Briefly Noted for November 15, 2010

Open Access Week 2010 talk available — The full audio of Mason’s October 20, 2010 Open Access Week panel discussion is now available via our library’s institutional repository. Cliff Lynch of CNI kicks it off at about 4:55. My talk starts at about 31:30 with a shout out to Paul Fyfe’s Open Access Week talk from the day before.

JSTOR Mobile — In case you missed it, JSTOR has released a mobile site. It will be hard to view full page images on the small screen, but the handy “email reference” and “save reference” buttons should make it useful for work in archives and on the go (via ResourceShelf).

Facebook to integrate MS Office Web Apps — The big buzz today is about Facebook’s new messaging service, but what could matter more to teaching, learning, research, and campus life in general is the announcement that documents, spreadsheets, and presentations created in Microsoft Office Web Apps can now be shared and viewed directly within Facebook. Many campuses are considering or have already chosen to sign on to Google Apps. Combined with fact that most campuses IT outfits already know, trust, and use Microsoft products and most students and faculty are already using Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, Facebook integration should make Microsoft’s Live services just that much more attractive and give Google a real run for its money.

Briefly Noted for November 9, 2010

@kfitz and @amandafrench at Bryn Mawr — Friend of CHNM, Kathleen Fitzpatrick and our very own Amanda French will be at Bryn Mawr this Thursday, November 11, 2010 to anchor the National Undergrad Symposium on Digital Humanities. The symposium aims to explore the ways in which “digital publishing can create new openings for undergraduates to enter significant academic conversations.”

Masters Degree in Digital Humanities at UCL — University College, London is offering a new MA/MSc in Digital Humanities. As there are very few degree programs in digital humanities, this is an experiment to watch. According the organizers, the program “will allow students who have a background in the humanities to acquire necessary skills in digital technologies, and will also make it possible for those with a technical background to become informed about scholarly methods in the humanities.” Students will also take advantage of UCL’s location through work placements with libraries, archives, cultural heritage institutions, and digital culture organizations based in central London.

Tenleytown Heritage Trail — I was very happy to return home this week to find nearly twenty new illustrated narrative historical markers in my neighborhood. The Tenleytown Heritage Trail provides a self-guided tour of the “top of the town,” Washington DC’s highest neighborhood. Beginning at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Albemarle Street near the Tenleytown-AU Metro stop, the trail chronicles Tenleytown’s history from its origins as a colonial anchored by John Tennally’s taven, through its key strategic value in the Civil War, to its rich and diverse 20th century history. I hope to get some time to walk the trail before the cold really sets in.

Briefly Noted for November 4, 2010

Jason Scott at MITH — I am extremely bummed I won’t be in town for this. Next week our friends at the Maryland Institute for Technology and the Humanities (MITH) are hosting a two day visit by Jason Scott, computer historian and documentary filmmaker. On Monday November 8th, Scott will introduce a screening of his latest film, and on Tuesday November 9th, Scott will deliver a talk as part of MITH’s Digital Dialogues series. Please see the full announcement for more details. The events are open to the public (that means you).

Geoffrey Rockwell on Method and Theory — In this post about a recent spate of “cluster hires” in digital humanities at places like the University of Iowa and Georgia State University, Geoff Rockwell notes: “The digital humanities, in part because of the need for practicioners with extensive skills, tend to look undertheorized, and it is. It is undertheorized the way any craft field that developed to share knowledge that can’t be adequately captured in discourse is. It is undertheorized the way carpentry or computer science are. To new researchers who have struggled to master the baroque discourses associated with the postmodern theoretical turn there appears to be something naive and secretive about the digital humanities when is mindlessly ignores the rich emerging field of new media theory. It shouldn’t be so. We should be able to be clear about the importance of project management and thing knowledge – the tacit knowledge of fabrication and its cultures – even if the very nature of that poesis (knowledge of making) itself cannot easily (and shouldn’t have to) be put into words. We should be able to welcome theoretical perspectives without fear of being swallowed in postmodernisms that are exclusive as our craft knowledge. We should be able to explain that there is real knowledge in the making and that that knowledge can be acquired by anyone genuinely interested. Such explanations might go some way to helping people develop a portfolio of projects that prepare them for the jobs they feel excluded from. Put another way, there is nothing wrong is valuing thing knowledge as long as we also recognize the value of theoretical critique.”

@alexismadrigal unpacks the Google Books search algorithm — Writing for the Atlantic Monthly, Alexis Madrigal provides insights into how Google indexes book data and uses (or misuses) library metadata.

The long haul: Why do academics take so long to hire?

I got in a little bit of a friendly dust up yesterday on Twitter when I asked, “As I watch colleagues embark on the 2011 #jobmarket I have to wonder, why on earth does it take humanities departments 6+ months to hire?”

Needless to say, I received a lot of answers. I won’t list all of them but I think the following distillation does them justice:

  1. Because the pool of applicants is large;
  2. Because the hiring process follows the academic calendar;
  3. Because faculty members are busy people and search committee activities must be scheduled around other commitments;
  4. Because we take time to read candidates’ scholarship as well as their resumes;
  5. Because tenure track decisions have long term consequences;
  6. Because hiring depends on building consensus across a department.

All of these reasons make sense to me. I’m just not sure they answer my question. They seem more like answers to the question of “how” it takes so long to hire rather than “why” it takes so long to hire.

(At this point, I should disclose that I have never formally participated in a tenure-track search process either as a candidate or a search committee member, so some of what follows may be totally naive and off base. If so, I apologize. But I have watched the process for years from a short distance as a friend of both candidates and committee members. I’m also a research faculty member and manager who does a fair bit of hiring himself, so if nothing else, I may have a valuable near outsider’s perspective to contribute. I hope so.)

Why, for example, does the hiring process have to follow the academic calendar? Couldn’t we shorten it to six weeks in December and January or schedule it around spring break or do it in the summer (paid, of course)? The answer comes back that we can’t shorten the process because the pool of applicants is so large. But there is a circularity to this line of thinking. If departments didn’t all hire on the same schedule, if there were multiple (necessarily shorter) hiring seasons, then some people would already know in September that they had a job and wouldn’t enter the November round at all. Still others could skip both the summer and winter seasons and wait until spring. Interview scheduling and campus visits would be made much easier as well. It seems obvious that if there wasn’t just *one* hiring season, there wouldn’t be so many candidates in any given season. This in turn would put paid—to some extent at least—to reasons and three and four. If the season was shorter and there weren’t so many candidates, it wouldn’t take up so much committee member time and energy either in meetings or in reading.

There are other questions one might ask; each of these reasons has problems when you dig a little deeper. For example, there are lots of busy people in lots of important jobs who juggle serving on hiring committees with normal work commitments. All small and medium sized businesses do their own hiring, and even at big companies with professional human resources departments, executives are heavily involved in making important hiring decisions. How do they manage the process so it doesn’t overwhelm their other work? Likewise, lots of hiring decisions in lots of fields have major, long term consequences—civil engineering comes to mind—but I’m guessing those fields usually manage to hire people in less than six months. At the very least they don’t stack the deck against a quick hire in advance, setting things up so that it can never take less than five or six months. What are they doing to insure they’re making safe, yet speedier hiring decisions?

Mainly, if we are going to accept any of these practices—including reading everyone’s scholarship and building consensus across departments—as valid answers to the “why” question rather than the “how” question, we first need to know whether they actually lead to better hiring decisions. I’m not sure we know with any certainty that they do. How many applicants’ scholarship do we really have to read to narrow it down to two or three? Is trying to get the bulk of the department membership on board an exercise in futility that causes more bad blood than it avoids?

Finding answers to these questions may lead us right back to where we started, but they’re worth asking on the chance that they could help us do a better job of placing the right people in the right jobs at lower cost and with fewer headaches. When every year I hear the same complaints from all sides about the academic hiring process, “the way we’ve always done it” just doesn’t satisfy as an answer.

Briefly Noted for November 3, 2010

@sramsay goes on recordSteve Ramsay argues against anonymity online, asking faculty “to consider whether it’s appropriate for someone who is paid to be a teacher and an intellectual to behave like an Anonymous Coward on Slashdot” and reminding us that we “are not political dissident[s] fearing reprisals from a hostile government.” Something good to keep in mind whenever we start to take ourselves too seriously.

What’s a bigger deal than a $300 smartphone? A free smartphone — T-Mobile is offering the LG Optimus T, a more or less full featured Android device for free with a two year contract. This could really change things, not only for Android, but for those of us building mobile websites and apps for teaching, research, and cultural heritage. For just the price of a monthly contract ($79 for 500 talk minutes and unlimited SMS and Internet), we’ll soon see smartphones in most of our students’, colleagues’, and visitors’ pockets.

Tomboy Notes — It’s the little things that make good software. One of the best little things about Linux/Gnome/Ubuntu is Tomboy, a simple little note-taking package that just plain works. I’m only running Linux about half-time these days—alas, I’ve been forced back to dual-booting Windows for MS Office, easy projector support, etc.—but I’m still running Tomboy full time and syncing across platforms with help of the gtk-sharp and Ubuntu One. There’s a Mac version too. If you’re searching for a good note taking tool, I highly recommend dipping your toe into the Linux bathtub and giving Tomboy a try.

Failing Quickly at Google — James Fallows’s much discussed Atlantic Monthly article on Google and the future of journalism contains this little gem from Josh Cohen of Google News: “We believe that teams must be nimble and able to fail quickly.” Something for managers of teams working in digital humanities and cultural heritage to remember.

Digital rocking the public history job market

Things are looking up for digitally minded public historians. At least six new media focused tenure-track academic public history positions are open this fall, including:

Happy hunting!