Journal of Digital Humanities

Two Years of the Journal of Digital Humanities

Seven issues. Nearly 90 works by over 120 authors and a half dozen institutions. More than 600 pages. Who says that there is no scholarship on the open web? With the first two volumes of the Journal of Digital Humanities (JDH) we have offered an overlay journal for this diverse and emerging field, sourced almost entirely from scholarship on the open web in the previous six months.

With the exception of the solicited reviews, all the work appearing in JDH has been available available on the open web in some form prior to inclusion. Yet we immediately drew an astoundingly large readership for such a young journal, reinforcing the reason d’etre of the journal: the need for dissemination of high quality, open work. JDH has been assigned in classrooms, read by leading practitioners, etc., and offered introductions to interested practitioners and their colleagues and evaluators.

Although the initial goal of JDH was to experiment with new ways to source content, it is nearly impossible to originate a born-digital journal without experimenting in the production of one as well. In this post I’d like to provide background on some frequently asked questions about the production of JDH content and issues.

Content Identification and Selection, or “catching the good”

The purpose of JDH is to disseminate work that has already has been published and represents the most recent reflections, methodologies, sources, results, or applications of digital humanities practice in classrooms, labs, research projects, and cultural heritage institutions. The majority of our content was first identified by another PressForward experiment: our weekly aggregation and curation publication Digital Humanities Now (DHNow).

Each week our DHNow Editors-at-large — volunteers who sign up to help filter through our own source base and their own networks — help surface works of interest and items of note from the open web. Editors-at-Large nominate their picks for highlighting on DHNow, with the final selection made by a rotating Editor-in-Chief from our editorial group of graduate students and research faculty, who work on both DHNow and JDH. Timely reflections or reports on the practice of digital humanities, whether in the research lab, classroom, library, archive or museum, are featured as Editors’ Choice. We envision these pieces as the ones you would like to share and discuss with your colleagues.

After every trimester (for Volume One it was every quarter) the same editorial group reviews and discusses all the Editors’ Choice pieces. We try to gauge the interest and engagement in each work based on number of comments, and the readership and Twitter stats for the DHNow snippet. We mostly rely on traditional editorial evaluations of the quality of the argument, methodology, sources, or findings. And perhaps most importantly for a publication that has a roughly 10-week window from selection to publication, we evaluate whether work is ready and robust enough to stand on its own in this more formal venue.

Because the editors have seen at least some version of the work online, we are able to base our invitation for participation on quality and availability. Some authors have their works republished in JDH. About a third are invited to revise and expand their work, with the assistance of editorial development and feedback from JDH editors or outside readers, who help make the work ready for formal publication. Rather than working along an accept/reject binary, our comments focus on improving the execution of the argument, clarifying methodologies and sources, and ensuring there is enough contextualization for our diverse readership. Like many other journals, our correspondence with authors is either sent via email or privately shared Google docs. These focused revisions generally take place within a 6-8 week period.

Once the materials are fully developed and in our WordPress installation, they undergo copyediting and proofreading by the same graduate students and research faculty affilited with DHNow at RRCHNM.

Staffing

As a small, but important, component of a larger grant-funded project, the Journal of Digital Humanities necessarily relies on the internal staff of the grant. As director of the PresssForward project, I have been an editor from the beginning. After principal investigator Dan Cohen departure for the DPLA I was joined by Lisa M. Rhody, a RRCHNM colleague, as co-editor in August 2013, followed by our new PressForward managing editor, Stephanie Westcott, in September 2013. As editors, we are responsible for the final selection of content, developmental editing of the issue contents, as well as the execution and production of the journal.

From the start, our very excellent graduate assistants have participated at every stage of publication. Sasha Hoffman and Jeri Wieringa have helped inform the selection and development of content, as well as finalizing the production of each and every issue. Joining us in Septemer 2013 for issue 2.2 working through 3.1 are new PressForward GRAs Lindsey Bestebreurtje, Amanda Morton, and Ben Schneider. These graduate students are familiar with the most recent work in the field from their weekly rotations as editor-in-chief, and are essential in helping select content.

Production

JDH is published using a custom WordPress theme and a collection of free plugins. (For detailed information about the preparation of the website content, see this documentation).

Depending on availability and access, content is pasted into WordPress directly by the author or by JDH staff from its original location or a newer document. (For anyone seeking a better solution, PressBooks is working on importing content (including footnotes!) directly from Word). Once the content is in WordPress, any additional comments between editor and author are sent via EditFlow plugin. The final preparation of the content includes titling links, bracketing footnotes, and standard copyediting and proofreading, which is done in-house by JDH grad students and faculty.

Like others experimenting with online-only journals, we face challenges preparing online and portable version of the same content. WordPress prepares a comfortable way to read online, but is less effective for portable documents.

Although the Anthologize plugin readily produces EPUB files, the PDF output is less aesthetically styled than we wanted. For this reason we have been investing time into the preparation of styled PDFs using iBooks Author. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach, however, as it requires taking content out of WordPress, into Word, importing into iBooks Author for final styling and production. We are exploring other options, including investing resources in a newer style sheet for Anthologize.

Time Investment

In spite of our best efforts to make this overlay journal run quickly and easily, we are faced with the same facts as our colleagues working on more traditional publications: it is very time consuming to run a journal! The amount of time invested in each issue varies, depending on the amount and type of content, but it is hundreds of hours across seven people compressed into a span of 10-12 weeks.

In addition to the necessary time spent reviewing and selecting content, we have found that we spend a very large amount of time in conversation with the authors throughout the developmental editing stage. Even though JDH is an “overlay” journal and we intentionally choose work that has already been published (however informally), we still are committed to disseminating the best possible versions of that work. Our goal is to publish works when they are in a middle state — not necessarily the first draft, and perhaps not the most complete version that will appear much later, but an iteration that is ready for deep engagement. To that end, we provide specific suggestions for revisions with an eye towards structure, execution, citation, or contextualization. The amount of time and effort this takes can not be understated, as many of our authors will tell you, we are very thorough and dedicated line editors. Even beyond the procurement and development of content, a great deal of time is spent preparing the link titles, footnotes, and final proofing of the content.

So one of our major findings is that an overlay journal that acquires and republishes existing content in its own venue will need the same amount of time as a journal with traditional sourcing of content. If the work of publication consisted only of the selection process, with the “publication” consisting of a list of abstracts and links, it would be a much different story.

Perhaps the digital humanities community does not need a formal publication venue like JDH, and the field would still flourish with distribution of work assisted by venues such as DHNow. We’d like to think, however, that the students, teachers, and newcomers to digital humanities appreciate the formality of the journal, along with the practitioners who would like to introduce their colleagues to the concerns and practices of their field.

Looking Forward

In this last year of the PressForward grant, we are developing materials and recommendations to guide other communities interested in creating an overlay journal, or publishing a digital-only journal. If you have any particular questions you’d like to see addressed, please let us know at info@pressforward.org.