The Meanings of Digital Scholarship

Digital scholarship is a phrase which, on one level, seems unproblematic. Common sense would seem to dictate that it’s scholarship, plus something digital . Of course, a hallmark of scholarship in virtually all fields is that it’s never that simple, and definitions are slippery, contested things. The amount of literature devoted to trying to pin it down–most of it from the sub-field (again a problematic term) of digital humanities–is proof of how complex the issue really is. (Or how complex we’ve made it, anyway.)

Ernest Boyer’s important book Scholarship Reconsidered (2016 [1990]) has been cited by a number of recent writers as they’ve grappled with the notion of DS. I like Boyer’s four-part model of scholarship–discovery, integration, application, and teaching–and also feel it has importance resonances with the work of groups like Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship at Bucknell. I’ve been preaching the Boyer gospel for several months now, and suggested that it be included in our Digital Scholarship Faculty Fellows’ reading list. Not everyone agrees with the way Boyer breaks things down, but I think his framework still has legs.

A related issue I’ve tried to tackle during my time at Bucknell is the relationship of various forms of digitally-enabled scholarship to one another. I’ve found that liberal arts colleges and libraries often conflate the more specific digital humanities with the broader area of DS, which is problematic. This isn’t to disparage DH, but it simply isn’t the only form of digital scholarship. Lippincott et al. (2014) make a related point in the context of a discussion of digital scholarship centers: “Although sometimes confused with digital scholarship centers, digital humanities centers are often specialized research centers led by a group of faculty and serving only select disciplines rather than a broad campus community.”  Digital ethnography, for example, is a mode of DS that doesn’t get much play in DH circles, but it’s equally “digital” and equally “scholarship.” The Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship Showcase at Bucknell is a collection of projects our group has worked on with Bucknell faculty and students. It represents a good cross-section of disciplines. While humanities projects are a majority, they’re far from the only projects to make heavy use of digital tools. 

The main point here is that DS is not the sole purview of any one discipline or sub-discipline. Scholars in STEM fields can do DS, as can social scientists or humanists, and scholars in any other field. It’s important to be precise in our terms, not for reasons of territoriality, but on the contrary: to be as inclusive as possible. 

Works Cited

Boyer, Ernest L. (1990) 2016. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Expanded Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Lippincott, Joan, Harriette Hemmasi, and Vivian Lewis. 2014. “Trends in Digital Scholarship Centers.” Educause Review. June 16.