- 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...