By Bridget Jenkins
It’s 4:45 am. It’s rainy and cold as I head to the Erie airport, trying to blink the sleep from my eyes. Why did I agree to do this, I ask myself. Why.
The airport is nearly empty, so we fly through security. I’m on the cramped plane before I know it–so small there are only three rows and our carry-on luggage has to be stowed beneath the plane. Why.
The trip to the Raleigh airport was swift, despite having to fly out of the way–by way of Chicago–to arrive. It was a warm sunny morning when we landed.
A twenty minute cab ride and we reach our destination–the Scholarly Communication Institute in Chapel Hill, NC. The area surrounding our hotel and conference center was beautiful, filled with new developments cropping up, huge brick houses, and bike paths alongside every road.
The Rizzo Conference Center, where we were staying, was equally impressive, and it’s brick buildings were reminiscent of old southern architecture.
That evening began the first event of the conference, a meet-and-greet of sorts. My nerves set in and I was essentially frozen in one place. I didn’t even know who was actually in my group. I didn’t even know what I was really doing here. Why am I here?
Thankfully, some lovely individuals recognized my name from our group’s proposal and took enough pity on me to strike up a conversation. Things got easier.
We moved from the reception to the dinner, and listed to some brief remarks regarding the conference. Somehow it still didn’t seem like anyone really knew what we were doing here. The conference aims for freeform collaborations. It allows from teams to come together in a space that enables them to work on their proposals. Unfortunately for me, I still couldn’t grasp what my group’s proposal really meant–what was the outcome, the purpose? All I could do was wait for things to begin.
The next day began with round-robin introductions. I was both thankful and regretful that I was near the end of the cycle. The room was filled with some of the most intelligent people I have ever met–professors, librarians, software developers, scientists and more. They travelled from all sorts of well-known and highly regarded institutions–Oxford, King’s College London, Duke, and Texas A&M, just to name a few.
I told the room my brief story. I’m just an undergraduate. This is all very terrifying. I just hope I can contribute something. Anything.
I felt better after we broke into our own group to begin discussing our project. It was a rough start though. Eric and I were the focus of a lot of questions, and it was a lot of pressure. Our group was aiming to find someway of ensure that fair credit is given to everyone in digital humanities projects. This is quite difficult because of the sheer diversity made possible by working in the digital realm. From the public and students, to librarians and tenured or tenure-track professors, we all have different levels of contribution, and have different needs for how our contribution is recognized.
Because Eric and I were the first undergraduates to ever attend SCI, we were a central piece of our group’s project–how can we validate the contributions that students make and ensure that they receive the type of credit that is most beneficial to them?
The discussion had a rough start. No one was quite sure how to define what we were talking about. We looked at the different options that were currently available. Do we label everything? Do we try to trace each individual’s contribution to a granular state? No, no. That wasn’t it.
Instead, we began looking at our own experiences with digital scholarship and its accompanying authorship. We each drafted documents with descriptions of our projects– Eric and I, along with the help of our professor and advisor, worked on explaining what we contributed to the 12th Street Project.
Once we had all of these descriptions in place, we began to look for themes. What was successful? What wasn’t? We developed these four founding questions:
- How should institutions of higher learning and individuals embedded within those institutions value and evaluate networked digital scholarship undertaken in collaboration and involving individuals at all levels of academia?
- What is the role of pedagogy and the classroom in providing opportunities for developing digital scholarship, and how should digital scholarship undertaken by non-traditional actors—undergraduates, graduate research assistants, #altac staff/faculty, librarians, computer IT professionals, etc—be considered, treated, and integrated into frameworks of assessment at academic institutions?
- How can digital methods and platforms best be used to ensure that all participants in knowledge creation are accurately credited and able to contribute as desired?
- In a humanities still invested in single-author scholarship, how can we legitimise socially-produced knowledge?
Ideally, we want to be able to look at a much larger number of successful (and perhaps, unsuccessful) projects under the scope of these questions. From there, we might be able to parse out some guidelines for best practices in validating digital scholarship–for everyone. More information on our project can be found on our website.
I spent so much of the time I was at SCI asking myself why. Why am I here? Why does my opinion matter? But very swiftly, I found that most people were so intrigued by me. They asked all sorts of probing questions and wanted my thoughts and opinions on things. Our dinner conversations often took the form me talking about my research and my experiences at Behrend.
On the final day of the conference, we were asked to present our group’s findings and plans for future action. We were rushed, and in the end, I was asked to run the computer for the projector and Eric was taking pictures. I was relieved that I wasn’t under pressure to speak.
Until I was. A woman in the audience questioned why the only group at the conference with undergraduates didn’t have them participating in the final presentation. I was put on the spot to explain. I stumbled over an answer. I don’t even remember what I said, but if I could explain again, I think it would go something like this:
I didn’t think I belonged at SCI at first. I didn’t have a doctorate. I have only one limited experience in the digital humanities, and I don’t even plan on continuing on to graduate school to pursue a doctorate or more DH experience. But in so many ways, I found myself as a representative for the other students in the same position. My voice had an impact in discussions that would shape how undergraduates were credited for their work. I might not be able to speak for every individual and their unique circumstances, but my participation was valid–whether I participated in the final presentation or not. It didn’t matter.
I learned so much in so little time. I learned to appreciate everything my professors do. Did you know that they do more than just teach? Crazy, right? They have so many expectations and it’s difficult and frustrating for them to not receive credit where credit is due–especially when it affects their tenure and promotion.
I have a newfound appreciation for librarians, who believe it or not, don’t just spend all their time in the stacks. They conduct research and contribute to digital scholarship too.
How we credit someone on a project goes beyond just a byline. As a student, I had never really considered my authorship in the long run, and many students might not think about how their contributions are recognized–until, perhaps, it’s too late; until the point when they’re applying for grants or jobs or universities and their contributions, big or small, aren’t recognized in a way that’s beneficial.
When I reflect on my experiences at SCI, all I can hope is that my contribution to the discussion has positively impacted the way student authorship is recognized. That’s the why.