Academia

‘Speeding up the Ent-like conversation’

Among the many great points Ted Underwood makes in his recent blog response to Franco Moretti’s latest work, I wanted to flag his brief opening observation about the Internet’s effects on scholarly interaction. “If the Internet is good for anything,” he writes, “it’s good for speeding up the Ent-like conversation between articles, to make that rumble more perceptible by human ears.” Academics have been largely inured to the glacial pace with which scholarly work appears, thinking nothing of a book review published years after the initial book or an article “forthcoming” for the better part of a decade. The move to online scholarship may call into question this model even more than it does the process of peer review or the bias toward big-name presses. Indeed, this new understanding of scholarly interaction was immediately evident in responses to Underwood’s post: Alan Liu noted Underwood’s “[t]houghtful, substantial post … on measurement and modeling” and Tweeted a link. Underwood then engaged in multiple Twitter conversations about the post, and commenters on his blog, including Moretti, enriched the original contribution.

I hope that in the coming years this kind of engagement will be increasingly built into graduate programs, so that students are learning to blog and Tweet (and whatever the next platform is…) in order to express themselves as members of a scholarly community. It’s one of the reasons I’ve required students to keep a class Tumblr in each of my courses for the past few semesters: I want them to think about the publicly appealing aspects of the work they’re doing, and how they can transmit that work to an audience (slightly) larger than that of their individual instructor. If we’re having these vibrant, engaged conversations out in the open, maybe we won’t have to work so hard to prove the value of the (digital) humanities to those outside the academy. As Underwood notes of Moretti’s writing style (and, I would add, that of the Literary Lab pamphlets in general), one of its strengths is “a willingness to dramatize his own learning process.” The DH interest in methodology and epistemology is an ethos that can benefit the humanities in general.

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