What if we build a digital edition and invite everyone?

img_0942Auditorium in the beautiful new Visual Arts Building, site of Wednesday (Oct. 12, 3:30) Conversation with Dr. Amanda Visconti. Dr. Visconti’s dissertation InfiniteUlysses.com  will serve as the impetus for a wide-ranging discussion of dissertation and citation practice. The title of this post comes from the white paper report on progress and process that Dr. Visconti wrote as part of her dissertation portfolio.

At the Next Gen planning meeting in advance of Amanda Visconti’s visit, we identified what we collectively see as the most important tasks that a dissertation in the humanities must accomplish.  We found that the assembled historian, librarian, and literary critics agreed that dissertations must:

Present a new argument or intervention in a field. (There was some disagreement about whether this intervention has to be a “major” one.)

Showcase the author’s fluency in the extant scholarship

Other priorities, not necessarily shared by all, included:

Convey a sustained written argument with clarity and style.

Carry a narrative arc through to completion.

Provide a stepping stone to publication, whether print or digital.

In a similar manner, we pondered the many tasks that the humble footnote has traditionally carried out, and our conversation extended to encompass such broad categories as ethics, collaboration, collegiality, etiquette, and community. “It’s a place to show that writing is not a solitary act, that you are not a ‘solitary singer,'” said a Whitman specialist. “It’s a way of showcasing a community of like-minded scholars,” added another participant. Although we are interested in thinking alongside Amanda Visconti about how citation practice is being altered and expanded in digital venues, we were impressed by the varied work the traditional footnote carries out, and by cultural differences in its deployment (in some countries, footnotes convey miniature essays packed with competing views on a given subject, in others, footnotes communicate only the bare details of attribution).  More than one person noted that footnotes, like a trail of bread crumbs, allow scholars to follow a researcher back to his or her origins, and so hold scholars accountable for their claims.

We look forward to talking with Dr. Visconti about research practices old and new, and about how these practices can be marshaled in the service of varied career pursuits.