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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 essay is part of the third iteration of the anthology. Since public review and commentary help scholars develop their ideas, the editors hope that readers will continue to comment on the already published essay. You may also wish to read the draft essay, which underwent open review in 2017, and the project history.


2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Various scholars have been undertaking multimedia research, from early experiments by Johanna Drucker1 and Jerome McGann to contemporary interactive maps and visualizations exploring everything from the Archimedes Palimpsest2 to RateMyProfessor.com comments.3 As these practices increase and diversify, humanities departments seek to stabilize the guidelines for these works. To allow digital dissertations to count toward 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, preserving digital objects of knowledge demands our collective attention at all stages of producing a dissertation.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Any dissertation process involves a variety of actors: student authors, faculty members, university departments, libraries, and potentially extra-academic parties like publishers and researchers. Students seek infrastructure and guidelines, mentorship, and models from past students. Faculty members seek comparative examples for reference and develop evaluation methods. Departments demand that standards be established in order for academic rigor to be maintained and students’ work to be successfully evaluated. 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 students are embarking on digital projects for credit toward doctoral degrees, the customary supports come under strain. Students find less substantial infrastructure and instruction and have fewer models to emulate. Faculty members face technology beyond their purview even as they contend with more comfortable critical content. Departments confront discrepancies between nontraditional 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.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Looking at current practices in the realm of dissertations4 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 a portfolio or job application,
  5. a proto-book, and
  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 nonchapter paths through arguments. They may be partially nontextual, 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 We Call a Dissertation?,” Melissa Dalgleish and Daniel Powell have collected 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 eighty 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 to the other concerns. Preservation has two main facets: how long the thing being preserved can last and how well the thing can 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 devise 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 the digital object and make it available 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 works and with more traditional textual scholarship?

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 I contend that preservation of these objects lies at the center of this issue. Preservation is already a concern when people propose their dissertations—worries about sustainability, fears of potential friction with more traditionally preserved products, and departmental resistance—and may present a 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 generate anxiety in students early in the digital dissertation process (whether they avoid or undertake composing such a dissertation), preservation should be inherent to students’ dissertations. As the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access states, “without preservation, there is no access” (9). The Blue Ribbon Task Force was created in 2007 with funds from the National Science Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in partnership with the US Library of Congress, the UK Joint Information Systems Committee, the Electronic Records Archives program of the National Archives and Records Administration, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and member institutions. The goal of the task force is to make recommendations to the US Office of Science and Technology Policy. In the 2010 report Sustainable Economics for a Digital Planet: Ensuring Long-Term Access to Digital Information, the Blue Ribbon Task Force states that “[in] all cases, access to information tomorrow depends on preservation actions taken today” (9). Knowing how and where to find born-digital scholarship affects 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 By unsettling the relative stability of the written text, the nonlinear or multimodal born-digital dissertation may seem to threaten institutional authority. The digital dissertation challenges traditional methods of archiving; however, making adjustments to overcome the obstacles it presents 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, and 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 regular practice. By addressing the ways digital media infiltrate our daily work, we can become more aware of how these methods inflect our actions and how they may affect our writing and thinking. The archival limitations of and reasons for 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 attempt. Precisely because archival practices are in beta modes, English scholars should join the fray. Rather than expect computer scientists and archivists to solve digital translations for everyone, English scholars should imagine new modes of argumentation while practices are still embryonic. New media scholars such as 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 into 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 both explore the possibilities beyond linear text and the new outer limits of English research and gain experience in the methods of digital reproduction, preservation, and interactions. Innovation in humanities scholarship must 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 of the process. Derrida’s framing in “Archive Fever” of the archive forever anticipating the “future to come” puts preservation in a position of greater exigency (45). 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 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 workflow’s structure 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 their bottom-line objectives diverge from those of English scholars, who may have different priorities about what needs saving. Scholars like Dennis Tenen, in Plain Text (2017), and Matthew Kirschenbaum, in Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (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; humanities scholars 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 technical elements within classrooms, such as ubiquitous smartphones, presentations enabled by cloud computing, 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 completed dissertations live, and anxieties about the after-defense life of any dissertation play into more specific concerns about digital-dissertation preservation. The 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. She writes, “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 543). 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 the 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.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 To make a digital dissertation, whether a Web site, virtual model of an argument, or interactive game or visualizations, its creator must archive the tools required to implement and maintain the dissertation’s design. By keeping a precise requirements list for software versions, operating systems, and hardware, the dissertation author develops critical awareness of the 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 scholars record the environment of their digital work and the devices for which they design, they must determine what the nontextual components add and for whom those components must be made 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 like Gregory Donavan’s My Digital Footprint; or as social media such as Jade E. Davis’s Vintage Black Beauty Tumblr, digital dissertations must find their way to the archive and communicate with more traditional dissertations through discovery and citation.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 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 Web site, Visconti gives a useful template for digital-dissertation evaluation. In her dissertation Infinite Ulysses, an interactive annotated edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses that enables students to write 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 the University of Maryland, she strengthens her work and outlines a feasible course to completion of a digital dissertation. In addition to clearly documenting component software packages, her finished dissertation indicates the support of the University of Maryland’s 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.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 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’s work exemplifies the community building and trailblazing that born-digital dissertations need to do. 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 the areas in which preservation technology lags behind the dynamic capacities of the Web.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 A number of nonprofit 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 developing system. Ingeborg Verheul’s Networking for Digital Preservation: Current Practice in Fifteen National Libraries (2006) gives an overview of library practices across coalitions of digital preservation. The book defines and elaborates digital preservation, digital archiving, and permanent access. The Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) has put out a tool for self-assessment of digital-preservation futures for cultural institutions. While the questionnaires NEDCC provides give solid structure to self-reflection as institutions attempt to maintain their digital collections, they refer explicitly to more static holdings. Digital humanities scholars have been constructing 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 the University of Southern California, is supported by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture and lists a number of archive and libraries partners. OMEKA, the digital-collections software built at the University of Virginia, is maintained by the Corporation for Digital Scholarship.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Developing guidelines for digital dissertations helps orient and attract interested graduate students and set standards by which born-digital work enters and then circulates through the archive. 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, which 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. Roxanne Shirazi and Steven Zweibel, librarians at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (GC), have published a poster adapting the dissertation guidelines of the University of Chicago’s Kate Turabian for digital dissertations.6 The transition to new guidelines seems an easy choice, but formalizing rules around new forms in many ways holds digital dissertations to standards that traditional dissertations do not have to meet. RRCHNM guideline drafter Sharon Leon notes that the absence of a description for more traditional dissertations results from the relative stability of the form (Denbo). 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.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Students often find it easier to follow traditional forms rather than to forge new paths. As Denbo notes, the digital history scholar Cameron Blevins chose to compose a traditional dissertation at Stanford University, despite the significant digital components of his research with the Spatial History Lab, in order to avoid administrative hurdles.7 Justin Schell comments on “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 lower-quality embedded videos. To develop a new approach to preserving dynamic modes of argument, students have to shoulder a heavy 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 had 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.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 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 (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 the authority of authorship, the changing aspects of digital texts, the role of publishing in the university, and, most important here, concerns of preservation. Fitzpatrick also describes the shift from citing Universal Resource Locations (URLs) to citing Digital Object Identifications (DOIs) that underlies the Modern Language Association’s decision to no longer require authors to provide a URL when they cite Web content. Deciding how to refer to a work, in this case the digital dissertation, is part of determining the work’s argument. If the work demands identification at the level of interactivity, 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 powerful role that visualizations play in representations of data. Opening English work to these practices means that these visualizations must also be preserved so that others can access them.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Recognizing the need to save these works and integrate their practices into our habits of scholarship should garner the support of institutions that will need these efforts as the university continues to become more digital. To encourage academic engagement with new digital tools, the GC Digital Initiatives and the GC Textual Studies Area Group are drafting concrete guidelines for contributing nontraditional objects to the born-digital repository.

The Digital GC, A Case Study

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 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 the one at the University of Maryland (Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, MITH) or George Mason University (Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, RRCHNM). Jill Cirasella and Polly Thistlethwaite, GC’s chief librarian, have been vigorously advocating a cultural shift toward open-access (OA) scholarship as they build the GC portion of CUNY’s institutional repository, CUNY Academic Works. In their 2017 essay “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. The digital-scholarship librarian Steve Zweibel and the dissertation-research librarian Roxanne Shirazi have drafted recommendations for the deposit of digital dissertations that clearly map out the steps a student needs to take, but students must be prepared to seek these resources.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 During his presentation at the CUNY IT Conference on 3 December 2015, the digital services librarian Stephen Klein gave a talk titled “Digital Preservation: You Built It, But Can We Preserve It?” outlining the challenges of 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 the available budget, Klein found Archive-It to be the best solution for preserving embedded interactive data, yet after 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 that are available in the PDF. Donovan’s open defense was live-streamed 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 (“About Us”). Some of the captures lost images and links. Archive-It 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. Preserving a digital dissertation that hopes to expand scholarship and modes of communication seems destined to exceed the degree of precision available for such a large-scale operation.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 After discovering the capture gaps in the Archive-It version of Donovan’s dissertation, Klein found Webrecorder, with which you “easily create high-fidelity, standards compliant archives of the web as you browse.”8 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 capture a live performance; it presents one view of a multifaceted production. Webrecorder is a free and open-source software developed by Ilya Kreymer as part of the nonprofit organization Rhizome, an affiliate in residence at the New Museum 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 and the James S. and John L. Knight Foundation.9 With it, anyone may record Web content to store on Webrecorder.io (up to 5GB) or to 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 (“WARC, Web ARChive File Format”). Klein hopes that in conjunction with Archive-It, Webrecorder will be used to preserve the interface of nontextual dissertations long enough to develop a more functional solution.

Beyond the GC

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Virginia Kuhn, a professor at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, is a leading proponent of expanding the possibilities of dissertations by investing time in digital work (“Early Days”). 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 that 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 fair-use 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 (13). Her rallying cry for digital dissertations looks to the presumed progress sought by production of knowledge. Describing the hyperlinks and multimedia aspect of Kuhn’s dissertation, Peter Monaghan suggests that digital dissertations will not gain traction until institutions and libraries have ways to deposit them. ProQuest and other scholarly repositories still rely on PDF and microfilm.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 Yet Kuhn calls for collective action to create new digital dissertations. In her Academe blog review “The Early Days of the Digital Dissertation,” 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 Boese defended at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1998; her own; and Bulbul Tiwari’s, defended at the University of Chicago in 2008 and continued on a fellowship at Stanford University. Challenges deter discovery of even these works by scholars hailed for their groundbreaking digital dissertations. Only seven years after Tiwari’s defense, the link through the University of Chicago blog does not even reach the purportedly open project. These discrepancies expose the challenges of preservation.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0  

What is the Plan?

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 To develop our systems, we need people working in this milieu. To make such work 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.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 In their presentation of standard guidelines, Sheila McAlister and Sandra McEntyre, representing the Digital Public Library of America, refer public librarians digitizing collections to the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative’s Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials and to the Bibliographic Center for Research’s Collaborative Digitization Program Digital Imaging Best Practices Version 2.0, which indicate standards for dimensions such as bit depth, sampling rate, color calibration, file formats, and compression. By 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 conversations through the digital dissertation binds the archival practice to the use of these modes of argumentation.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 In the 2009 report “Approaches to Managing and Collecting Born Digital Literary Materials for Scholarly Use,” Matthew Kirschenbaum and his coauthors describe the available means of preservation. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the report evidences the attention to digital progress and the multifront effort to find good solutions: “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 et al. 4). The NEH grant directs Kirschenbaum and his coauthors to work 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, 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 the Library of Congress, Stanford University, the University of Maine, Yale University’s Beinecke Library, the New York Public Library, the British Library, and the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library. The anecdotal cases, and indeed their report, point to the fractured, case-by-case nature of the process of digital preservation with nontextual materials. Digital humanities methods invite an interdisciplinarity that could benefit the scholarship and preservation of English artifacts. Reports regarding digital preservation of nontextual 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 are defined by the user or an art historical object that demands textual and material archival access asks for different descriptions of its properties for future discovery and citation.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 In the 2010 white paper report to the Library of Congress’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, Preserving Virtual Worlds, researchers outline best practices for framing and preserving virtual spaces, specifically games (McDonough et al.). 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 work10 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 that are the typical focus of English dissertation preservation. David Rosenthal, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, compiled a report on virtualization and emulation for preservation (Emulation). 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: “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, “Infrastructure”). The Northeast Document Conservation Center’s “Digital Preservation” Web page aggregates materials for public institutions looking to preserve their digitized holdings. The toolkit developed by Liz Bishoff and Erin Rhodes has more to do with insisting people set 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.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 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:

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 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.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 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 Scholarship, from the University of Minnesota Press, and the GC Digital Initiatives or the MLA’s Humanities Commons. Scholars preparing to publish their digital dissertations in these new areas or to self-publish on Web sites depend on more dynamic means of display and demand sufficient maintenance to preserve and migrate their scholarship.

Other Options?

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 Perhaps students working on ways to maintain their digital works 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 in Rhizome, Rasmus Svensson and Hannah Nilsson address one proposed new mode of publication, the block, as a successor to the book. They look at the moment an artifact moves from private to public as the moment of publication, and they 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 to 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 that attention be paid to the survivability of new work, digital preservation should likewise be considered on multiple planes.

The Hope

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 How do graduate students use their PhDs 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, alt-ac jobs seem to provide a partial levee. Working with archivists from the beginning gives students who are composing digital dissertations a chance to collaborate on the practices of preservation and 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 scholarship,11 graduate students could benefit from entering conversations of cross-referencing 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.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 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. Preserving vast quantities of data in smaller and smaller spaces, computers offer solutions for storage, but our new cultural output is not meant solely for shelves, literal or virtual. It often impels interaction. We need to make sure the solutions are working and our conversations are connecting. Unless we store our work in a way that preserves our arguments’ many modalities, we forfeit the potential these new modalities posit. We need to expand the capacity of our systems of preservation as we expand options of argumentation.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 The articulated networks that the Internet imposes on traditional scholarship and 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 current workplace. A growing trend in the saturated job market is the alternative or para-academic—or “alt-ac”—career, the range of nonprofessorial, in-between positions that Julia Flanders details in her essay “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 in alt-ac careers, and we must build an 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. A dissertation is more than a quantifiable 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.


43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 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.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 2. The twelve-year project (www.archimedespalimpsest.org/) involved complex digital components and has been described in Reviel Netz’s two-volume edition of The Archimedes Palimpsest, published by Cambridge University Press (2011).

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 3. Ben Schmidt created his “Gendered Language in Teacher Reviews” visualization (2015) as an interactive chart compiling fourteen 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.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 4. For information about current dissertation practices, see “Digital Dissertation”; “Digital Dissertations”; and Phillips et al.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 5. A digital dissertation raises questions of ownership whether you want it 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 impact,” writes Peter Suber in the preface to Martin Paul Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities (ix). I do not have room here to examine the ways OA fits into preserving digital dissertations. For more information, I recommend Eve’s book, as well as the Joint Information Systems Committee’s 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 long term” (“Case Studies”). Listings of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s scholarly communication grants—which in 2018 numbered 1,508 and amounted to $694.08 million, including 235 grants equaling $79.6 million for electronic publishing—can be found at www.mellon.org/grants/grants-database.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 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.”

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 7. Advisement and evaluation of these projects represent major concerns, beyond the scope of this paper, that stall the adoption of new guidelines and undermine departments’ willingness to accept digital dissertations.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 8. Since the writing of this article, Webrecorder has launched a desktop application for MAC OSX, Windows, and Linux that enables offline viewing.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 9. 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.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 10. 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 the preservation of underlying data. For example, tDAR (csanet.org/newsletter/fall10/nlf1002.html), Open Context (opencontext.org/about/) and the Alexandria Archive (alexandriaarchive.org/about/history/) offer examples of new systems of data. New-media preservation by the Museum of Modern Art’s conservation team (www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/category/mediaconservation) strongly indicates conceptual capture in moving image and text, as does work by Christiane Paul and Ben Fino-Radin (www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/arts/design/whitneysavesdouglasdavissfirstcollaborativesentence.html?_r=0). These are only a few of many initiatives aimed at ephemeral media.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 11. People working on the digital edges of English scholarship tend to congregate at interdisciplinary conferences organized by the Association of Digital Humanities Organizations or Theorizing the Web (theorizingtheweb.org); or at summer institutes like the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria or Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching; or through Listservs like the Association of Internet Researchers (aoir.org); or on 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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