A Community-Sourced Journal

We’re pleased to present the inaugural issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities, which represents the best of the work that was posted online by the community of digital humanities scholars and practitioners in the final three months of 2011.

We wish to underline this notion of community. Indeed, this new journal is predicated on the idea that high-quality, peer-reviewed academic work can be sourced from, and vetted by, a mostly decentralized community of scholars rather than a centralized group of publishers. Nothing herein has been submitted to the Journal of Digital Humanities. Instead, as is now common in this emerging discipline, works were posted on the open web. They were then discovered and found worthy of merit by the community and by our team of editors.

The works in this issue were first highlighted on the Digital Humanities Now site and its related feeds. Besides taking the daily pulse of the digital humanities community—important news and views that people are discussing—Digital Humanities Now serves, as newspapers do for history, as a rough draft of the Journal of Digital Humanities. Meritorious new works were linked to from Digital Humanities Now, thus receiving the attention and constructive criticism of the large and growing digital humanities audience—approaching a remarkable 4,000 subscribers as we write this. Through a variety of systems we continue to refine, we have been able to spot articles, blog posts, presentations, new sites and software, and other works that deserve a broader audience and commensurate credit.

Once highlighted as an “Editors’ Choice” on Digital Humanities Now, works were eligible for inclusion in the Journal of Digital Humanities. By looking at a range of qualitative and quantitative measures of quality, from the kinds of responses a work engendered, to the breadth of the community who felt it was worth their time to examine a work, to close reading and analyses of merit by the editorial board and others, we were able to produce the final list of works. For the inaugural issue, more than 15,000 items published or shared by the digital humanities community last quarter were reviewed for Digital Humanities Now. Of these, 85 were selected as Editors’ Choices, and from these 85 the ones that most influenced the community, as measured by interest, transmission, and response, have been selected for formal publication in the Journal. The digital humanities community participated further in the review process through open peer review of the pieces selected for the Journal. Authors selected for inclusion were given time to revise their work to answer criticisms and suggestions from the community and editors, prior to a round of careful editing to avoid typographical errors and other minor mistakes.

To be sure, much worthy content had to be left out. But unlike a closed-review journal it is easy to see what we had to choose from, since the trail of Editors’ Choices remains on Digital Humanities Now. Inclusion in this issue is in many respects harder and rarer than inclusion in a print or print-like journal, since it represents a tiny minority (less than one percent) of the work that digital humanities scholars made public in this period. We hope and expect that this selectivity will reinforce the value of the work included.

Even with these several layers of winnowing, the result is a sizable and wide-ranging first issue, roughly 150 pages and four hours of multimedia. The most-engaged article of the quarter was by Natalia Cecire, whose post on theory in digital humanities sparked an energetic debate and many additional posts by those who agreed or disagreed. In response, we asked Natalia to be a guest editor of a special section in this issue on the topic of her piece, which she has introduced and knitted together with responses addressing digital humanities’ awkward relationship to theory (or the lack thereof).

Beyond this special section, we have a slate of individual articles, including lengthy treatments of text mining and visualization, critical discourse and academic writing, the use and analysis of visual evidence, and a series of podcasts on humanities in a digital age. To start the issue, we have included a piece by Lisa Spiro on how to get started in digital humanities, and in what we believe is a first for the field, we end the issue with an entire section devoted to a critical engagement with tools and software.

We believe the variety of content in the Journal of Digital Humanities truly parallels the scope of work being done in the community. Because this journal is digital-first, we are able to take into account the full array of works produced in the discipline. Unlike other publications, we can, for instance, point to and review software, and we can include audio and video. We can also accept works of any length. We plan to maintain this emphasis, that there is no real or implied pressure to submit a standard essay of 5,000-10,000 words or to flatten nonlinear digital works into a print-oriented linear narrative.

Our community- and web-sourced method has several other advantages over the traditional journal model. First, as we have already noted, many more eyes have looked at the content within this volume, ranging from perhaps superficial readers—hundreds who saw and read it in their RSS readers or via social networks—to more in-depth engagements, such as those who responded in comments on the site of the original work, wrote a response on their own site, or who participated in our open review of the selected works on the Digital Humanities Now website.

Moreover, we believe this model has helpfully led to the inclusion of contributors from a wide range of stations compared to a traditional academic journal. Represented in this volume are up-and-coming graduate students already doing innovative and important work, non-academics and technologists who focus on thorny and often intellectual questions of implementation and use, and those in fields that border on or intersect with digital humanities, such as librarians, archivists, and museum professionals. We believe this is healthy for the ideas and practice of the digital humanities community, moving it beyond an insular community of mostly tenure-track academic scholars.

In that spirit of inclusion, we hope that you’ll join us in contributing to the Journal of Digital Humanities, as someone who finds and validates new work—as a daily editor on Digital Humanities Now or as a quarterly editor on the journal—or, like those whose work appears in this first issue, as someone who contributes greatly to the field by openly posting their work online.


Daniel J. Cohen and Joan Fragaszy Troyano, Editors