Logging On

Cheryl Ball, Editor

Review of Profession 2011 section on "Evaluating Digital Scholarship"

Every year since the 2006 "Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion" was released and then published in the 2007 issue of MLA's Profession, the issue of evaluating digital scholarship has been addressed at least once, if not multiple times in multiple special sections, inside that journal's covers. As a tenure-track, digital scholar for many of those years, and in my continuing role as editor of Kairos, I (cringingly) anticipate the journal and (always) read those articles closely. It should be no surprise that Profession caters to the majority of its member base: literary scholars, followed by a distant second of (foreign) language scholars. In casual MLA-convention conversation, rhetoric and composition is considered to fall within the scope of languages, although -- as I'm sure many readers of this or other rhet/comp journals would agree -- what most writing studies scholars research and teach is a far cry from what most foreign language scholars research and teach, so I'd posit that rhetoric and composition is a far-distant third (tied, perhaps, with creative writing) in the membership roles of MLA and, thus, who Profession wishes to most speak to. (PMLA is a far worse offender of rhet/comp, but that's for another column.)

Yet, I was buoyed by the 2008 issue when Michael Bernard-Donals responded to the journal's (and the guidelines') emphasis on literary-critical scholarship, and the book, as the focal point for digital scholars. He invoked the long history that rhetoric and composition has had with this work, which dovetailed nicely with Valerie Lee and Cynthia Selfe's 2008 article in another MLA publication, ADE Bulletin, on how OSU's English department changed their tenure guidelines to avoid print-centric biases. I was further buoyed by the 2009 issue of Profession, when esteemed editors of Computers and Composition, C&C Online, and C&C Digital Press, Kristine L. Blair, Gail E. Hawisher, and Cynthia L. Selfe, were asked to write an article for a special section on journal editing. Theirs was the only article out of ten that discussed electronic journals, and the only rhet/comp one (creative writing also had one). Although I didn't know about the special journal section at the time, that same year I had submitted a piece on MLA's lack of interest in digital media scholarship and how Kairos evaluates it (based on one of my editorial columns here), but which was summarily rejected as being truthful but written in a style too pointed for the delicate ears of MLA members1. But, still, I was buoyed again by the 2010 issue when James Purdy and Joyce Walker's article made a great argument for breaking down the print/digital barrier in scholarly evaluation discussions to, instead, focus on the scholarly moves a text makes no matter the medium. It was a point that rhetoric and composition scholars have been saying for, well, decades. Take, for instance, the CCCC's "Scholarship in Composition: Guidelines for Faculty, Deans, and Department Chairs" published in 1987 and that includes consideration of software creation in tenure cases; or "Promotion and Tenure Guidelines for Work with Technology," published in November 1998, which requires tenure reviewers to read an applicant's materials in the medium it was produced for. Both of these guidelines predate in content (some of it exact) the MLA's May 2000 "Guidelines for Evaluating Work with Digital Media in the Modern Languages" by thirteen and one-and-a-half years respectively.

So when this issue of Profession came out and the section on evaluating digital scholarship contained no digital writing or rhetoric scholars, and the MLA was repeatedly touted as having "taken the lead in encouraging the recognition of digital scholarship in promotion and tenure cases" (Schreibman, Mandell, & Olsen, p. 126), you can say that my reaction was a little "WTF?!"

My marginalia on reading the introduction to the Profession 2011 issue on evaluating digital scholarship

Figure 1. Marginalia for your amusement.

Publishing over 80 pages on evaluating digital scholarship--which includes multiple calls to action for collaborative, process-based, and born-digital work--with only three references2 to the previous 50 years of rhet/comp work in these areas is totally ludicrous. Never mind my belief that the editor of Profession let a massive editorial mentoring opportunity slip by her, particularly when she knows about previous work in other areas of "the profession"... I have to put "the profession" in scare quotes because, as the guest editors (Susan Schreibman, Laura Mandell, and Steve Olsen) remind us in their introduction, digital scholarship is "essential to literary study in the digital age" and "digital scholarship needs to be recognized not only as scholarship but also as literary scholarship" (p. 125; their emphasis).

Because, you know, rhet/comp, foreign languages, and creative writing scholars don't do digital scholarship. Because, you know, it's not essential to our work. Such misinformation, or rather, unresearched stances regarding digital scholarship (and what that term means) were reiterated in several of the articles, although the majority were not egregious offenders. And, although the guest editors have aligned literary scholarship with digital humanities to the seeming exclusion of other areas, they invited a robust group of what they define as digital humanities scholars to participate in this issue. The authors include (mostly) well-recognized names in digital publishing, media studies, and textual studies: Steve Anderson and Tara McPherson, Geoffrey Rockwell, Bethany Nowviskie, Jerome McGann, and Kathleen Fitzpatrick. Great scholars, admittedly, who are known for their work in digital scholarship. And this is why we can take this section seriously (with some exceptions here and there). I'll be blogging my personal thoughts on each of the articles, and I hope that, if you have thoughts about the usefulness of these pieces for digital writing studies or the humanities, you'll leave a comment.

In the end, I say about this section of Profession what I have said about things-digital-scholarly in the past: This special section wasn't written for us (as in digital writing scholars and Kairos readers and authors); it was written for those who don't know anything about the work we've been doing in digital writing studies for 30+ years. It amazed me (although it shouldn't have...) how many people at MLA had never heard of electronic literature. They were amazed by the Electronic Literature Exhibit, which showcased 140 "popular" and student-produced e-literature works. (Thanks to Dene Grigar, Lori Emerson, and Kathi Inman Berens, with John Barber, for organizing this massive three-day on and off-site event!) Others at MLA had never heard of any scholarly multimedia journal. Now, at least, they hopefully know not only Kairos, but Computers and Composition Digital Press or Ugly Duckling Presse's Paperless Book Series. Finally, some at MLA have never heard of anyone ever getting tenure based on digital or collaborative work. But they are learning. Through this special section of Profession and growing crossover venues like those MLA produced this year. We (as in the collective profession--all of us in the humanities) can use this special section as a touchstone. And, yet again, it's time to build.



Ball, Cheryl E. (2009). Logging On: Kairos FTW! Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 13(2). Retreived January 11, 2012, from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/13.2/loggingon/loggingon.html

Ball, Cheryl E. (2010). Goldilocks and the three (or four) digital scholarship books; or, Reconceptualizing a role for digital media scholarship in an age of digital scholarship: A review webtext. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 15(1). Retreived January 11, 2012, from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/15.1/reviews/ball/index.html

Bernard-Donals, Michael. (2008). It's not about the book. Profession 2008, 172-184.

Blair, Kristine L.; Hawisher, Gail E.; & Selfe, Cynthia L. (2009). The electronic landscape of journal editing: Computers and Composition as a scholarly collective. Profession 2009, 160-167.

Conference on College Composition and Communication. (1987). Scholarship in composition: Guidelines for faculty, deans, and department chairs. Retrieved January 10, 2012, from http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/scholarshipincomp

Conference on College Composition and Communication Committee on Computers in Composition and Communication. (1998, November). CCCC Position Statement on Promotion and Tenure Guidelines for Work with Technology. Retrieved January 10, 2012, from http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/promotionandtenure

Lee, Valerie, & Selfe, Cynthia. (2008, Spring). Our capacious caper: Exposing print-culture bias in departmental tenure documents. ADE Bulletin, 145, 51-58.

Modern Language Association. (2000, May 19-20). Guidelines for evaluating work with digital media in the modern languages. Retrieved January 11, 2012, from http://www.mla.org/guidelines_evaluation_digital

Modern Language Association. (2007, December). Report of the MLA Task Force on Evaluating
Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion. Retrieved March 8, 2008, from

Purdy, James, & Walker, Joyce. (2010). Valuing digital scholarship: Exploring the changing realities of intellectual work. Profession 2010, 177-195.

Schreibman, Susan; Mandell, Laura; & Olsen, Steve. (2011). (Guest Eds.) Evaluating digital scholarship [Special section in Profession 2011], 123-201.



1Later that year, my contribution to the "Coda" of that special section was accepted but never appeared in the final printing. This would make me say Hmmm, but I know that section was guest-edited by two officers from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ). At least I'm happy to report that I've breached that organization and am actually an officer myself. (Are you a journal editor in rhet/comp? We need more! Join the CELJ!)

2The references to writing studies scholarship included two citations to Purdy & Walker's 2010 Profession article, one citation to Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede's collection on collaboration, and a reference to the CCCC's having "also released guidelines" for evaluating digital scholarship, which, in fact, they did: three years before MLA. Although Vectors is fully represented, there is, not surprisingly, no mention of Kairos or any other rhet/comp digital scholarly journals or presses that have been publishing on the Web and getting scholars tenure since well before (and after) others started and stopped publishing.