digital ethnography at k-state

Micheal Wesch, the 2008 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Professor of the Year, has has posted a description of his Digital Ethnography class, and how its technological and participatory aspects fit together. It is very useful for getting a holistic view of new media classroom technologies brought together. I’m already planning on using netvibes and yahoo pipes this Fall for a course on the Early Andes. I also find the structure of this course compelling for an undergrad research capstone course I’m slated to teach in the Spring. The final products in that class won’t be collaborative in the sense that digital ethnography’s are, but it does have me thinking about component sets of weeks in designing the course.

It also brings to mind a discussion I listened to last night while riding the bike from an older edition of the digital campus podcast. Dan Cohen, Mills Kelly, and Tom Scheinfeldt were discussing the hurdles to making digital scholarship count towards tenure review, in response to a series of posts Mills put on his blog last summer. What’s the connection? I think that the culture of counting/understanding scholarship in History is connected to the culture into which the generations of current scholars were socialized– beginning with their undergrad experience. We have learned in traditional history classes a certian culture of knowledge exchange (privileging the lecture) and research process (solitary) that is reproduced through the generations. Obviously, the graduate seminar changes the nature of knowledge exchange, as the seminar is less about content acquisition than learning, however indirectly, the craft of historical thinking, research, and writing. But, the research and writing process is still very much reinforced as solitary endeavor. The product of this process is supposed to be the traditional monograph, hopefully peer-reviewed and marketed by a University Press. Digital scholarship undermines both the solitary nature of this work and the venue of production, review, marketing, and consumption.

I have a hard time thinking through the implications of digital scholarship in those terms. But, aside from questions about what would validate peer review outside of the current University Press and journal infrastructure, I do think that the type of course patterned above by Wesch and his K-State students mark a change in the nature of undergrad humanities research courses that will ultimately work towards changing our inherited departmental cultures. That is, of course, to the extent that increasing numbers of historians are willing to engage the tools and processes described in the post. For students who grow up, so to speak, in History seeing collaborative research processes and digital platforms to deliver scholarship as natural, the current tenure process will seem quaint. Probably in the same way that for assistant professor’s today it seems quaint that the generation of the professoriate that went to graduate school and got t-track jobs at R-1 schools in the 1960s never had to research and publish the way we do today.


Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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Posted in Digital History, Research and Writing, Teaching

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Chad Black

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