HASTAC Forum Discussion on Democratizing Knowledge in the Digital Humanities

Democratizing Knowledge in the Digital Humanities: Making Scholarship Public, Producing Public Scholarship

Organizations like HASTAC, Imagining America, the Obermann Graduate Institute for Public Engagement at the University of Iowa, the Center for Teaching at the University of Iowa, and the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington aim to democratize knowledge to reach out to “publics,” share academic discoveries, and invite an array of audiences to participate in knowledge production.  Of course, emerging technologies and media offer the potential to widen even further the reach of public scholarship and the breadth of community partnerships.

More specifically, in the context of the digital humanities, democratizing knowledge often refers to making scholarship public, to opening access to university resources and research through, for example, the creation and preservation of digital archives and journals.

For scholars, these projects afford rich possibilities for deep collaborative work that is ongoing and historically absent from the humanities’ scholarly paradigm.

Yet practitioners of the digital humanities can also democratize knowledge by collaborating with their community partners to produce public scholarship, often through action research, experiential learning, and civically engaged pedagogy, all of which ultimately re-situate and reformulate expertise.  According to Teresa Mangum (faculty at University of Iowa and co-director of the Obermann Institute on Public Engagement), as with new information technologies, public scholarship can radically redefine who finds, owns, and gives knowledge.  Put this way, the goal is for practitioners to forward research and pedagogy while serving the community in a way that is a truly reciprocal partnership.

With democratizing knowledge and the digital humanities in mind, we are interested in learning more about people’s varying experiences in (and theories on) the use of emerging technologies and media to make scholarship public and/or produce public scholarship.

We invite you to join us as we discuss:

  • The requirements, terms, goals, practices and hopes for public scholarship or engaging with public(s) vary depending on the project and groups interacting. What are your best practices for developing and implementing projects with your community?
  • What are the benefits and risks to consider when developing community-driven or joint academic-community projects?
  • How are terms like “democracy,” “public,” and “scholarship” mobilized in digital humanities projects, for whom, and to what effects? What are the assumptions, definitions, and desires attached to each of these terms?
  • How do community partnerships affect perceptions and deployments of expertise? Does the notion of “the expert” change or collapse?”
  • How do you evaluate different forms of technology for your public knowledge projects? Have some forms of technology been more useful or productive than others?


Bridget Draxler, University of Iowa, Department of English
Jentery Sayers, University of Washington, PhD Candidate, Department of English & Society of Scholars Fellow, Simpson Center for the Humanities
Edmond Y. Chang, University of Washington, PhD Candidate, Department of English
Peter Likarish, University of Iowa, PhD student, Department of Computer Science
Obermann Senior Graduate Fellow 2010

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