Christine L. Borgman provides a the following as her definition of scholarly communication: “By scholarly communication we mean the study of how scholars in any field…use and disseminate information through formal and informal channels.” 1 Although Borgman wrote this in 1990, her definition of scholarly communication remains a helpful one in our current digital age. I will use this blog post to first explain why graduate students should care about scholarly communication before providing a closer look at the affordances of my two favorite scholarly communication hubs, (Academic) Twitter and Humanities Commons.
Why should graduate students care about scholarly communication?
The ability of academics across disciplines to communicate and share ideas with each other and the larger public is a faculty that all scholars, not just graduate students, should be both aware of and involved. New digital technologies, apps, and programs allow us now to connect with other scholars, spread work, and democratize academia. These tools can be used not only for the greater good, but they can also be used towards self- and professional-development. For graduate students, the ability to build a reputation within the members of their discipline and begin to contribute to the community can be hugely beneficial.
In the late twentieth century, the spread of the World Wide Web brought “democratic access” to information and knowledge, providing any user with a desktop the “capability to disseminate (“publish”) and collect information (build “libraries”).” 2 I personally think that this ability makes it an exciting time to be involved with academic scholarship. Traditional journals may publish and spread work within the tight sphere of other academics within the journal’s field, however, they don’t do a very good job of sharing this information with the larger public 3. Rather than only communicating with one’s colleagues, scholarly communication practices, such as offering open access versions of your work, can allow ideas and knowledge to proliferate. As Mark Sample notes, “we have the opportunity to distribute knowledge more fairly, and in greater forms.” 4 The more work we share, the more others can learn from it and build upon it.
Using digital technologies and tools to our own advantage can also help graduate students grow within their own field. Where there once were hierarchical and geographical barriers blocking communication between graduate student scholars and well-regarded professors within their field, now a simple click or tweet can destroy these blockades. A good reputation within a disciplinary community, which Lougee considers to be one of the most important factors in the humanities (320), can be easily created online. Rather than becoming the lone humanities scholar of Rembrandt’s Philosopher in Meditation, joining scholarly societies can help academics to feel less isolated.5 However, simply joining a society is not enough for the graduate student to feel as though he or she is truly a member of a community. This is where Twitter may come in handy…
I re-joined Twitter (after a six year absence) last Winter (2016) in between the Fall and Spring semester. I forget exactly what made me join, but I am very happy to have returned to the digital fold. After joining, I began to follow a long list of academics (my idols, my professors, fellow-graduate students, other gothic/horror, 19th century and DH scholars, etc.) along with some academic humor accounts 6 friends, and horror filmmakers and fans. As I slowly became brave enough to tweet things of my own, I was excited to find that many academics within my field were not only following me, but responding to my comments and questions. There are a number of conference and publication opportunities which I don’t think I would have known about had I not been on Twitter. Additionally, I feel a lot less nervous about attending conferences alone because I’ve found that, thanks to Twitter, it’s likely that I’ll always know at least one other person there. This may be because the academic Gothic community boasts a huge presence online, but I’m sure that many other disciplines live and thrive in the Twitter-sphere. 7 Even when I’m not able to attend conferences, Twitter allows me a (minuscule) window into the discussions and events through hashtags like #IGAMexico2017 and #DH2017. Other hashtags allow me to easily follow or find conversations pertinent to my interests, including #GothsAssemble, #FolkloreThursday, #PhDChat, and #ScholarSunday.
Twitter has also allowed me to immediately contact a number of academics whose work I admire. This has led to a number of responses, including brief “thank you’s” and longer conversations. It’s really refreshing to know that I’m already in contact with a number of the leaders in my field.
Finally, Twitter (along with other online social media platforms) has proven itself to help in the proliferation of work. Melissa Terras’s “The Impact of Social Media on the Dissemination of Research: Results of an Experiment” documents and outlines the positive influence sharing her open-access work via Twitter and blog-posts had on the rate at which her works were downloaded. Terras realized that the papers she tweeted and blogged about had more than eleven times the number of downloads than the papers she did not broadcast. Based on these findings, it seems that Twitter (and other platforms) can help to share open-access work. People need to be told what your work is and where to find it. This can be a great method for graduate students to develop a presence both online and within their disciplinary field.
Humanities Commons 8
Last December, the MLA’s Office of Scholarly Communication launched the beta version of Humanities Commons. It has since grown and currently hosts over ten-thousand members and over three-thousand open-access documents. Humanities Commons (HC) can be an incredibly helpful digital platform for graduate students who would like to share and find open-access scholarly work and network with other humanities scholars across the globe. On HC, I’ve been able to create a professional profile page which contains information about my research interests and the upcoming conferences I plan to attend. Along with this profile, I built a personal webpage and a site for the upcoming Stony Brook English Graduate Conference. There are also a number of discipline-specific discussion groups on HC where members can join, discuss issues within their field, and share upcoming events and CFP’s. These digital tools have allowed me to connect with other likeminded graduate students and professors and alt-ac career professionals whose work I admire. One really great benefit of having an HC profile is that I can find others going to conferences that I’m planning to attend, thus mitigating the anxiety which tends to accompany going to a conference alone.
As it is Open Access week, I’d also like to highlight HC’s repository for open access resources, CORE. HC members can deposit any scholarly materials they’d like into CORE, including (but not limited to) articles, syllabi, podcasts, films, interviews, and blog-posts. Anyone (you don’t need an HC account) can find, read, and download these materials. Graduate students who are currently teaching (or preparing to teach) may find the collection of syllabi especially helpful. 9 Although I haven’t yet taught my own class at Stony Brook yet, I’ve found looking through the syllabi enlightening. For example, over the Summer, I wanted to learn more about digital humanities and found a number of DH syllabi. Reading these syllabi allowed me to find some key texts and foundational questions within the field.
By joining HC, you’ll not only help yourself, but you’ll also help to support a digital space for humanities scholars that has been created by humanities scholars. Academia.edu, a more popular platform that claims to offer similar services, is not an educationally-affiliated program, despite its misleading “.edu” label. Rather than providing a network dedicated to scholarly communication and open access materials, it is built to turn a profit off of the data and work uploaded to their system. Currently, Academia.edu has openly monetized the community by creating “premium accounts” and a paywalled search feature. 10 Despite Academia.edu’s problematic goals, many academics feel as though they need to stay, because this is where “everybody” can be found online. 11 However, if everyone moved elsewhere (for example, to HC), perhaps the humanities community wouldn’t feel so stuck.
- Borgman, Christine L. Quoted in Wendy Pradt Lougee’s “Scholarly Communication and Libraries Unbound: The Opportunity of the Commons,” Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, pp. 312. ↩
- Lougee, Wendy Pradt. “Scholarly Communication and Libraries Unbound: The Opportunity of the Commons,” Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, pp. 314-5 ↩
- This is odd considering that the public helps to fund education and universities, these universities employ academics, these academics perform free labor in writing articles for journals to publish, the journals profit off of this labor and then guard the knowledge from outsiders ↩
- Sample, Mark. “The Digital Humanities is Not About Building, It’s About Sharing” ↩
- Lougee, Wendy Pradt. “Scholarly Communication and Libraries Unbound: The Opportunity of the Commons,” Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice, pp. 319-20 ↩
- There are a ton of incredibly fun academic accounts. Here are a few of my favorites: @academicpain, @academiaobscura, @GrumpyJReviewer, @DH_wrestling, @legogradstudent, @fakeacademstats, and @AcademicsSay ↩
- Ash Darrow provides a great introduction to the weird world of academic Gothic Twitter in his blog post, “Getting to Know Your Friendly, Neighborhood Gothic Scholars.” ↩
- Full disclosure: I interned with the MLA’s Office of Scholarly Communication this Summer, so my love and passion for HC is a bit biased. ↩
- There are currently 124 syllabi in the CORE repository. ↩
- For further discussion on Academia.edu (and alternatives), check out Sarah Bond’s “Dear Scholars, Delete Your Account at Academia.edu” and Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s “Academia, Not Edu.” ↩
- Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. “Academia, Not Edu.” ↩