Shawn of the Dead

This week, we read Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence.  In it, she highlights the “undead” nature of the current academic publishing system, which is “governed by a kind of zombie logic.”  She continues: “These old forms refuse to stay put in their graves, but instead walk the earth, rotting and putrescent, wholly devoid of consciousness, eating the brains of the living and susceptible to nothing but decapitation.”  Although Fitzpatrick recognizes her own hyperbole in this metaphor, I nonetheless think it is apt for what she and many others see as the way forward in academic publishing.  If you want to defeat the “undead” that is the current system of closed-door, blind, anonymous, untenable book publishing, academics will have to work collaboratively, try new avenues and modes of publishing, and rethink the world in which they operate.

One of the many strengths of #hist5702x is the collaborative nature of our Air Canada/CSTMC project.  From the get-go, we’ve made decisions as a class, we’ve worked in smaller groups on individual tasks, and we’ve problem solved as a team.  As many of the other returning blogs this week have pointed out, we’ve been having a bit of trouble with modelling.  All last week, it was standing room only in the Underhill Research Lab as group after group troubleshot their wonky models (my own included).  Throughout this process, however, no one seems to be too flustered, because we know between the ten of us (I am of course including Professor Shawn Graham in this equation), we know we’ll be able to figure out a solution.

This past few weeks’ frustrations are also indicative of another broad trend I saw in the readings, and in much of our discussions of emerging DH practices: namely that of quantifying DH work in the traditional academic setting.  Kathleen Fitzpatrick points out that academics who are trying to move beyond the article/book/peer-review paradigm get stuck in finding ways that their digital work – and all its concomitant fiddling – can be quantified in order to count towards publications, tenure, and the like.  I’ve found the same frustrations popping up in my own work: when fiddling with models is feeling too time consuming, it’s easiest to return to writing the book’s narratives rather than to stick it out in the lab.  The next few (very busy) weeks will surely see a balance between the two as we prepare, all together, our “final” product for CSTMC.

DH pushes us out of our comfort zones, makes us search for new solutions, and requires a lot of leg work.  And as a lover of a good zombie narrative, I know that this is how our heroes win the day, too.

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