Is digital scholarship new, or should the ‘digital’ be silent?

As part of my ongoing work on the Disco project I’ve been interviewing various ‘digital scholars’ (i.e. people who use quite a lot of new technologies in their work) from across the OU. In one of the more recent interviews with David Robinson I asked him to tell me what he thought digital scholarship might mean, and filmed the results.

Essentially he thought that as scholars will always use new technologies (when it helps their research) then perhaps digital scholarship isn’t anything new or different. This got me thinking about a provacative chapter by Brad Wheeler in The Tower and the Cloud called E-Research Is a Fad: Scholarship 2.0, Cyberinfrastructure, and IT Governance. I’ll give a condensed version of the introduction here:

When I was an assistant professor of information systems in the business school, the mid to late 1990s seemingly declared that all things that could be digital would be digital. “E-commerce” was the rage, and I taught my first MBA e-commerce course in 1995. It was soon supplanted by a more proper e-business moniker a few years later, and companies everywhere started e-business projects or “e” divisions.

Astute observers of commerce at the time, however, had it right in seeing e-business more clearly. E-business was best understood and pronounced as “business,” where the “e” is silent.

E-science, e-research, and e-scholarship can expect the same. They are best understood as “e-research,” where the “e” will eventually be silent. Scholars in the sciences, humanities, and arts will identify those digital tools that advance their endeavors, that maintain and even enhance rigor and quality, and embed those tools and practices in their daily work.

So the question I’m now asking is, should digital scholarship be considered as anything new or should the ‘digital’ be silent? I’ve been thinking these issues through in relation to a paper I’m writing, as to whether new technologies will lead to more open scholarship, which is a related issue I think (this would suggest that digital scholarship is different from what came before).

I would welcome any comments!


About digitalscholar

I am a sociologist with an interest in new technology. Previously I’ve worked on a number of projects at Lancaster University and the Open University looking at the use of new technologies and social media by researchers. I was also a social sciences teaching fellow at the foundation centre at Durham University teaching sociology and anthropology. I am now a senior lecturer at the University of West London's Institute for Teaching, Innovation and Learning where I oversee the foundation provision and support retention. I'm sure I'll still be interested in, and occasionally blog about, tech related things. I use this blog to post thoughts about using new technologies in my professional academic life and wider thoughts and links relating to technology more generally.
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3 Responses to Is digital scholarship new, or should the ‘digital’ be silent?

  1. I wonder if there is some overlap here with Dave White’s concept of ‘post-digital’ (explored in a few blog posts including

    The idea as I understand it is about how some technologies become so embedded/accepted they are no longer regarded as ‘technology’. I guess the question is which (if any) technologies are transformative in particular areas.

    For me the ‘communication’ side of ICT is key – if we look back at the history of scholarship I think we can see how changes in communication technology have been key to changes to scholarship, and I suspect that the use of digital technologies to enable communication is likely to be transformative in some way.

  2. Joe Corneli says:

    Personally, I like the 80’s-style ‘cyber-‘ prefix
    because it is a good reminder that ‘online-‘
    and ‘virtual-‘ or ‘e-‘ systems are just examples of
    a much broader class of things, and many of the
    same ideas will apply throughout.

    They say “there’s nothing new under the sun”.
    I don’t know if that’s really true at the aggregate
    level, but if we want to think at the microscopic
    level, it’s true. It seems to me that a very useful framing of ‘digital scholarship’ in the sense of studying things that are digital would be — to look at how the things we already know combine to form new aggregates.

  3. owen – thanks to the link definitely some interesting stuff being discussed there. i suppose one of the issues with thinking about technology in this sense is that they are only invisible when they are working! I think that if scholars lost access to the internet that would be a big problem, but if they lost access to twitter? skype? I’m not so sure that would be as serious. Something to think about though.

    Joe – thanks for your thoughts. I’m getting quite frustrated with the constantly changing terms In the US e-science is called cyberinfrastructure which certainly sounds very grand. There’s even an office of cyberinfrastructure.

    Perhaps one reason why i’m hoping to get rid of prefixes is that i can’t keep up with them!

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