“Until publishing a journal article, a computer model, or a musical analysis in digital form is seem [sic] as persistent and therefore a potentially long-lasting contribution to the chain of knowledge creation and use, few people will be attracted to work for reward and tenure in these media, no matter how superior the media may be for the research into and expression of an idea.”

-Abby Smith, “Preservation,” in Blackwell’s  Companion to Digital Humanities (2004)

Do you agree with this statement, THATcampers? If so, what counts as “persistent”? And how long is “long-lasting?” Inquiring archivists want to know!

If you publish a journal article, there is good reason to believe it will be around for the next generations of researchers in your field. (LOCKSS  is an example of efforts in this area). But a multimedia digital work, even one that represents significant research contributing to a scholarly discipline, will not necessarily survive for a very long time unless planning for this is part of the project. (And often you still you have the type of problems posed by Craig for this THATcamp – see the post “Contextuality in Preservation.”)

I wonder if P & T committees take long-term preservation planning into consideration when evaluating work, or if most members of the academic community believe that a criterion for judging scholarship could be whether or not it has the capacity to occupy a persistent place in the “chain of knowledge creation.”

While some digital humanities projects are associated with programs in digital preservation (and I know of one journal, UVa’s Rotunda, that publishes digital work), it seems others have been funded and executed on an ad-hoc project basis with no plan even for short-term maintenance. This results in websites that no one maintains after they are “done” and digital works for which there is no plan for preservation and access. (Is this beginning to change?) Can or should a digital scholarly work be cited if it won’t be discoverable or accessible in 5 years? How about 10 years? 50 years? 100 years?

Categories: Archives, Funding, Proceedings of THATCamp, Project Management, Publishing |

About Dawn Schmitz

I am currently the digital programs archivist at UNC Charlotte's Atkins Library. Previously, I have worked with scholars and technologists at the University of Illinois and the University of California, Irvine, to create digital resources for use in humanities teaching and scholarship. I also have a Ph.D. in Communication (Media and Cultural Studies), and I have conducted historical research with both digitized and original primary sources.

1 Response to Persistence

  1. I don’t agree with Smith’s assertion that people are as hesitant about publishing in digital-only venues as they are about creating other digital resources (in terms of what “counts” for such things as P&T). That might just be something that has changed over the 8 years since she published her essay. Though there may still be resistance from some quarters, many more people (imho) seem to recognize that peer-reviewed is peer-reviewed whether the venue is printed or digital.

    I do agree that preservation is an important issue and will continue to be so, but I’m guessing that we’re a long way from P&T committees taking preservation plans (or the lack thereof) into consideration. My sense is that we’re only just now getting to the point where these committees are starting to recognize that digital work of any kind could be used as evidence of scholarly productivity. (Here I’ll admit that I’m only speaking from my own experience on my campus as I go through the process for promotion and tenure this year. My DH work has been recognized as valuable, thankfully, but concerns about preservation would require a kind of expertise that almost no one on my campus possesses.)

    An observation: as people may already know, the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities now requires grant applicants to explain their plans for data preservation.

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