Guide to Curating Scholarship from the Open Web: Part 4

This Guide is part of a series that reflects on three years of research on sourcing and circulating scholarly communication on the open web. In the coming weeks we will share our discoveries, processes, and code developed through rapid prototyping and iterative design: the PressForward plugin for WordPress; the collaboratively-edited weekly publication Digital Humanities Now; and the experimental overlay Journal of Digital Humanities. We hope these resources will encourage and assist others who wish to collect, select, and share content from the web with an engaged community of readers.

Part 4: A Sample Curated Publication

If you are interested in the intellectual and practical considerations for initiating and sustaining a collaboratively-edited publication that sources and distributes scholarship on the open web, you can read the previous three parts of this Guide. This post provides a reference for the technical and editorial processes behind the weekly curated publication Digital Humanities Now (DHNow) related to:

  • Intellectual Goals;
  • Source Base and Publication Venues;
  • Establishment of Editorial Criteria; and
  • Workflow and Logistics.

Intellectual Goals

What: Digital Humanities Now disseminates scholarship and news announcements of interest to the broad, interdisciplinary “digital humanities” community. The topics, approaches, practitioners, genres, formats all vary. All material, however, is informally released. Rather than curating works formally published in journal articles, manuscripts, or association newsletters, DHNow curates content that is essentially self-published on the open web. These materials project reports and white papers; reports on research methodologies or results; conference presentations, multimedia productions, working papers, and news announcements. Occasionally there is an editor-curated “round-up” that highlights a group of related works on a particular topic.

Why: The intention behind DHNow is to aggregate attention on dispersed, often overlooked material. By highlighting the variety of work and practitioners in the field, DHNow aims to help colleagues find each other and share resources.

Who: The audience for DHNow includes researchers, practitioners, and students working at the intersection of humanities and technology in educational and cultural heritage spaces. Often these folks are interested in the work of each other (even if they don’t know it yet). Other venues exist specifically to support community engagement with questions and assistancepedagogy, or resources, but DHNow is meant to be a weekly newsletter that curates work in one place, rather than a discussion forum.

Where: Twitter, blogs, and personal networks are the main forms of communication for our digital humanities audience. The web feeds followed by DHNow are open for self-inclusion through a web form, but since 2011 the subscriptions have been vetted and managed by DHNow staff.

When: An integral part of the PressForward Project since 2011, in its current iteration it is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. DHNow is committed to the time necessary to prototype this publication for the duration of the PressForward grant, through October 2014. This three-year grant period allows for experimenting with sources, processes, and methods in order to produce recommendations and guides such as this one.

How: DHNow is an experimental publication that is a testing venue and prototype for aggregation and curation of scholarly work from the open web. The internal staff of faculty and graduate research assistants (GRAs) are responsible for the sourcing, curation, and publication of the materials. The broad digital humanities community nominates content for inclusion by volunteering as editors-at-large, and by supplying the source base — as well as the work itself — that is disseminated on the front page.

At the moment, volunteer editors-at-large should total approximately 5 hours/person for 25 total hours each week, but in reality is probably more like 15 hours total. A rotating staff of GRAs spend approximately 8 hours selecting and publishing content, as well as administrative responsibilities. Research faculty staff provide approximately 2 hours/week of oversight and sometimes as much as 6 hours a week doing weekly duties.

Technical Setup

Source Base

The initial source base for DHNow began with a self-identified registry of people working in digital humanities, who provided their name, Twitter handle, and web feed into a open Google document started by Dan Cohen in 2009. This list grew through personal additions until the dedication of staff time to expand the number of RSS feeds in Fall 2011. This registry has always been open for self-inclusion through a web form, but since 2011 the web feeds followed by DHNow have been vetted and managed by staff GRAs.

The list of all the feeds followed by DHNow is published via Google Docs and linked from the DHNow website:

Any feed can be suggested for inclusion through a web form. In addition, ad hoc nominations of a particular piece, rather than a feed, can be added by any volunteer editor-at-large using the Nominate This! bookmarklet.

Web Presence

The same web presence has been maintained since 2009, and amplified through Twitter. The site was offline and used a workspace during the redevelopment period in Fall 2011, after which Facebook was included as an outlet.

Over the past five years the site has had several looks, determined by the WordPress theme. Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media staff designer Kim Nguyen helped to customize the site for the Fall 2011 relaunch, after which Graduate Research Assistant Sasha Hoffman customized a new theme to improve the publication process and visibility of various types of content.

In its current iteration, the site priorities are to feature Editors’ Choice pieces with an image and long snippets of text, and to simply list news items. The site does not allow commenting because our goal is to send readers back to original content.

Prior to the development of the PressForward plugin a combination of Google products (Reader and Google+) were used to aggregate and discuss potential content. Since 2013 the site utilizes the PressForward plugin for the aggregation, nomination, discussion, curation, and publication workflow.

Establishment of Editorial Criteria

For the Fall 2011 relaunch of DHNow, the four-member editorial group reviewed all incoming content for eight weeks, during which we had regular in-person discussions about the criteria for selection. We determined the categories and formats to use for the disseminated content and how to present each item with a title, snippet, and link back to the original. During this period we also practiced the nomination, review, discussion, and publication workflow to populate the site before public release.

Responsibilities and Workflow

During the initial trial period of Fall 2011 and Spring 2012, DHNow published materials five days a week. After several months of jointly deciding the content distributed by DHNow, we began to rotate among the editorial group the responsibility for a particular day or week.

After this initial period, we reduced publication to twice weekly in Summer 2012. This decision reflected the curatorial goals of the publication and accommodated the real constraints of editor availability. At this point the editors began to rotate weeks and we continue to work mostly independently.

After eight months of internal editorial work we were ready to open the process to additional volunteers, who began to sign up for weekly rotations reviewing and nominating content from the pool of all content. We continue to rely on volunteers to provide the first round of review and filtering, while internal editors who have regular commitments to DHNow and the PressForward project make the final selections and prepare content for dissemination.

Community Involvement

DHNow makes its selection process visible at several stages: the source base is viewable as a spreadsheet or via RSS feed; the public can add themselves to the source base; and the nomination process is open to volunteers.

You can read detailed explanations of previous iterations of our process here:

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