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Expanding Our Definitions of Scholarly Forms

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Last week at Imagining America 2012, I was part of a conversation on Expanding Forms of Scholarly Inquiry along with Nick Sousanis, currently working on his comic dissertation, and Paul Tritter and Tom Neville of Hack the Dissertation. We wanted to talk about the practical side of doing scholarly work that breaks out of the page–like the “post-monograph” works Adeline Koh discussed with Anvil Academic. What does this slowly growing interest mean for our own potential scholarship and teaching? Possibly, relevance to a wider audience–and a fate for dissertation work besides gathering dust on a library shelf.

The back and forth over conference tweeting these past weeks suggests a greater anxiety over control in scholarly discourse. Pre-Internet, most modes for distributing ideas were far less immediate, and even incidents or thoughts shared within the physical space of a conference could only travel within that network at the speed of gossip. At the same time, expanded forms for scholarship are far from a new idea.

Now, ideas travel much faster–but much of our scholarship hasn’t sped up with it, meaning that the fear of conference live-tweeting “scooping” one’s own upcoming or planned conference paper makes sense. The traditional peer-review process is slow; the print publication process is even slower.

But are we ready for expanded scholarly forms? Here are a few of the considerations that arose during the conversation:

  • Accessibility is essential. Even alternative scholarly forms consigned to CDs and left in the same archives as a text are likely to age on the shelf. As more graduate students take the plunge with expanded forms for their dissertation, projects such as the Digital Dissertation Depository are arising to support these works just as more journals are starting to think about born-digital online work. But ephemeral and performance-based works offer post-monograph potential that is harder to archive.
  • Active and participatory scholarship can reflect our classroom ideals–and support pedagogy. The creation of comics in the classroom or as works of scholarship, for instance, can support a fusion of influences. Amy Cavender has written about integrating digital projects into courses, and many of us ask our students to participate in networked environments as creators. After using these many media for their expressive and analytic potential, it’s hard for me to ask students to go back to pure text.
  • Scholarly acceptance of expanded forms remains one of the main barriers to experimentation. Brian Croxall wrote about the problem of getting digital work to count for promotion and tenure. The dual demands of scholarly and artistic merit complicate this further–is a scholarly comic judged as a work of art or a work of criticism first, and how does this complicate peer review and evaluation? Journals and presses are beginning to answer these questions, but there’s more to come the further texts depart from the monograph.

Have you worked in a non-traditional scholarly form, or used work of this kind in your teaching? What are some of your ideas for breaking out of the printed page?

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Flickr User Moseiur J.]

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