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UCL Centre for Digital Humanities



HASTAC Scholars Program

Claire SRoss18 August 2010

This post is co-written by Ernesto Priego and Claire Ross.  It is a collective write up on becoming HASTAC Scholars.

HASTAC stands for Humanites, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory. It is a network of individuals and institutions inspired by the possibilities that new technologies offer us for shaping how we learn, teach, communicate, create, and organize our local and global communities.

HASTAC believe that digital spaces provide huge opportunities for informal and formal learning and for collaborative, networked research that extends across traditional disciplines, across the boundaries of academia and community; across the two disciplines of humanities and technology.  It is one of the most exciting online academic projects out there that we know of.

Therefore we are profoundly honoured to have been nominated and selected for the HASTAC Scholars Program. We will be two of more than 145 scholars from around the world who will share their adventures in digital academia through blog posts, tweets and other online resources. We can’t wait to be part of a really vibrant and more importantly digital academic community; it is a fantastic opportunity and a privilege to be part of it.

In the traditional concept of the lone scholar working away in the ivory tower, the idea of communication and sharing ideas has little hold.  Academic research can often seem and in fact be solipsistic. Often the thoroughness required for postgraduate study hyper-specialises subjects and therefore leaves scholars with little time to actually communicate to others what they are doing.   There is also the concept of academic reputation to take into consideration. Interesting questions have been raised about the nature of scholarly activity, authority and academic reputation in the digital age.  Does partaking in blogging damage your academic career, it may enhance your visibility as an academic but it is often not supported by the institution.  It is time to query the factors that have traditionally lead to recognition and promotion in academia and whether or not these are changing in an increasingly socially networked world.

The web is of course changing this traditionalised view of an isolated academic dramatically, and even in an age in which “peer review” and “publish or perish” remain the terms to know, academic culture in the humanities is being quickly transformed. Teachers, researchers, librarians, academic administrators, university students and all possible combinations and variations thereof are now continually sharing publicly what they do and when, where and how they do it.

So everyone else is doing it, but we believe scholars are also using Internet Technologies in a different way. Web 2.0 tools offer unique opportunities for research, teaching and communicating findings to the academic community and the public at large. Scholarly work has now more channels of expression than ever before, and the speed at which this is happening is often daunting. Suddenly the private becomes public and what used to be our time of leisure is now also being examined and affecting our public and private lives. The age of the Internet is indeed an era of intermediacy and blur. Academic culture is being transformed to a more open, inclusive and accessible environment, where sharing and dialogue are commonplace.  Right now Digital Humanities is a very exciting place to be.

But the blurring of boundaries is a cause for great anxiety for some; a reason for excitement for others. There are no easy answers about the implications of the web for humanities research. Thorough, innovative, critical research remains to be done. While some may find collective and public models of online collaboration intimidating and threatening, we believe that doing the walk is essential to doing the talk: the interrogation of scholarly paradigms established on a pre-Internet era can only be carried out through a critical engagement with the tools we are increasingly dependant on to work.

For people studying how Internet technology affects the way we do and think about things (and who study the Internet as a way or ways of thinking too), contributing to the social construction of knowledge inside and outside the brick-and-mortar classroom and library is not just a demand of the times, it is a natural, essential part of our research.  HASTAC knows this well and is indeed, conceptually and pragmatically, an ongoing exercise in 21st century scholarship.