November 25, 2018 by Amanda Visconti

Notes: A mission statement for digital humanities (Purdue version)

Part of my meta-DH series documenting DH/DS infrastructure: the hows & whys of treating a project team, lab, department, or campus as itself a DH project.

Caveat: This post consists of notes taken during my former DH Librarian role at Purdue (2015-2017), rather than my latest thinking at Scholars’ Lab. I’ll be sharing that updated thinking here soon!

This post (everything below) is from a post I was drafting back when I was designing Purdue Libraries’ DH initiative; some parts weren’t completely fleshed out, and the “values” list doesn’t reflect my current thinking.

The stuff below—identifying what our values are, and stating that we mean to prioritize them—doesn’t mean that prioritizing or “doing the work” of those values will happen. This isn’t the work. The work is doing stuff that performs, amplifies, shares, teaches, argues for these values.

As with a code of conduct, it’s more dangerous to say you’re going to do (or are doing) something and then not stand by that promise, than to not make the promise at all. Lots of institutions say they value diversity, but either they don’t follow up on that claim at all (or enough), or they define the term so broadly as to neutralize any benefits.

It’s easy to say you’re going to do a thing, and harder to imbue your work with the values you think you care about. I’m sharing this publicly now for a couple reasons: I want to be held publicly accountable to show I value these things. As we get deeper into specific projects, I hope to post what each project aims for, and to follow up with periodic analysis of whether we’ve held to those goals.

My dissertational Infinite Ulysses work, for example, has failed at doing its best to support all the values I list below—but stating my values at the beginning of that project was essential to helping me realize the project’s shortcomings later on, and to build my knowledge so my future work can do better. (You can read about the most obvious problem from a mid-dissertation post here, the conclusion of which I no longer agree with.) I also want to encourage others to document and self-reflect on their work, by contributing to the existing pool of statements and charters holding scholars to their values—just as I’ve been encouraged by work like Scott Weingart’s Pledges page and the Scholars’ Lab charter.

Identifying values

I built on past mission statements and charters I’ve encountered (DH or otherwise). On my dry-erase board, I made a list of things I think I care about and/or I think our DH initiative should value, given our experts, resources, and department and campus mission and strategic statements:

  • a more public and participatory humanities through DH, with engagement with non-academics recognized as scholarship
  • topic, practitioner, and audience diversity and inclusion, pervasively rather than as an add-on
  • move beyond the idea that libraries can be neutral: choose work that is actively good, not just not-bad (e.g. explicit anti-racist approaches)
  • accessibility and universal design from the beginning of projects
  • participatory design with a project’s intended audience from the beginning of projects, not just user testing at the end
  • listening and amplification, e.g. through
  • full credit and IP retention for all involved in making a project regardless of professional role, affiliation, or type of work performed
  • fully citing & crediting the resources we build on (with especial care for under-cited digital resources and alt-ac scholars)
  • care to not accidentally nor intentionally overstate, when stating our involvement in collaborative projects or in other scholars’ projects (and knowledge that the larger our initiative grows, the more potential there is for people to incorrectly assume any DHer or DH project on campus involves us or is ours)
  • recognition of multiple publics, and funding and designing with under-supported publics
  • recording today’s campus through the eyes of our community (e.g. the students who use our Archive to study past students), but only when we can do so in a rewarding, respectful, safe way
  • open access, reuse, remix, and user-friendly documentation allowing these
  • share about our project work during and after the work to help others understand the choices and effort that goes into various kinds of DH
  • making project IP, privacy, data management clear to users (including any tracking such as Google Analytics) and a public plan for how data and site users will be impacted if funding or maintenance of the site are cut off
  • projects that are sustainable or explicitly ephemeral and well documented; create space for experimentation and failure
  • clear ways to accept, credit, and incorporate user feedback
  • only involve or build communities if you can commit to tending them well and enforcing a code of conduct that protects community members
  • student mentorship, and funding and professional development support for non-tenure-track-faculty such as adjuncts, continuing lecturers, and students
  • evaluable mission statements for projects
  • time for reflection on past work and realigning new strategy to fix previous failures
  • prioritize work that supports collaboration and offers potential for a branching impact (invest in training the trainers)
  • participate in and support broader DH initiatives beyond our campus

If we think these are what we value, how are we acting on these values?

  • ID specific actions and/or policies supporting these
  • I’ll keep track of any DH visitors/speakers and ensure we’re using our funds and time to support a diverse representation of DH; projects must explicitly advance one of our stated core values (access, diversity, inclusion), with a preference for projects that include mentorship for students and credit for all team members
  • What do we study? We’ll likely want to work with our many Objects That Have Been in Space and other neat aerospace history stuff—how do we keep that from pulling us toward work by and for white dudes?
  • Initial philosophy-heavy proposal focused on foundational policies: what would we do, and what wouldn’t we do? how would we interact with campus IT? what funding needs will we have?
  • Next step is report/request/objectives & goals doc that outlines how we’ll do the work over the next two years

A DH mission statement

This was originally the abstract for my first proposal to the Purdue Libraries on where our DH initiative should go. I’m thinking it will evolve into charters for major projects here (like a possible DH space, and a DH team-taught course), so I’m capturing each version in a GitHub repo so we can track changes over time.

I propose we initially focus our digital humanities initiative on a collaboration among DH, the ASC (note: Purdue Archives & Special Collections, a Libraries unit), and the University Press & Scholarly Publishing Services (also located in the Libraries!), with a focus on co-evolving these units while developing infrastructure toward a more open (diverse, inclusive, accessible, participatory, real-time, relevant) humanities.

I envision a DH Center for the Open Humanities in the Purdue Libraries, serving as the hub of the campus DH community. We will build a culture of digital scholarship, assisting through incubation rather than service: connecting potential collaborators, recording DH work for institutional memory, modeling best practices and inspiring other DH work with our own experiments, showcasing the Libraries’ strengths, and raising visibility for Purdue’s digital humanities successes through diverse publication forms and audiences.

I take the Libraries’ valuing of diversity, inclusion, and access as core motivating ideals, and plan strong demonstrations in all three areas of the latest (2016-2019) strategic plan (particularly 1:3, 2, and 3:2-4). We should proactively develop what we want the digital humanities to be, by pursuing and publicizing projects that advance all our strategic values.

In practical terms, our activities will include modeling DH research and publication best practices through collaborative internal projects, cross-campus collaboration and outreach, consultations and mentorship, and hosting events including a DH visiting speaker series, a day of talks by DHers from all over campus (co-hosted with the CLA), and intensive methodological training workshops. We will additionally maintain an information-rich “DH @ Purdue” website (including a campus DH directory), and design and co-teach pilot DH+ASC+Press courses giving students theoretical, technical, and alternative academic experience in building a DH project as a collaborator. Our work will emphasize collaboration and mentorship, value a more public and inclusive humanities, and lead by modeling effective DH research and teaching for other departments. Because we currently have limited staff time and resources, we’ll focus on building a sustainable funding model, doing a few specific pilot projects extremely well, and DH networking on campus through events and consultations.

I propose a two-phase approach:

  1. [3 sentences on specific plans for fund allocation in the next two years]
  2. [3 sentences on specific plans for fund allocation years 3-5]

During Phase 1, [paragraph on specific major grant project idea].

The rest of this document offers details on specific activities we could pursue, longterm goals for the initiative, reasoning for requested funding and hiring, and more.

Next steps

  • Rewrite this philosophy-heavy proposal into an objectives and goals report with specific requests, actions, and timeline.