work and outlines a feasible course to completion of a digital dissertation. Her final product exists with not only clearly documented component software packages, but also with an indication of the support of the UMD Digital Repository. She does not explicitly state the library’s plan for maintaining the interactive edition, but her comprehensive documentation builds social points of access for her work. Developing a community around digital work, a manifestation of scholarship that actively builds its own citation and pedagogy, enables the networked preservation that might better sustain these works.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Institutions and scholarly communities must consider and utilize the migration of these networks to digital environments as they develop and publish specifications for scholars. Visconti exemplifies the sort of community building and trailblazing that born-digital dissertations need. In addition to the roadmap of documentation that supports the archivable preservation of her work, she has developed Zotero interest groups around resources for digital humanities dissertations. Collaboratively building practices for evaluating and tracking works helps humanists collectively approach those areas in which preservation technology lags behind the dynamic capacities of the web.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 A number of organizations, libraries, consortiums, coalitions, grant-funded researchers, and private corporations have been working diligently on the preservation of digital documents as the needs of the born-digital object evolve and the archives of digitized versions of older media come of age in our evolving system. Ingeborg Verheul’s Networking for Digital Preservation: Current Practice in 15 National Libraries (2005) gives an overview of library practices across coalitions of digital preservation. The book defines and elaborates digital preservation, digital archiving, and permanent access. Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) has put out a tool for self-assessment of digital preservation futures for cultural institutions. While these questionnaires give solid structure to self-reflection as institutions attempt to maintain their digital collections, they refer more explicitly to the current more static holdings. Digital humanities scholars have been building tools and often have sustainability concerns built into their grants. Many open source tools indicate consortia and grants for preservation as part of their platform. Scalar, a tool for born-digital, open source, media-rich scholarly publishing at University of Southern California, is supported by The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture (ANVC) and lists a number of archive and libraries partners. OMEKA, the digital collections software built at University of Virginia, is maintained by the Corporation for Digital Scholarship.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Developing guidelines for digital dissertations helps coalesce interested graduate students and set standards by which born-digital work enters the archive and then circulates. In his blog post for the American Historical Association, Seth Denbo reviews the recent digital dissertation guidelines published by George Mason University’s history department that seek to “bring stability and standards to the production of digital scholarship.” The guidelines allow for the transformation of form beyond the strictly narrative while upholding professional standards and they draw international interest to the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) at George Mason University. CUNY Graduate Center librarians Roxanne Shirazi and Steven Zweibel have published a poster adapting University of Chicago’s Kate Turabian’s dissertation guidelines for digital dissertations.6 The transition to new guidelines seems an easy choice, but the formalization of rules around new forms in many ways holds them to standards their traditional dissertation counterparts avoid. RRCHNM Guideline drafter Sharon Leon notes that the absence of a description for more traditional dissertations results from the relative stability of the form. The stability of the practices surrounding traditional dissertations have precluded them from systematic description in many ways, but the rise of multimedia scholarship exposes the assumptions of creation and preservation of dissertations.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 1 Students often find it easier to follow traditional forms rather than forge new paths. As Denbo notes, digital history scholar Cameron Blevins chose to compose a traditional dissertation at Rutgers, despite the significant digital components of his research, in order to avoid the administrative hurdles7. Justin Schell comments on the “the "double the work" downside so common to digital humanities projects,” when he describes the extensive process he went through to deposit his multimodal dissertation which had many rich media components. Figuring out best practices for preserving his videos, Schell opted against overlarge rich PDFs with reduced quality embedded videos. To develop a new approach to preserving dynamic modes of argument, students have to shoulder a substantial burden. In his interactive Walt Whitman game for his PhD in the GC English Department, Jesse Merandy worked step by step with librarians to make sure the work has a life after deposit. Yet we must build the repository in order to expand the possibilities of our work. Establishing guidelines for these works encourages creativity; without the onus of justifying the use of digital media, students have time to imagine possibilities.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 What responsibility of style and submission do students shoulder? What support should institutions offer? The changing structures of the university and the refinement of the scholarly applications of new media and the internet require new implementation in archiving. In Planned Obsolescence, published in 2011, Kathleen Fitzpatrick maps structures of digital preservation of text objects. Her research regarding the future of the book sketches the landscape of digital publication; she assesses the culture of peer review and authority of authorship, the changing aspects of digital texts, the role of publishing in the university, and, most importantly here, concerns of preservation. Fitzpatrick also describes the shift from Universal Resource Location (URL) citation to Digital Object Identification (DOI) that underlies the MLA decision to no longer require URL when citing web content. Deciding how to refer to a work, in this case the digital dissertation, is part of determining what the argument is. If the work demands identification at the level of interactivity, then we should consider how best to point future scholars to that interactivity. Across disciplines, scholars like Stephen Few and Lev Manovich make compelling arguments for the power of visualizations in representing data. Opening English work to these practices means that these visualizations must also be preserved so that others can access them.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Recognizing the need to save these works and integrate their practices into our habits of scholarship should garner the support of institutions who will need these efforts as the university continues to become more digital. To encourage academic engagement with new digital tools, the Graduate Center Digital Initiatives and the GC Textual Studies Area Group are in the process of drafting concrete guidelines for contributing non-traditional objects to the born-digital repository.

The Digital GC, A Case Study

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 What demands do these projects make of students, institutions, and libraries? What capacity do libraries have and what support do they need from scholars and their institutions? At the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (GC), librarians focus on digital graduate work despite the absence of a larger digital preservation program like those at University of Maryland (Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, MITH) or George Mason University (Roy Rosensweig Center for History and New Media, RRCHNM). Jill Cirasella and chief librarian Polly Thistlethwaite have been vigorously advocating a cultural shift toward open access scholarship as they build the GC portion of CUNY’s institutional repository, CUNY Academic Works. In their 2017 book chapter, “Open Access and the Graduate Author: A Dissertation Anxiety Manual,” they describe the obstacles and advantages of OA in the age of electronic deposit. Their work addresses the need to preserve work through circulation. Digital Scholarship Librarian Steve Zweibel and Dissertation Research Librarian Roxanne Shirazi have drafted recommendations for deposit of digital dissertations which clearly map out the steps a student needs to take, but students must be prepared to seek these resources.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 During his presentation at the CUNY IT Conference on 3 December 2015, Digital Services librarian Stephen Klein gave a talk titled “Digital Preservation: You Built It, But Can We Preserve It?” outlining the challenges they have confronted capturing the ephemerality of new media. Klein has encountered firsthand some of the shortfalls of current means of deposit. After conversations with colleagues at the Library of Congress and given available budget, Klein had found Archive-It as the best solution for preserving embedded interactive data, yet reviewing the deposit of recent dissertations, he found the solution inadequate. His example, Gregory Donovan’s MyDigitalFootprint.ORG: Young People and the Proprietary Ecology of Everyday Data, successfully defended on 14 February 2013, has a number of images and links which are available in the PDF. Donovan’s open defense was livestreamed online. Despite the well researched merits of the Internet Archive’s Achive-It, “a subscription web archiving service from the Internet Archive that helps organizations to harvest, build, and preserve collections of digital content,” Klein discovered losses occurring in preserving the media content of Donovan’s dissertation. Some of the captures lost images and links. Archive-It, a subscription-based service to help libraries, archives, and other institutions in service of The Internet Archive’s mission to save the entire internet, has responded to widespread concerns about the transience resulting from the rapid acceleration of content production in the internet age. Yet, given the magnitude of this endeavor, consistently fine-grain preservation seems a tall order. To preserve a digital dissertation that hopes to expand scholarship and modes of communication seems destined to exceed the precision available of such a large-scale operation.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 After discovering the capture gaps in the Archive-It version of Donovan’s dissertation, Klein found The New Museum sponsored Webrecorder.io with which you “easily create high-fidelity, standards compliant archives of the web as you browse.” Webrecorder operates at the browser level to capture frame by frame web resources as they are loaded. It records videos, audio, images and text on pages as you navigate through them much as a fixed camera might might capture a single live performance; it presents one view of a multi-faceted production. Webrecorder is a free and open source software developed by Ilya Kreymer as part of Rhizome, a non-profit dedicated to commissioning, presenting and preserving digital art, in the digital preservation program led by Dragan Espenschied, primarily supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, James S. and John L. Knight Foundation8. With it, anyone may record web content to store on Webrecorder.io (up to 5GB) or download as WARC (Web ARChive) files, a “method for combining multiple digital resources into an aggregate archival file together with related information” used by the Library of Congress based on the Internet Archive’s format. Klein hopes that in conjunction with ArchiveIt, sufficient material will be kept to persist the interface of the non-textual dissertation long enough to develop a more functional solution.

Beyond the GC

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts professor Virginia Kuhn is a leading proponent of expanding the possibilities of dissertations by investing time in digital work (Kuhn Academe blog). A rhetorician who successfully defended a multimedia dissertation, “Ways of Composing: Digital Literacy in the Digital Age” at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee in 2005, Kuhn refused to provide her university with a print copy of her dissertation because, she contended, doing so would invalidate her central argument. Eventually she submitted an abstract to ProQuest and a CD to the university library. She describes the print bias that remains in place even as new media become accepted as sites of cultural metamorphosis. In “Embrace and Ambivalence,” published in Academe in 2005, Kuhn advises graduate students on precedents and protocols. She enjoins students to “rehearse your fairuse argument,” to employ “citation, citation, citation” as a means of academic rigor and for entering academic discourse, to align form and content, and to reconsider what part of the doctorate the dissertation fulfills. Her rallying cry for digital dissertations looks to the presumed progress sought by production of knowledge. Describing the hyperlinks and multimedia of Virginia Kuhn’s dissertation, Peter Monaghan suggests that digital dissertations will not gain traction until institutions and libraries have ways to deposit these. ProQuest and other scholarly repositories still rely on the PDF and microfilm.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Yet Kuhn calls for collective action to create new digital dissertations. In her Academe blog review, she cites only three digital dissertations Christine Boese’s The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: Chaining Rhetorical Visions from the Margins of the Margins to the Mainstream in the Xenaverse, which she defended at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in 1998, her own, and Bulbul Tiwari’s defended at the University of Chicago in 2008 and continued on a fellowship at Stanford. Challenges deter discovery of even these works of scholars hailed for their groundbreaking digital dissertations. Only seven years after Tiwari’s defense, the link through the University of Chicago blog does even not successfully reach the purportedly open project. These discrepancies expose the issues of preservation. More discussion of the digital dissertation appears in the storify on born-digital dissertations.

What is the Plan?

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 In order to develop our systems, we need people working in this milieu. To make that available, we need to develop protocol. Even if the preservation of these forms is unstable, the instability should not preclude the possibility of making this work and exploring these necessary advances in the preservation of our cultural heritage and language.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 In their presentation of standard guidelines, DPLA representatives Sheila McAlister and Sandra McEntyre refer public librarians digitizing collections to Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials, and BCR’s CDP Digital Imaging Best Practices Version 2.0, which indicate standards for dimensions such as bit depth, sampling rate, color calibration, file formats, compression, among others. Gathering the sense of what data might be useful for future scholars we address ways our digital output might be relevant. Thinking about what data might enter conversation via the digital dissertation binds the archival practice to the use of these modes of argumentation.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 In his 2009 report Approaches to Managing and Collecting Born Digital Literary Materials for Scholarly Use, Matthew Kirschenbaum of University of Maryland describes the available means of preservation. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the report evidences the attention to digital progress and the multi-front effort to find good solutions.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Literary scholars are going to need to play a role in decisions about what kind of data survives and in what form, much as bibliographers and editors have long been advocates in traditional libraries settings, where they have opposed policies that tamper with bindings, dust jackets, and other important kinds of material evidence. (Kirschenbaum 4).

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Kirschenbaum’s grant specifically works with three libraries dealing with born-digital collections: The Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, which holds the Deena Larsen collection; the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin, which maintains a number of collections with significant born-digital components, including the Michael Joyce Papers (Joyce authored the hypertext novel, afternoon [1987]); and Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library, which houses the Salman Rushdie Papers, which include several laptops and other born-digital media. Kirschenbaum and his team also consult with Library of Congress, Stanford University, the University of Maine, Yale University (Beinecke), the New York Public Library, the British Library, and the University of Oxford (Bodleian). The anecdotal cases, and indeed his report, point to the fractured, case-by-case nature of the process of digital preservation with non-textual materials. Digital Humanities methods invite an interdisciplinarity that could benefit the scholarship and preservation of English artifacts. Reports regarding digital preservation of non-textual media, from art and archeology to digital games, indicate potential pitfalls, but they also signal the conceptual crux of these media. A virtual world whose boundaries the user defines in process or an art historical object that demands textual and material archival access asks for different description of its properties for future discovery and citation.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 In the 2010 white paper report to the Library of Congress’s NDIIPP “Preserving Virtual Worlds,” researchers outline best practices for framing and preserving virtual spaces, specifically games. The report demonstrates many of the edges and ambiguities of potential digital scholarship. The issues the report raises about the unclear boundaries of these games demonstrates the capacity of nonlinear formats that might prove fertile for dissertations. Just as we can learn from video games, along the lines of James Gee, we can also learn from the preservation of the diverse virtual worlds. English departments might also borrow useful tools for examining texts from art historical work9 at the intersection of image and text; their research parameters for new media offer systems for preservation that illuminate and expand the notions of textual preservation which are the typical focus of English dissertation preservation. David Rosenthal, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Sloan Foundation and Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) , compiled a report on virtualization and emulation for preservation. Rosenthal’s blog keeps a current record of his digital preservation work. His commentary on using emulation to preserve dynamic content, as opposed to using migration to preserve static content, bears on the potential of dynamic matter in ongoing English scholarship.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Less and less of the digital content that forms our cultural heritage consists of static documents, more and more is dynamic. Static digital documents have traditionally been preserved by migration. Dynamic content is generally not amenable to migration and must be preserved by emulation. (Rosenthal 8 September 2015).

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 The Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) page aggregates materials for public institutions looking to preserve their digitized holdings. The “toolkit,” developed by consultants Clareson and Bishoff of The Bishoff Group, has more to do with setting up a viable plan than with proposing a concrete method and a set of questions for surveyors. The site links to a number of digital preservation initiatives.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Archiving digital dissertations sets students up to enter and influence a new age of scholarly publishing. The dissertation as a publishable monograph has new implications as scholastic publishing shifts. Mark Sample’s blog post propounding the collaborative and connective potential of digital humanities work argues strongly for the possibilities of digital work:

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 The promise of the digital is not in the way it allows us to ask new questions because of digital tools or because of new methodologies made possible by those tools. The promise is in the way the digital reshapes the representation, sharing, and discussion of knowledge. We are no longer bound by the physical demands of printed books and paper journals, no longer constrained by production costs and distribution friction, no longer hampered by a top-down and unsustainable business model. And we should no longer be content to make our work public achingly slowly along ingrained routes, authors and readers alike delayed by innumerable gateways limiting knowledge production and sharing.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 The broad strokes of these transitions invite closer attention to the practices as the uneven shifts from print to digital transpire in new digital publishing initiatives like Manifold Publishing from Minnesota Press and the GC Digital Lab or Humanities Commons from the MLA. Digital dissertations gearing up toward publication in these new areas and self-publication on websites depend on more dynamic ways demands sufficient maintenance to preserve and migrate the scholarship.

Other Options?

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Perhaps students working on ways to maintain their digital work that are not just emulators and page by page pdfs will help push the boundaries of what the new book might be. In their blog post from Rhizome.org, Svensson and Nilsson address one proposed new mode of publication, the block, as a successor to the book. Svensson and Nilsson look at the moment an artifact moves from private to public as the moment of “publication,” and call for a reexamination of notions of private and public in digital publication. In the post, they introduce Txtblock, which they define as “a decentralized tool for publishing and distribution of digital text in a format called the block—a squarely defined, eternally immutable unit of information.” The decentralizing relies on Ethereum, the decentralized platform used for smart contracts in Bitcoin, and its blockchain model assures that two readers are reading exactly the same text. The archival practice Svensson and Nilsson propose relates specifically digital texts, and not to multimedia. The concern about survivability of text, however, relates to the preservation of more multimodal works. If digital textual publication demands attention to the survivability of new work, digital preservation should likewise be considered on multiple planes.

The Hope

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 How do graduate students use their PhD to expand these necessary skills while they study their chosen fields? With growing concern about the limitations of time, funding, resources, and real estate within the university, and with a sense of the flooded job market beyond, alt-ac jobs seem to provide a partial levee. Working with archivists from the beginning of the digital dissertation offers a chance to collaborate on the practices of preservation, to make archives useful for those who want to engage in these conversations. As scholars who wish to know who else is working at these edges of scholarship10, graduate students could benefit from entering conversations of cross-reference and archive finding. The task is not simply to rely on librarians to catch up, but to contribute to building preservation into the work. By considering what our products are and how we wish others to relate to them, we can develop stronger engagement between digital works.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Making digital dissertations an option for students will enable humanists to participate in the generation of more reliable means of preservation. Though books have proven a good preservation medium, they do not come without their own demands of real estate and labor in libraries continually crunched for funds, and they do not necessarily articulate the many ways our systems have migrated online. With the possibility to preserve vast quantities in smaller and smaller spaces, computers offer solutions for storage, but our new cultural output is not meant for solely shelves. It often impels interaction. We need to make sure the solutions are working and our conversations are connecting. Without attention to how we keep our work such that our arguments remain in their many modalities we forfeit the potential these new modes posit. We need to expand the capacity of our systems of preservation as we expand options of argumentation.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 The articulated networks that the Internet imposes on traditional scholarship, that influence book publishing and peer reviewed journals and teaching, demand attention. If doctoral students can acquire literacy in backend production while they develop literary knowledge, each knowledge base could inform the other. Preparing doctoral candidates to teach in a hybridized environment equips them for the workplace. A growing trend in the saturated job market is the the alternate or para-academic career, or alt-ac, the non-professorial, in-between positions, which Julia Flanders details in her chapter in “Time, Labor, and ‘Alternate Careers’ in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work” in Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012). Digital dissertations grant students the opportunity to develop new skills that benefit them in both traditional workplaces and alt-ac careers, and we must build infrastructure to enable this development. Adhering to John Dewey’s principles of experiential learning, we can synthesize learning and research with skills that will complement the futures we are building. Yet a dissertation is more than the output and more than the skills it strengthens; it is an opportunity to build new knowledge, engage in academic discourse, and develop the intellectual possibilities of our field. The knowledge of how you save what you make is as important as what you save. Preserving our digital landscape along the way will teach us more about what we are preserving, enrich our scholarship, and fortify our future research.


48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 1. In SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics in Speculative Computing (2009), Drucker explores various experiments conducted at the University of Virginia that aimed to combat the authority given to critical practices based on analytic models of knowledge.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 2. The twelve-year project (http://www.archimedespalimpsest.org/) involved complex digital components and has been described in a volume published by Cambridge University Press (2011).

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 3. Ben Schmidt created his “Gendered Language in Teacher Reviews” visualization as an interactive chart compiling 14 million teacher reviews from RateMyProfessor.com. The user inputs search terms and the chart shows whether the words have been typically assigned to male or female identified professors.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 4. “Blue Ribbon Task Force.”

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 1 5. Questions of ownership come into a digital dissertation whether you want them to or not. Whereas the choices of publication for traditional written dissertations funnel you into questions of embargos, the means of publication of digital dissertations depend on multiple components. “Open access (OA) helps readers find, retrieve, read and use the research they need. At the same time, it helps authors enlarge their audience and amplify their ideas,” writes Peter Suber in the preface to Martin Paul Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities (ix). The ways OA fits into preserving digital dissertations exceeds the bounds of this paper. For more information, I recommend Martin Paul Eve’s book, as well as the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). 2008 study comparing Stanford’s LOCKSS project and JSTOR’s “Portico.” The 2013 De Montfort University Case Study cited in the UK LOCKSS Alliance report asserts that “LOCKSS addresses disruption to service in the short term as well as withdrawal of access in the Longterm.” Listings of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s 1,329 scholarly communications grants amounting to $578.98 million, including $166 for Electronic Publishing, can be found at www.mellon.org/grants/grantsdatabase.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 6. In their poster, Shirazi and Zweibel write, “At our library, we looked at how to translate the functions of the publisher’s (print) front matter into the digital sphere. What information about digital projects should we be capturing and clearly identifying when students deposit them in the library? What is the digital equivalent of a “List of Figures”? Whether the project consists of a code repository, an online exhibit, or large quantities of SQL data, most graduate programs still require a textual component, such as a white paper, to accompany the submission.”

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 Shirazi, Roxanne, AND Zweibel, Stephen. "Crafting the Digital Frontmatter: Guidelines for Depositing Digital Dissertations" US ETD Association (2016): n. pag. Web. 8 Jun. 2017

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 7. Advisement and evaluation of these projects represent a major concern, beyond the scope of this paper, that stall the adoption of new guidelines and departments’ willingness to accept digital dissertations.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 8. Additional support comes from Google and the Google Cultural Institute, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 9. English scholars working more and more in multimedia literary works could learn a lot from New Media Art archivists, art historians, and conservators. Archaeology archiving, often focuses on preservation of underlying data. For example, tDAR http://csanet.org/newsletter/fall10/nlf1002.html, Open Context, http://opencontext.org/about/ and the Alexandria Archive, http://alexandriaarchive.org/about/history/ offer examples of new systems of data. New media preservation by MoMa’s conservation team, http://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/category/mediaconservation, gives strong indications of conceptual capture in moving image and text, as does work by Christiane Paul and Ben Fino-Radin, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/arts/design/whitneysavesdouglasdavissfirstcollaborativesentence.html?_r=0. These are only a few of many initiatives aimed at the ephemeral media.

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 10. People working on digital edges of English scholarship tend to congregate at interdisciplinary conferences of Association of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) or Theorizing the Web (theorizingtheweb.org), or at summer institutes like Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) at University of Victoria or Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching (HILT), or via listservs like Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR-L aoir.org), or through Twitter. Because digital scholarship depends on a variety of technical knowledges, it tends to be more interdisciplinary and scholars organize around approaches rather than subject matter.

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