Digital Projects Introduction
Although the scholarly essay is a central form through which we analyze digital humanities work, we strongly believe that digital projects are equally important representations of the broad range of work at the intersection of American studies and digital humanities. Academics have often wrestled with how to interpret and evaluate digital projects, as the form does not fit into many of our traditional models of scholarly peer review. In part this is because projects' forms are slippery, ranging from the development of new tools and methodologies that allow interpretation of cultural materials to stand-alone digital objects for examination, as is the case with a digital archive collection. The digital project is often in flux, at times "unfinished," and sometimes abandoned. Scholars who approach such projects often have difficulty in understanding how to interpret the project because of such issues. We argue, however, that the digital project is a nonlinear and (potentially) ever-expanding scholarly object that has value at each stage of development. As David Sewell asks, "Can a nonlinear, extensible, text ever be said to be finished?"1 Instead, Sewell suggests that "the progress of knowledge in the arts and sciences is continuous, but in order for it to happen at all, scholarly discourse must be distributed in the form of discrete objects that can be shared, read or viewed, responded to, assimilated, quoted, disputed, and revised," and the digital project, in many forms and stages, is crucial to this discourse. In fact, the very process of expanding, removing, and adjusting is constitutive of the project itself. Accordingly, we have included projects at various stages of development and "completeness." Some, such as Digital Paxton, are done. Others are premised on expanding as communities continue to submit documents, such as the American Prison Writing Archive. Whether "complete" or in process, digital projects have much to offer the field.
Digital projects also differ from most essays in the humanities in that they have varying labor production models and share the value of transparent and equitable distribution of acknowledgments. While a technologist might be paid to produce a database for use in a project, her labor remains a contribution to [End Page 589] the project and should be recognized. This is particularly important in humanities' academic structures of labor where a single author is often the norm and, as Haley Di Pressi et al. note, "students and more senior scholars don't operate from positions of equal power in the academic hierarchy."2 American studies digital humanities practices recognize power differentials and are concerned with equitable representation of labor, modeling projects that more accurately reflect the full spectrum of knowledges necessary to develop a digital project. The projects in this special issue are developed by teams of collaborators, with each project drawing on the field's emphasis on comprehensive attribution to recognize the team's labor.
The projects in this special issue are also built on various platforms with underlying technologies that differ in their implications for sustainability. Some use open source publishing platforms, such as Scalar or Omeka. Others have embraced formats that center visualizations, including topic modeling and GIS representations. A challenge for any project is to locate a home and a commitment to preservation. Server space and long-term sustainability are often most accessible to senior scholars and those at well-resourced institutions. Meanwhile, many who want to develop a project either must rely on off-site homes for their projects or may choose to host their own project sites in order to maintain greater independence around format, intellectual content, or project portability amid shifting institutional affiliations and priorities. Recognizing that this variety of tools and homes of the selected projects is best represented as decentralized and left wholly controlled by producers, we have invited project creators to contribute descriptions that summarize the projects while all digital projects remain on their original hosting sites, rather than aggregating them into an American Quarterly repository. We chose to federate projects rather than absorb them, knowing that this runs counter to the tendency of print models of publication to gather all contents into a fixed collection. We will be using the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine to take a snapshot of each project at the time of the special issue publication. This approach relies on existing infrastructures of maintaining an archive of the ephemeral web to preserve a record of the project at the time of publication while acknowledging each digital project's self-representation and potential for ongoing redevelopment.
We also include digital projects in our special issue to emphasize that they, too, are scholarly and might be evaluated by peer review. One model of peer review to which we turned was NINES (nines.org), one of the first collectives to consider how digital humanities projects might best establish credibility [End Page 590] and implement a system of review. NINES created a set of guidelines that considered technical structure and scholarly concerns. Using these guidelines as a model, the editors created a peer review guidelines sheet that was given to our selected peer reviewers. Like our scholarly essays, all projects were examined by subject-specialist peer reviewers. While we were obviously not able to provide blind projects for evaluation, peer reviewers were attentive to issues traditional to scholarly peer review—content, research questions, significance, citations, and so on—but also to technical issues, such as interface, platform, and usability. Peer review of scholarly projects serves a variety of purposes. Some scholars producing digital projects are dependent on the impact of their projects for tenure, review, and promotion, and evidence of external review is key to making such projects "count." Users of digital projects likewise benefit from knowing that such projects' scholarship has been vetted and that consideration of content and technology have been produced following best practices. Important, as well, to our selection is that the project represents the best of American studies. We celebrate projects that work to give voice to alternative narratives of history, such as the ones discussed in the essay "Becoming Digital, Becoming Queer," or to those often displaced from power centers, such as students discussed in the essay "Toward a Digital Ethnic Studies: Race, Technology, and the Classroom."
All digital projects included are represented through a description and a link to the project. We hope that you read the descriptions and engage with the digital projects to experience the fullness of work in American studies and the digital humanities.
Lauren Tilton is assistant professor of digital humanities in the Department of Rhetoric & Communication Studies and research fellow in the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond. Her research focuses on twentieth-century US visual culture. She is a codirector of Photogrammar, a digital public humanities project mapping New Deal and World War II documentary expression, and coauthor of Humanities Data in R: Exploring Networks, Geospatial Data, Images, and Texts (Springer, 2015).
Amy E. Earhart is associate professor of English and affiliated faculty of Africana studies at Texas A&M University. She is the author of Traces of the Old, Uses of the New: The Emergence of Digital Literary Studies (University of Michigan Press, 2015), coeditor of The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age (University of Michigan Press, 2010), and has published numerous articles and book chapters in venues including the Debates in Digital Humanities series, DHQ, Textual Cultures, and Humanities and the Digital.
Matthew Delmont is professor of history and director of the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. He is the author of three books: Making Roots: A Nation Captivated (University of California Press, 2016); Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation (University of California Press, 2016); and The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock 'n' Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia (University of California Press, 2012). He is also the author of the digital history project "Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers," which is under contract with Stanford University Press. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled "To Live Half American: African Americans at Home and Abroad during World War II," for which he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Susan Garfinkel is a research specialist at the Library of Congress, where she especially works with the Library's digital collections. Her research interests center on expressive culture in context, with publication topics ranging from Quaker meeting houses in the Delaware Valley to the history of breast cancer surgery in early America, to elevators in film and fiction, to 3-D printing and the Smithsonian's Lincoln life mask. In 2009 she was a founder of the American Studies Association's Digital Humanities Caucus.
Jesse P. Karlsberg is senior digital scholarship strategist at Emory University's Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS). His work leverages digital methods to analyze connections between race, place, folklorization, and American music in historical texts. Jesse is editor in chief of Sounding Spirit, a collection of digital editions of vernacular sacred American music copublished by ECDS and the University of North Carolina Press, editor of the open access multimodal journal Atlanta Studies, and editor of Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition (Pitts Theology Library, 2015).
Angel David Nieves is associate professor of history and digital humanities at San Diego State University in the Area of Excellence in Digital Humanities and Global Diversity. From 2017 to 2018 he was Presidential Visiting Associate Professor at Yale University in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program and an affiliate in the Yale DHLab. He recently published An Architecture of Education: African American Women Design the New South with the University of Rochester Press (2018).
1. David Sewell, "It's for Sale, So It Must Be Finished: Digital Projects in the Scholarly Publishing World," Digital Humanities Quarterly 3.2 (2009), www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/3/2/000039/000039.html.
2. Haley Di Pressi, Stephanie Gorman, Miriam Posner, Raphael Sasayama, and Tori Schmitt, with contributions from Roderic Crooks, Megan Driscoll, Amy Earhart, Spencer Keralis, Tiffany Naiman, and Todd Presner, "A Student Collaborators' Bill of Rights," www.cdh.ucla.edu/news-events/a-student-collaborators-bill-of-rights/. In addition to the bill of rights focused on undergraduate students, the "Collaborators' Bill of Rights" was developed to consider how best to represent alt ac labor (mcpress.media-commons.org/offthetracks/part-one-models-for-collaboration-career-paths-acquiring-institutional-support-and-transformation-in-the-field/a-collaboration/collaborators'-bill-of-rights/).