Digital Scholarship

Every single week of this semester has been a mad scramble for me (because I habitually overcommit myself to too many things) and every deadline has come down to the wire. As usual, I am just now at the last minute realizing that a digital copy of the Leary reading isn’t immediately available through the library (neither of the databases that offer the Journal of Victorian Culture have issues from 2005), and I’m not looking forward to going to the library in person on Tuesday before class to look at print editions.

Having digital copies of journal articles and books available to me has made my own studies and research more efficient and productive. Also, programs like Zotero help me manage my notes and readings in a way that I could never do with physical notebooks. And thank God for spell check, without which I never could have made it into graduate school.

I suspect that for most scholars digital tools have changed the way they do research in a similar way. Word processing programs, search engines, digital texts, and file management programs have increased the amount of information we can take in, organize, and synthesize. I can’t imagine anyone who would want to go back to the old days of card catalogue systems, type writers with no easy way to delete large chunks of text, and print editions of academic journals.

I don’t really feel qualified to discuss the scholars who have made use of more complicated digital tools in their research. My understanding of those tools is too limited to be able to say anything useful. I came to all things digital very late. I don’t think I owned a computer until 2005, and I still consider myself a novice with technology. So I don’t have very clear ideas about how else digital tools can help me with my research, just for still not really know what’s possible. But I do understand that the internet could give me access to a lay audience that I’m much more interested in engaging with than a traditional academic one.

I’m only interested in doing scholarship if it can be useful to ordinary people. To that end, I’ve been influenced by two different models of public scholarship—Gramsci’s organic intellectual and Chomsky’s public intellectual. I think what interests me most about Gramsci is his strategic thinking about how scholars can contribute to social change. Gramsci contrasts armed insurrection (which he likens to a war of maneuver) with a cultural/intellectual struggle to create a working class hegemony (which he likens to a war of position). I think the internet is a very strategically useful place for a war of position.

Chomsky on the other hand combines a lot of anarchist ideas about anti-authoritarianism and “Cartesian common sense” into his notion of public intellectualism. I don’t see these two positions as conflicting. I don’t think I need to embrace a Leninist model of propaganda to think strategically about how scholarship participates in culture, and I don’t think that having rhetorical goals violates any principles of anti-authoritarianism or is overly persuasive (as apposed to demonstrative, which is what Chomsky would prefer).

Anyways, the internet is the place for public engagement and to whatever extent possible I would like to have a useful presence on the web, guided by Gramscian and Chomskian ideas, using whatever digital tools I can figure out how to use.