GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Globalisation of Digital Humanities: An Uneven Promise

In Ernesto's Posts on 2012/02/07 at 01:54

Ernesto Priego, writing from London, England in the UK.

Last October, I gave a lecture at the Lifelong Learning Division of the School of Humanities at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). This was one of the ways I participated in the University of Venus Networking Challenge, where I was aiming to “go interdisciplinary” and “go international”.

My lecture (the slides are available here) explored how blogging fits within different models of academic knowledge production and research cycles. Using examples from music and popular culture as guiding examples, I discussed the importance of innovation and the positive power of disruptive change, explored blogging initiatives I personally admire and engage in, and suggested good practices and paths for future action.

Meeting with colleagues and students from my home university was a very fruitful and thought-provoking experience. They  were eager to learn and debate the ways in which blogging can be adopted as a method to increase teaching and research outputs and, perhaps more importantly, to increase the international visibility of the academic work which is already being done.  There was a special interest in discussing ways in which intellectual property can be protected and shared online, and in the technical requirements of setting an academic blog with its own domain.

One of the ideas I took with me was how important it is to realise the significant infrastructural differences between academic institutions around the world. This means going beyond the usual common-sense educated awareness that not all countries, and therefore not all academic institutions enjoy, or suffer, the same structural conditions (funding, human resources, access to technology, salaries, academic work and “impact” cultures).

In this case, it means understanding that in a globalised higher education market, some simple measures, involving digital literacy strategies, can be, for the time being, an initial step towards preventing a normalization which often leaves many scholars out of the competition. It is no secret that “the promise of the digital humanities” is being pushed upwards and forward to the academic mainstream in the form of significant funding granted to projects involving digital technologies for teaching and research in the humanities, like the one provided by the Office of Digital Humanities of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the United States or JISC in the United Kingdom. In the specific case of Mexico, though the National University and the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT) fund projects that would fit within a digital humanities category, the sums granted and the global impact of the initiatives pale in comparison, not least because of very different cultural and disciplinary attitudes to the perceived relationships between computer technologies and the humanities. (I must add that had it not been for CONACYT, I would have never been able to start and finish a PhD!).

The feedback I received from the audience was that following best practices (including reliable multilingual metadata) for personal academic blogging holds a lot of potential for educational environments where it is harder to achieve quick and significant institutional change. Projects such as the Biblioteca de Pensamiento NovohispanoEstrategias de Lectura and Reflexiones marginales have recently received funding to continue their work of digital scholarship, and the Mexican Digital Humanities Network blog (Red the Humanistas Digitales) is gradually improving their output and playing a role in forming a new generation of digital scholars.

It seems to me that “the promise of the digital humanities” is not only where the big money is; it is also where innovation using readily-available and inexpensive technologies is at work. The recognition of digital scholarship in the form of institutional funding is an essential step in the advancement of the digital humanities, but we should also be aware of the increasing digital divide between institutions and scholars. This year, international collaboration with a focus on open access, interoperability when possible/desirable, affordable technologies and sustainability might be one of the essential steps towards the fulfillment of that promise.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

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