Sharing All the Scholarly Things

When I started my first non-academic job, I asked myself, “What am I going to do with my dissertation?” It seemed such a waste that I’d put so much time and effort into original research, only to have it languish behind the locked doors of my alma mater (finding the time to turn it into a monograph wasn’t going to be an option). And as I’ve continued to work outside the academy, and the focus of my research has shifted from 19th-century French literature to scholarly communication, the kind of outputs I create have shifted too, towards what is often deemed “grey” literature: white papers, blog posts, reports. Humanities Commons allows me to express that shift with a holistic profile that represents not two (or more) discrete periods in my life, but a continuum of evolving humanities expertise.

Meanwhile, within the academy, many departments still maintain rewards systems that recognize only the articles written in “high-impact” journals and scholarly monographs as scholarship—even when those forms are sometimes not the best suited to reflect the public mission of their institution (and often are published in journals to which the faculty members don’t have access). Despite efforts such as the MLA’s Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities and Digital Media and the AHA’s Guidelines for the Professional Evaluation of Digital Scholarship by Historians, many institutions still view digital work as an addendum to “proper” scholarship. The same goes for creative, original work, work that requires significant labor and research—literary translation, say, or the construction of annotated editions—and pedagogical materials such syllabi and open educational resources.

One of our goals with Humanities Commons and CORE, its repository, has been to provide a means by which our members—inside the academy and out—can paint a more complete picture of their professional lives, and in so doing raise the profile of all the other kinds of work they’re doing by displaying, promoting, and archiving it alongside publicly accessible and legally available versions of more traditional forms of scholarship. Whether or not they do so is a personal decision—many of our members still prefer to upload only articles—but the point is to allow researchers in the humanities to determine the scope of their own work. In this, we have very much been inspired by our partners at Columbia University Libraries, who have written about the important role the institutional repository can play in preserving and disseminating a wide range of student and faculty work; following their lead, we have purposefully made CORE much more than another preprint server.

Our members have welcomed its breadth of scope: of the 3,800 items currently in the repository, only 40% are articles. Among the other materials shared by members are bibliographies, book reviews, music, images, poetry, translations, finding aids, conference papers, and video essays: a humanities smorgasbord! They’re not just sitting there either: the most downloaded item from CORE, with 1758 downloads, is an opinion piece. A conference paper has seen 556 downloads and a book review 731. Two of the twenty most downloaded items are syllabi (the most popular of which has been downloaded 325 times); another is a piece of music, downloaded by 323 people. A colleague’s dissertation has been downloaded 208 times.

By integrating CORE with the social functionality of the Commons, by ensuring anything uploaded to CORE is indexed by the Google Scholars and Altmetrics of the world, as well as open metadata initiatives such as SHARE, and by providing permanent URLs for all material in the repository, we aim to facilitate the ongoing discovery of all this work in the humanities. By working with Columbia to back up and preserve CORE’s content, we’re also committing to preserving all this work for the publics of the future, who I hope will have a broader understanding of what it meant to work in the humanities in 2017 (and maybe even read my dissertation).

Nicky Agate is head of digital initiatives at the Modern Language Association and the project manager of Humanities Commons.