On reading well, once again

I really enjoyed this week’s readings: Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy and select essays from Hacking the Academy: New Approached to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities, an edited collection by DanCohen and Tom Scheinfeldt. For me, the readings really made sense. What do I mean by that? Well, I think I got what DH is! It only took me a semester, but it finally happened.

If I had to name a common theme for the week, it would be “Journals Curators.” I like the metaphor, for each gallery space needs a curator. Journals can play this role now that scholarship is taking a digital turn. There is urgency to digitalize the work humanists do. And this does not mean uploading a pdf of your article to an online journal. This means uploading your work to an open and free journal in a format that allows for interaction between readers, reviewers, and the authors. This way, the article will be a constant work of progress that constantly improves as new perspectives are considered. Arguments strengthened, the total body of knowledge made healthier. Why would anyone object!? (But then again, would I really like my BA thesis to be a continuous work of progress after I submitted it to my adviser? Don’t think so.)

Michael O’Malley’s “Reading and Writing” was memorable because of the author’s humor. O’Malley’s stylistic choices make the hard love he’s giving humanists as easy to swallow as gummy bear vitamins. He points to the disconnect between the way we are taught to read and the way we are taught to write. As readers, we emphasize reading more in less time, at acquiring the skills of finding the main argument by reading a fraction of the book. Writing, however, is an art form that we must perfected, turning out draft after draft.

Dan Cohen & Roy Rozenzweig argue in the Introduction to Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web that our reading habits are interrupted now that the content is online. There are no pages to flip and, to me, it is much harder to assess the reading on the screen compared to a print out, for example. I recall the authors’ arguments by their geographical position on the page, which is impossible when scrolling down the endless page.

In writing, on the other hand, we must take things to the next level. Things that can be said in layperson language are translated into jargon, making the arguments inaccessible. Is it for building an air of credibility? Or, as John Unsworth claims in “The Crisis of Audience and the Open-Access Solution,” is the humanities scholarship intentionally obscure? Are some things impossible without the use of words for their third or fifth listed meaning in the dictionary?

And how do we heal the diametrical split in our approaches to reading and writing?