A Digital Humanities Tenure Case, Part 3: Decanal Retention

After some turbulence at the college committee level, my tenure case reached my dean in the spring. Here’s what he had to say about “some” — that’s the college committee’s own wiggle word — determining that digital projects should be considered “major service activity” rather than research:

Although [Zotero] might appear as simply a technical advance, in fact the three outside reviewers consulted on this part of the case repeatedly note that it is a deep and important intervention into scholarly debate. Zotero depends on an understanding of the research techniques in the humanities and contributes mightily to their improvement. Zotero is thus a scholarly work because it makes significant methodological advances.

Huh, so that’s it. With just three sentences, digital projects are now research again. To anyone who knows anything of our (now former) dean, this conclusion will come as little surprise. A longtime friend and colleague of Roy Rosenzweig and a great supporter of CHNM, he was exceedingly unlikely to declare digital works to be service rather than research. With the dean’s support, the final approval of the provost, president, and board of visitors was entirely uneventful, and I am now tenured.1 Thanks are in order to all the colleagues and collaborators I’ve been fortunate enough to work with over the past six years!

Though great news for me, it’s less clear what the implications are for future DH cases. One’s dean shouldn’t have to have his finger on the pulse of the digital humanities (or indeed any particular field) to be evaluated fairly for tenure. And that dean has since retired, while nine out of twelve members of the college P&T committee are returning to vote on this year’s cases. I’ll be keeping a very close eye on how future cases proceed, especially since we plan to make a tenure-track hire in digital history this fall. Stay tuned for more details on that search in the coming months.

In the meantime why not kick off your shoes and enjoy some fine summer reading? I present for your consideration my tenure case’s complete set of letters, minus of course the outside reader reports:

This process is everywhere shrouded in far too much mystery, and I’m happy to do my small part to expose it to a little cleansing sunlight.

  1. Or, technically, “without term,” as we say in Virginia. And also not in effect until the end of August when my new contract begins. []

A Poorly Reasoned Suicide Note

Whenever I encounter the research of newly minted PhDs (or the researchers themselves, often at conferences), invariably my first step is to retrieve the relevant dissertations on ProQuest or the researcher’s institutional repository. Over the past few years I’ve run across a handful of cases where I couldn’t locate the dissertation; in each case I’ve contacted the historian in question, who have all provided me with some variant of the same explanation: “I don’t want to be scooped by someone before I write my book.” To me this is insane reasoning: not only does it quite obviously harm the field’s state of knowledge by limiting access, it naively assumes that the researcher is protecting herself from theft by hiding her findings rather than by publicly and preemptively asserting ownership over them, which is precisely what we do with intellectual property.

And now the AHA has gone ahead and attempted to institutionalize this insanity.
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We Are All Managers

When my wife attended an orientation session for her first post-college job, the human resources representative supplied helpful tips for developing “manageatorial” career skills. This felicitous neologism — it wonderfully conjures the image of a janitorial executive — has provided a reliable punch line for two decades; Daniel Allington’s recent jeremiad against digital humanities offers yet another opportunity to trot it out.
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A Digital Humanities Tenure Case, Part 2: Letters and Committees

After my tenure presentation and with the unanimous vote of my department, my department’s RPT committee and our chair prepared additional letters to send the file up the food chain to the college-level promotion and tenure committee. These letters were embarrassingly favorable, and based on the excerpts they included from outside readers, those letters too offered overwhelming support for tenure. The college-level committee, however, wasn’t so easily fooled. Voting 10–2 in favor of my case, largely on the basis of my monograph in French history, here’s what the committee members had to report on the digital side of my portfolio:

The committee also recognized his considerable work at the Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media as it relates to projects such as Zotero and the substantial funds he and his collaborators have raised to help sustain them. Some on the committee questioned to what degree Dr. Takats’ [sic] involvement in these activities constitutes actual research (as opposed to project management). Hence, some determined that projects like Zotero et al., while highly valuable, should be considered as major service activity instead.

To recap: Conceive projects? Service. Develop prototype software? Service. Write successful grant proposals? Service. Write code? Service. Lead developers and designers? Service. Disseminate the results of the project? Service. I certainly hope program officers from Mellon, Sloan, IMLS, and NEH aren’t reading this post, because I suspect they would be more than a little dismayed to discover that they’ve been funding “major service activity.“
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Hello Again, 2006: The Economics of Reference Management Software

The tiny and insular world where academia, technology, and business converge buzzed all day yesterday (and continues to do so today) about publishing giant Elsevier’s rumored bid to purchase Mendeley for $100M. TechCrunch’s dependably credulous reporter duly transcribed the leaker’s claims that publishing is “the world that Mendeley is disrupting.” But this story has really nothing to do with a “disruption” in academic publishing, and if anything what we’re seeing is a reversion to 2006 or so. When Zotero launched then, the major players were Endnote (Thomson Reuters) and RefWorks (ProQuest), each owned by a major content provider. And now in 2013 we can add to that stable of publisher-owned reference managers Papers (Springer) and, apparently, Mendeley (Elsevier).

As someone who has led a successful and sustainable project in this space for over six years, I’d like to put this rumor in perspective, because it speaks volumes about the space of academic research software, even if the Elsevier purchase never materializes.
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