Category Archives: nerd

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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A Digital Humanities Tenure Case, Part 1: “The Talk”

Is there anything that promotes introspective hand-wringing like the heady mix of tenure, promotion, and the digital humanities? The Journal of Digital Humanities recently explored this issue, and especially interesting contributions by Mark Sample and Katherine D. Harris offer retrospective looks at the role played by the digital humanities in their happily-ending tenure cases.

I’d like to go a bit further in raising the curtain on what’s unnecessarily viewed as a secretive and mysterious process, particularly when it involves digital humanities. Some of this mystery stems from the fact that there just aren’t that many people seeking tenure yet on digital grounds. But much of it is self-inflicted, because candidates are reluctant to disclose what’s happening, except perhaps after the fact like Mark. I’m going to raise the stakes by describing my case while it’s still very much unfolding. Since it would be unrelentingly dull to narrate the entire affair in real time (see timetable below), I decided to wait until now, around the halfway point, to begin posting.
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