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Guiding Digital Scholarship

April 26th, 2012

April Durham

While here in our corner of the net, we are working on figuring out the potentials of “contemporary transmedia theory and practice”  including interdisciplinarity and collaboration, the MLA is concerned with getting a grip on the parameters for evaluating digital scholarship and the structures both departments and individual scholars need to support one another. After twelve years, the MLA has issued updated guidelines to address the interdisciplinary, collaborative, and practical aspects of digital scholarship.

Because we require institutional legitimacy to have access to the normal trajectory of an academic career, these guidelines are important and necessary. If we want to be able to make solid arguments with traditionalists like Stanley Fish But as it is important to also be critical of state apparatuses, I would like to point to the ways in which these guidelines tend to contain the very openness that is the potential of  this work. Of course I’m not arguing for a reprieve from the intense rigors demanded of any kind of scholarship.  But I do find that efforts to understand that comprise lists and limiting language are generally about limiting the unexpected, the chaotic, the weirdness that a field like digital humanities (especially when it includes the critical) is constantly renewing by its very nature.

So while the MLA guidelines are meant, in all consciousness, to support the varied ways digital scholarship can exist and to encourage departments interesting in including digital scholars in their faculty to open themselves up to “invasion” from other disciplines or formats for scholarship that may not include paper publications, it also begins the fencing-in that is the road to “state machine” status (to use a D&G concept) or in other words, it begins to frame the ways in which even such untraditional projects as bizarrely mapped digital archives or interactive, spatial texts can be limited to narrowly defined categories and institutional parameters.