Since our primary focus this week is our projects, I will keep my reflections short. Cohen compelled me to comment – I really enjoyed his article on “Eliminating the Power Cord”.
As I began reading the article, I thought he was talking exclusively about the creation of digital tools and comparing them to the Mac as a digital tool. And I thought, “Brilliant!”. Of course non-technologically savvy scholars such as myself would want something like a Mac. They obviously had me in mind when they thought users should not have to do any maintenance or see the “guts” of the machine.
So I thought he was talking about tools, such as Hypercities, which enable the user to create scholarship without seeing the “guts” of the site itself. Again, for someone like me, who has no desire (currently) or ability (also currently) to get deeper into a site, it’s a perfect concept.
But Cohen seems to disagree!
He encourages the concept of open scholarship – and by that I mean he seems to think that scholars should have technical access to the “guts” of a site/tool so that they can have a stronger hand in shaping the contents and the type of scholarship produced. Noting there is a distinction between being able to use the tools, and the ability to change the tools, is important. I see them as two different things.
As I read further, it became clearer to me that he views digital tools (and I’ll stick with the Mac comparison) as something that should be changeable by the scholar. So, a computer user should have the ability to access the Mac to change it to her specifications. I’m not sure the comparison is complete. I disagree because a user’s ability to alter internal components on a computer remains vastly different from open access to a website such as Civil War Washington. There are no issues of scholarly credibility, peer review or sustainability.
Here I wondered if we had ventured back into the crowd sourcing discussion of a few weeks ago. Are we combining digital tools and crowd sourcing into one conversation? And where does one draw the line to ensure scholarship is actually scholarship? Cohen did not seem to address these questions.
I think there is value in having sites such as Hypercities, that enable scholars with limited technical ability, and having it run by academic institutions to ensure some level of credibility. I also think there is value in having tools that are more malleable and open to wider access. It’s a delicate balance, a continuing conversation and one of the great things that we have gotten with the internet.
Caveat – I may be misunderstanding Cohen, so please feel free to comment (if you are not too busy finishing drafts of projects!)
Enjoy class this week! See you in two weeks,