‘Expressions’, 29 January 2015: Workshop on Software-based Scholarship
Computation and software analysis have entered nearly every imaginable field of scholarship in the last decades, in a variety of forms from digital publication of results to computational modelling embedded in experimental work. In each of these digital outputs – be it an interactive publication with mapping of relevant geo-referenced data, or perhaps a statistical program for the categorization of millions of books according to their literary genre – there is some manifestation directly in the computer code of the scholarly thought that underlies the project, of the intellectual argument around which the outcome is based.
The fact that scholarly software includes scholarly content is reasonably well-accepted. What remains controversial is the attempt at identification, in any particular instance, of what scholarly contribution has been made by a piece of software. Its makers tend to express the scholarship in writing separate from the software itself, if they even make explicit at all the scholarly reasoning that went into the code; its reviewers and users tend either to treat the software as a ‘black box’, opaque to informed scrutiny and therefore to be looked on with grave suspicion, or to deny that this particular software has any scholarship inherent to the source code. Given that our mechanisms for identifying and evaluating the scholarship within computer code are nearly nonexistent, we must ask: how do intellectual arguments — how does scholarship — come to be expressed in the software of digital humanities? How does this scholarship, so evident in theory but so elusive in practice, fit into the scientific process of advancement of knowledge?
These questions and related ones will be considered during a day-long workshop, to take place on 29 January 2015 in Bern. The topic has a wide range of approaches, and we therefore hope to receive contributions from many different perspectives. Some examples of specific questions to be addressed could include:
• What are the mechanisms by which scholarly models are expressed in computer code? How does the explicit expression in an unambiguous syntax affect the nature of what we are trying to express? What happens when our ‘arguments’ become manipulable and dynamic?
• Is a software program or library necessarily a ‘black box’, in the sense of Latour? To what extent may we rely on these ‘black boxes’, and do we have precedent in the pre-computational age for doing so?
• If scholarly software can be considered as a dynamic and manipulable, if explicit and syntactic, form of expression, how does it change the scientific and/or hermeneutic process in the different fields of scholarship?
• All scholarly software needs a vast amount of supporting code – programs and libraries necessary for the software to run, but working at a greater or lesser remove from the direct scholarly argument – in order to run. Who provides this support, what recognition is granted to them within the academic ecosystem, and how do we as a community sustain their work and their careers?
‘Evaluation’, 30 January 2015: Round table on Peer Review for Digital Scholarly Work
Related to the question of the expression of scholarship in software, and in other forms of digital publication as well, is the question of how to evaluate it. This topic will be the focus of a half-day roundtable, Peer Review for Digital Scholarly Work, to be held on 30 January 2015. Digital scholarly works such as Digital Editions, Digital Libraries, Digital Exhibitions, Data Visualization, Geographical Information Systems and the like are increasingly frequent in the Humanities, as main or secondary output of research projects; the question of how best to evaluate them takes on ever greater importance. At the moment, researchers doing digital scholarly work are usually unable to obtain academic credit for their work—in order to obtain scholarly recognition, they must additionally publish a “normal” article in a print-based journal about their digital work.
As universities and national research funding agencies across the world move toward encouraging more digital scholarship in the humanities, there is an urgent need to discuss the criteria and benchmarks that should be in place for evaluating digital scholarly work. We welcome contributions about existing initiatives in this domain as well as more theoretical contributions that treat the topic of peer review of digital scholarly work.
We now invite participants for each of the workshop and the round table.
• For the WORKSHOP, please submit a 500-word abstract of the work you will present.
• For the ROUND TABLE, please submit a 200-word “position paper” indicating your intended contribution to the discussion.
Submissions from early-career researchers and “alt-ac” practitioners within the digital humanities are particularly welcome. There are a number of travel bursaries available for speakers; if you would like to be considered for a bursary, please inform us when you submit your abstract.
Abstracts should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by 11 October 2014; we will notify contributors of decisions by 23 October. Selected papers arising from the event will appear in an issue of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, to appear in early 2016.