What is Digital Scholarship Anyway? (Part One)

As the new Digital Scholarship and Visual Resources Librarian, much of my first year here at Connecticut College will be spent working with faculty and staff to identify potential digital scholarship projects and get them off the ground. The mission I’m tasked with is to continue shaping and developing the College’s engagements with digital scholarship technologies and trends—territories that the Instructional Technology team and faculty have been charting so innovatively for years. With the addition of a new team member and the renamed Digital Scholarship & Curriculum Center (DSCC), the Instructional Technology team’s efforts in digital scholarship continue to evolve and expand. But what is digital scholarship anyway?

Questions I’ve heard since arriving on campus highlight both the ambiguity of the term “digital scholarship” and the burden or trepidation many scholars feel when pushed to adapt their research and teaching to ever-changing technologies.

  • “That’s online publishing, right?” Yes, and so much more.
  • “Does digital humanities really mean no more books?” It refers to ways we can use digital tools to engage with the humanities beyond the printed text, but these tools also allow us to engage with printed texts in new ways.
  • “How can I bring technology into the classroom without interrupting the flow of teaching with unfamiliar technologies and malfunctions?” With support from the IT team, an understanding of exactly how digital technologies can help us create new knowledge and help students learn in better ways, and a little bravery and willingness to experiment, you can successfully implement and develop digital scholarship in your classrooms and research.

Digital scholarship is still in its infancy, its identity ever-evolving as new technologies are developed and their applications to higher education are recognized. Many librarians and professors have put forth broad definitions:

  • “Digital scholarship is research and teaching that is made possible by digital technologies, or that takes advantage of them to ask and answer questions in new ways.” Melanie Schlosser, Digital Librarian, The Ohio State University
  • “Although the phrase sometimes refers to issues surrounding copyright and open access and sometimes to scholarship analyzing the online world, digital scholarship—emanating, perhaps, from digital humanities—most frequently describes discipline-based scholarship produced with digital tools and presented in digital form.” Edward L. Ayers, Professor of History, University of Richmond

Digital scholarship can take many forms at different institutions for different populations. It is up to us to determine exactly how it can enhance teaching and scholarship at Connecticut College. Tune in tomorrow for the second installment of “What is Digital Scholarship Anyway?” where we’ll look at examples of specific projects at other institutions and some right here on campus.

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