Guest Post: Julian Chambliss, Nicole Huff, and Justin Wigard on Building Community: The Humanities Common and the Graphics Possibilities Website

Julian Chambliss, Professor of English, Michigan State University

Nicole Huff, Ph.D. Student, Michigan State University

Justin Wigard, Ph.D. Candidate, Michigan State University

The Department of English Graphic Possibilities Research Workshop (GPRW) began in 2019 with the goal of supporting critical inquiry linked to research and teaching comics. As the home to the world’s largest publicly accessible collection of comic books, Michigan State University (MSU) has long been recognized as a destination for researchers. Yet, the critical conversations taking place among faculty and students around comics at the MSU was less defined.  The GPRW offers the opportunity to facilitate conversations about comics that build on the established legacy of popular culture studies within our department while highlighting emerging conversations about comics studies supported by the workshop.

Building our website within Humanities Commons allows us to have a platform to share our ongoing activities, build relationships, and spotlight the visualizations and podcasts we produce during the academic year. Humanities Commons was our first choice and the opportunity offered by its academic community continues to inspire us to think about the ways we can engage with scholars around the world.  Like the Humanities Commons, we share a commitment to open educational resources and value the ways the Commons might support our ongoing development of pedagogical tools.

For example: Humanities Commons has afforded us the tools and infrastructure to build out, embed, and grow our digital data visualization efforts. When we initially ran our Wikidata event in Fall 2020, our website acted as an open-access portal for external users (within and outside the academy) to learn about and join our Wikidata movement. We were able to host multimodal tutorials, as well as registration links, all in a single space. As our one-off event has grown into a biannual initiative, so too has our Humanities Commons space. It now features complex data visualizations that utilize Wikidata — itself an open-access repository of linked data — as well as representations of data from the MSU Comics as Data: North America dataset via Flourish.

Using Humanities Commons, we are able to make our approaches and work within comics, wikidata, and pedagogy openly accessible. While this Wikidata initiative is just one example, Humanities Commons has allowed the Graphic Possibilities Research Workshop to grow each year through our open digital podcast; virtual pedagogy workshop series; and more.

Guest Post: Comments and Testimonials from Humanities Commons Users

Comments and Testimonials from Users

Dr. Kendra Preston Leonard, Executive Director, Silent Film Sound & Music Archive:

Humanities Commons is my coffee shop, my place to learn from other scholars and teachers, a place to have a virtual conference with people whose work I admire and those whose work is new to me. It’s the place where I’ve found community and conversation, a place where I can share materials and what I know about them with the rest of the world, a place where my books have taken flight free from the bindings of traditional presses. It’s a place with the best help desk folks I’ve ever known and truly committed administrators. Humanities Commons has given me so many tools to become the scholar I am today, and I am very, very grateful. I can’t imagine my scholarly life without it. November 10, 2021

Michael Thicke, Technical Lead, Humanities Commons:

When I discovered Humanities Commons not long ago, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. As a social epistemologist, I have become increasingly convinced of the need to reform how academics communicate. Ever-tightening job markets create more and more unreasonable demands to publish, network, and promote ourselves. More and more of our voices are marginalized as traditional academic careers dwindle. For-profit publishers and services take advantage of our desperation.

I joined Humanities Commons as lead developer in June because it represents a different vision of academia: one of community, openness, and inclusiveness. In the last five years Humanities Commons has established itself as a global resource for academics of all interests, backgrounds, and career trajectories. I am excited to be a part of the Commons as it builds upon this success over the next five—as we expand our reach beyond the humanities, as we find new ways to foster communication, and as we improve our ability to serve people of all languages and abilities. November 9, 2021

Bonnie Russell, Project Manager, Humanities Commons:

As a librarian who spent almost a decade in scholarly publishing at a university press, when the opportunity came to work on Humanities Commons, I jumped at it. I had grown increasingly interested in open access, scholarly communication, and the opportunities that digital platforms represent in allowing scholars from around the globe the chance to find one another, work together, and publish new and exciting work. Through my work on the Commons, I’ve met people from across the academic landscape who are pursuing new and innovative ways of communicating and publishing. The Commons provides everyone — from students to faculty to independent scholars — the opportunity to connect and collaborate.

As a project manager, this project is one of the most complex I’ve undertaken. We must be mindful of different disciplines and their needs as we expand the Commons to other areas outside the humanities, constantly assess the accessibility of the platform to ensure that all who wish to may access the work and collaborate with others, and support languages from all over the world. The past 19 months have been some of the most rewarding in my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from my colleagues, and to continue to come up with new and innovative solutions to support our users.

Daniel Cohen, Vice Provost for Information Collaboration, Dean of University Library, and Professor of History at Northeastern University:

Since Humanities Commons launched five years ago, the internet has continued, and maybe even accelerated, along its troubling pathway away from openness and thoughtfulness, and into ethically deficient mega-platforms. The idea of a mutually beneficial “commons” has been dealt a serious, but hopefully not fatal, blow. By standing up a community that supports itself, that runs the technology itself, and that determines its own interactions and its own future, Humanities Commons has provided an extraordinarily welcome safe harbor from our increasingly fractious and problematic online world. It is a corrective, in which you can see an alternative model for ethical engagement and the pursuit of the truth, not only for scholars, but for the public as well.

Grant Eben, Support Staff Information Technologist – CCR Development Team under MESH Research at the College of Arts & Letters of MSU:

My experience working with those in Humanities Commons has made it evident to me they are a wonderful group of people. They’re not only talented and knowledgeable but they possess a dedication to their mission that is truly admirable. They deserve all the recognition they receive for their efforts.

Tamar Marvin, Adjunct Professor, American Jewish University & Hebrew Union College-JIR, Los Angeles:

As an independent scholar, I greatly appreciate having a non-profit, scholarly platform to host course websites, as well as to collect my research and teaching documents. I support the mission of Humanities Commons and value its role in providing scholarship to the public.

Guest Post: Lucy Barnes on The OABN and Humanities Commons: Finding Community

By Lucy Barnes (Senior Editor and Outreach Coordinator at Open Book Publishers, and one of three coordinators of the OABN)

In early 2020, a group of people interested in open access books were trying to foster a community. Geographically dispersed, they sometimes came together at conferences and other events where lively conversations ensued, but they wanted a place to continue these discussions remotely. A Slack channel had been set up for the purpose, but it was used only very sporadically and members of OAPEN, SPARC Europe, OPERAS and ScholarLed were looking for a home for what they had begun to call the Open Access Books Network (OABN).

It had to be easy to use, welcoming to scholars and publishers (and indeed scholar-publishers), low cost, and ideally open source. We wanted to encourage discussion, but also to share resources and best practices and perhaps to coordinate and host virtual events.

Humanities Commons was perfect. Its tagline “open access, open source, open to all” expressed exactly the welcoming and open-access ethos that we wanted the OABN to have. Its emphasis on creating a digital space for scholars that was not commercially owned, and that was not trying to track, monetise, or otherwise take advantage of its users, chimed strongly with the way that the coordinating organisations of the OABN thought about and practised open access publishing. Moreover the ‘Groups’ function of Humanities Commons was rich with possibilities, given the activities we wanted the OABN to foster: a message board for easy discussion, a ‘Files’ section to share research and reports and the CORE repository to store new publications; a calendar to list events; a collaborative writing tool for creating resources together; and a website and blog for a more public-facing presence beyond Humanities Commons itself.

We set up the Open Access Books Network group on Humanities Commons in the early spring of 2020, and global events soon meant that a digital space to meet remotely was even more sorely needed. After some time spent in planning and preparation, we officially launched the OABN in September 2020 with a programme of ‘BoOkmArks’ events and some more informal ‘Open Cafe’ discussions, conducted on Zoom. These drew people to the Network, and our members steadily grew in number (the total at the time of writing is 307).

Humanities Commons has become the central hub for our activities: we have a presence on other platforms, such as YouTube and Twitter, we still use tools such as Zoom for live events, and we have a growing mailing list, but our Humanities Commons group is our online ‘base’. Members use the discussion board for questions or announcements, and we sometimes incorporate it into our events, such as a series of online workshops we conducted this year to discuss funder policies for OA books, which produced video recordings, pages of noted discussion between the hundreds of attendees, and a final synthesis of the conversations all shared on our message boards. Our event recordings are all listed on our Humanities Commons website, which is also a good ‘front door’ to direct people to when we give presentations introducing the OABN, while our ‘Files’ section has become a trove of reports on recent developments in OA books. Meanwhile we have received great support and a warm, friendly welcome from the Humanities Commons founders and staff, particularly Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Bonnie Russell, who have championed the OABN as it has grown on Humanities Commons.

On the occasion of Humanities Commons’ fifth birthday, at the OABN we will be raising three cheers for this vital platform and community, and for all it has enabled us and so many others to do. We are delighted to see that others are recognising its importance and offering funding and support for its continued activities, and we look forward to seeing what the coming years bring!


Guest Post: A.L. McMichael on Open Source Announcements

Author: A.L. McMichael

To celebrate five years of Humanities Commons, I’d like to highlight one of my favorite ways to use it: simplifying administrative outreach. You can use a group’s “Discussion” feature as an alternative to a listserv or newsletter (for a lab, a project, a class, or any other organization).

As a lab director, I often need to disseminate news and announcements through several avenues for the Lab for Education and Advancement in Digital Research (LEADR). The lab is geared toward student research in the History and Anthropology departments at MSU. We work with classes and individuals and have open hours for our students. We teach workshops and host events. Our stakeholders include faculty and students across MSU, and we work closely with the DH@MSU community, alumni, and researchers at other institutions. For a small lab, this is a wide range of people who need to be kept in the loop! Streamlining announcements is key because I don’t have high enough volume of messages to maintain a separate newsletter service or emailing list. For a simpler news option, I use the discussion thread in a Commons group.

The best part of using the extensible workflow of Humanities Commons groups is that users have agency over how to get updates. LEADR’s group is on MSU Commons, but Humanities Commons groups will function the same way. Here’s the notice I posted for users:

“Members of this group can adjust email settings by clicking “Email Options” above. You can receive every announcement or a daily summary. If you are not a member of MSU Commons (or not at MSU), you can bookmark the group’s page in your browser to check for updates.”

A public group also works well to reach people at multiple institutions. It’s free and there is no limit to the number of subscribers. I especially like the “Topic Status” feature for each post. A topic can be marked as “Open” to allow follow-up comments, or “Closed” as a static announcement. Members can post their own announcements, and members can easily be upgraded to Admin (or change roles, or even blocked, if necessary). And one more giant advantage to using an announcements group—it’s easier to avoid an accidental reply all!

For teaching, I have used the group discussion board similarly to communicate with students (in lieu of proprietary content management systems). I acquaint them to the discussion board’s interface by asking them to introduce themselves in a comment on the first day. The discussion thread is a good place for students to ask questions so that I can answer them for the entire class at once instead of fielding a series of emails. In some semesters I’ll add a WordPress blog to the group for longer posts, but other times we just use the discussion threads for short communications instead.

It’s easy to let to-dos like announcements get swept into the fray of busyness or the crunch of a semester. But I like to think of administration as “ethos in action”— even a mundane task carries the weight of ethical decisions, community outreach, and multi-faceted communications. I appreciate having an open source tool that lets me communicate freely and conveniently with anyone who wants to share in the lab’s news and activities.

Want to be included? Join or bookmark the LEADR Announcements group to follow along.