At the start of the capstone semester, I found myself following three disparate threads related to digital scholarship. The first was about determining when a digital project was complete. The second was about how digital work related to seeking external support. The third was about how to incorporate digital scholarship into traditional academic norms. With the end of the semester upon us, I reflect upon the semester of tying these frayed threads together and finding that the questions were not what I expected them to be at all.
First and foremost, finishing digital scholarship cannot be done in isolation. With all my engagements with The Studio, the clear message is that it takes the productive collision of content knowledge, methodological insight, technical prowess, and digital publishing experience to get such work to the world. No single person has all of these skills. In terms of answering the question of when digital work is complete, the most important thing I have learned is that this is a collaborative decision for all who are involved across these domains of expertise. For better or for worse, none of my digital projects from this semester are done. This is because the collaborations continue to flourish, and I have been in the process of unlearning the mechanisms of doing scholarship in a solitary manner. While I had asked what digital projects need to be pursued to completion, the proper question was probably: Who decides when a digital project is complete?
For external funding, however, a scope of work needs to be declared and deemed finished (or able to be finished). This semester, I reckoned with what funding sources would be most appropriate and what attached strings would be acceptable. Ultimately, I intended to seek grant support for on-site research in Europe that would have digital project outcomes. As the COVID-19 situation worsened in Europe, and particularly in the Western Balkans, it became less believable that travel would be possible for data collection and timely project completion. As such, applying for grant funding for speculative travel contingent on global health policy seemed like a fool’s errand. Why seek funding for projects that could never happen, or would be forever deferred? As such, though I earlier wondered about the implications about certain grant sources, the proper question was probably: How do the current structures of academic grantmaking predicated upon speculative project completion stifle digital humanistic modes of inquiry?
This understanding expanded my third question about how digital scholarship runs up against the barriers of academic convention. This semester, I have been negotiating the scope of my dissertation proposal and trying to consider ways to incorporate digital work into the scholarly endeavor. It seems like my experience of doing digital work, and the experiences of others who have attempted the same, point to digital projects as a frosting on the cake of traditional scholarly output, rather than being the cake itself. Early in the semester, I had asked the question about how to include digital work into my field of higher education and student affairs (HESA), approaching this as an initiative to put forward digital scholarship as a fundamental component of my dissertation. Now I ask: How to include a bit of digital work in the dissertation as a foundation for future projects?
Unfortunately, despite the inclusion of methodological approaches that lend themselves to digital scholarship (such as photovoice) entering our field’s academic discussion, I am still searching for any HESA dissertation that has made such digital work central to its scholarly contribution. As such, instead of seeking to challenge disciplinary convention in a dissertation format right now, I intend to take what I’ve learned about the ongoing nature of digital projects – and the resilience it takes to challenge academic funding norms – into my next academic step. In the meanwhile, I hope to make the tastiest digital frosting I can to enhance my upcoming dissertation.