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. []
  • Sean, thank you for the candid overview and documentation about your tenure case. I’m struck by the college committee’s declaration about digital humanities work as service. Though we have come far (as digital humanists), there are still some struggles to undertake. Let’s hope that the more DHers who gain some sort of foothold in administration, the less we’ll have to struggle for definition and legitimacy in the mainstream Humanities. Congratulations!

  • A. Sara

    Sean, with your case, a precedence has been set in resolving future similar cases. Now, as you have said, “the food chain” might have convinced themselves of the difference between DH and H, and came to term with the research nature of DH. Congrats

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