JOURMS.org: A DIGITAL HUMANITIES HYBRID PROJECT

Chapter 3

THE JOURNAL OF MOTHER STUDIES: A PEER REVIEWED, INTERNATIONAL, INTERDISCIPLINARY, OPEN-ACESS, DIGITAL HUMANITIES HYBRID PROJECT

The digital humanities represent a virtual marriage between technology and the rapidly changing academic climate. At a time when budgetary concerns, relevancy, and accessibility are all being questioned within the collegiate environment, some educators recognize the importance of bringing the humanities into the digital age. Kathleen Fitzpatrick is one of those educators. In her book, Planned Obsolescence, she reminds scholars of the changing times. “Scholars need to find ways to adapt to [new systems of networked knowledge] or run the risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant to the ways that contemporary culture produces and communicates authority” (13). Fitzpatrick experimented with writing her book in the Media Commons Press[1], and solicited feedback from her colleagues as she wrote. While some DH projects are designed to literally digitize documents for the purposes of making them more widely available, others aspire to revolutionize the way technology informs research and scholarship through data mapping, text mining, and collaborative publishing (as in the case with Fitzpatrick). Journals in particular have been at the forefront of debates in terms of reconciling the theory and praxis of these technological advances. An investigation into the advantages of digital formats will lay the groundwork for the creation of the Journal for Mother Studies (JourMS). It will be built, developed, and maintained using digital humanities methodology, which means it will embrace the following tenets: free and open-access, collaborative technology, and process as part of the product. This situates it specifically as a journal that encodes the values of the digital humanities at least in terms of what aspires to be transparent methodology.

This chapter examines open-access journals while evaluating the sustainability of commercial journals, which limit access to their contents, and create systems of control. These information holders maintain themselves in the position of regulating knowledge—something that fundamentally goes against the kinds of knowledge mother scholars must make available to the general public. David Parry argues to exactly that point in his article, “Burn the Boats/Books.” He insists, among other things, that we must “stop publishing in closed systems” (3). Likewise, Jo Guldi insists that public visibility is paramount, and that in order to “thrive in the new order, finding both readers academic and para-academic” is the way forward (5). By including the “para-academic,” Guldi widens the circle of knowledge to move beyond the strata of traditional students and into the realm of the general public. The mother’s movement as an academic initiative is loosely constructed around a group of scholars, artists, activists, and thinkers invested in examining motherhood, mothering, m/otherness, and mother-ness from the experience of it, the practice of it, and its psycho-social implications. But, not every “motherist” falls neatly into the category of professional scholar. Because mothering is a practical endeavor with real world implications, its thought-canons must be as public as possible and as open to discussion and scrutiny as possible. Therefore, open-access is mandatory for the widest dissemination of ideas.

In the e-book, Hacking The Academy, edited by Daniel J. Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt, Digital Humanist scholars, take on established journal practices and argue from multiple perspectives about the serious implications of ignoring new systems of knowledge-sharing. A few of those arguments focus on the following points: interactivity is important for engagement; proprietary knowledge is imperialist, and process is inseparable from product. While I may be taking some liberty with their use of language, the core concepts presented in their texts are clear. The latter point can be argued ethically or empirically. Working backwards from the three points I just identified, let us first examine process: what it means and how it is important. Simply put, process is the activity of identifying the making of a thing as a key component and of equal importance to the outcome of a thing. In the global market this makes products obtained through unethical processes, i.e., the poor treatment of people, animals, or environment, no longer viable. In the “knowledge market” this delegitimizes closed systems of leveraging information by senior professors lauding their published reports on the backs of underling researchers who are given no credit. It also highlights the falsity of omitting the significance of process within the greater definitions of knowledge. For example, David M. Berry discusses phenomenology as pointing to the “immediate subjective experience rather than distant objective science: our experience, viewpoint, and understanding as human beings are as important as factual knowledge” Understanding Digital Humanities 3). He goes on to identify the ways in which “process philosophy puts things in the background and focuses on the doing of learning or researching”. Learning itself, the evolution of knowledge, and the process by which we report these things are fluid. David Parry encourages academics to liberate themselves from “the substrate of paper, and finality” (3). We should switch to presenting our ideas in process, showing our work—not just the final product. In the case of a study on mothering and motherhood, or human beings in general, the process becomes paramount with regard to temporality and phase transformation. A journal of Mother Studies built in the digital humanities philosophically requires the inclusion of process as part of its whole. Therefore process journals will be available and regularly updated as part of the project, and discussions that emerged throughout the development of this thesis will be shared via links on the website.

My second point that proprietary knowledge is imperialist is best reflected in the 2012 article by Lisa Spiro, called “This is Why We Fight; defining the values of digital humanities.” Throughout this paper Spiro searches for a value system that might help to define the new and emerging field of DH. This is something that serves as inspiration for me as I am actively engaged in bringing Mother Studies to the academy. What these two fields have in common are more significant than their differences and help to frame my passionate desire to create the Journal of Mother Studies in a digital humanities framework. Spiro asserts that many of the values found in “the humanities; libraries, museums, and cultural heritage organizations; and networked culture” share a commonality. Namely “an aim to advance knowledge, foster innovation, and serve the public” (Debates in the Digital Humanities, online or PDF 19). Old systems of knowledge in academia were originally dispersed through hierarchical constructions and disseminated through a “star system” (20). These systems historically were not open to many segments of the population, specifically women. More recently the digital humanities, which, according to Spiro, have blended “Humanities values,” which call for rigor, and specialized knowledge, with “Internet values,” resulting in a hybrid of “collaboration, openness, and experimentation” (23). How might this experimentation materialize? My hope is to first liberate and encourage multiple discussions about what might even constitute Mother Studies in the academy via discussion tools like CommentPress[2]. Another goal is to explore how an online, open-access journal that might catalog, curate, and facilitate the dissemination of emerging testimony, research, art, culture, humanities, public health, and the social sciences, which are all actively seeking interpretations of this body of knowledge. How might it be collected, filtered, and shared through the DH lens, and how does this contribute to equanimity, shared culture, and non-imperialist values?

Interactivity is paramount for engagement. Fitzpatrick argues that it is essential to broaden academic conversations and bring them into the mainstream. Her point has to do with the pace and temperament of current learning climates. “Reminding scholars that our very professional existence may depend on communicating not just among ourselves, but with a broader public, so that they understand the value of academic ways of knowing” (17). In the sphere of shared knowledge widely available on the internet through multiple sources like YouTube, Twitter, and Blog-o-sphere, call-and-response type behavior is elicited through viewer engagement and open conversation. Users approve, disapprove, share, comment, and generally involve themselves through the process of participation. The Journal of Mother Studies will include a host of open-access resources and DH tools that will enhance the information exchange and will also experiment with technology as it develops. Each of these tools is intended to enhance the user experience and to cultivate community around the subject of Mother Studies. The journal itself will link to a Society for Mother Studies (SocMS). This society is intended to act as a launching point for future conferencing (which is already ongoing for the past ten years through the Museum of Motherhood) and to invite other conferences, academics, and organizations to register online, share their syllabi, and promote their work as well. This is aimed at bolstering visibility within the larger community of colleges, individuals seeking information, and academics hoping to define this new field. Users will be directed to engage one another without the mitigation of a hierarchical construction. The journal itself will employ a range of DH tools including, but not limited to: Wordle for users to analyze their article content before posting it on the blog, CommentPress for online editing and feedback, and Anthologize for the purposes of printing and publishing online content. Additionally, the site will be embedded with music, dynamic links, and interactive elements. Solicitation of an editorial board and the launching of the initial online publication of the journal in 2016 will invite student, academic, and para-academic involvement.

Finally, a bit about my platform and process: I began building the journal online on a free WordPress site in February 2015 using the “Responsive” theme option—a free template offered by WordPress. I shared the concept with two colleagues who teach Mother Studies in New York and who are advisory board members for the museum. I texted them as soon as Rothman suggested the idea of a journal for my thesis. I had some trepidation, as I am also a colleague of O’Reilly’s and hesitated to do anything that might be construed as a competing overture—since she has the premier journal. Yet, my New York colleagues were excited about the idea and, after apprising O’Reilly of my plans, I proceeded to build out a template. Research for thematic considerations was conducted online and at the Mina Rees Library. Visual inspiration came from The Journal of Popular Culture (print), Journal of Creative Behavior (print), and Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory (online and in print). These things will all be documented with links online. I chose reds, whites, and blacks, which are also the colors for the Museum of Motherhood website. In terms of the printed journals, I preferred the smaller journals to the larger ones, approximately 8 1/2 by 5 1/2. Online I drew inspiration from the Journal of Hybrid Pedagogy,[3] The International Breastfeeding Journal, [4] and the Journal of Feminist Theory,[5], the website of which JourMS is most closely modeled on.

In terms of focusing the field for the Journal of Mother Studies, I borrowed heavily from HERA: humanities education and research.[6] Their definition of “Interdisciplinary Humanities” was most helpful in terms of suggesting a framework for submissions. I do not have coding experience, so I worked with a basic WordPress template, adding my own artwork, created on my Mac computer using Word.Doc, and public domain images. I used a theme of postage stamps and paper envelopes—insinuating the old-style journals where everything is mailed in hard copy for both submission and review. This was the case with my experience sitting on the board for JMI, and I did think it might be freeing to be able to do everything online. Therefore, submissions for JourMS will be solicited online through the comment form (available on most WordPress templates). This is the way the M.O.M. Conference solicits submissions, so I am familiar with the process. I also added a process journal. I believe very strongly in this for four reasons: tracking the development of the site and Mother Studies as well as using the guide for reference in writing this thesis and remembering conversations and correspondence as it developed and informed the work as well as making this material available to other researchers. I have made some of the process journals password protected (for the same reason). Some of the process notes include correspondence between myself and my thesis advisor and intimate notes which I might have made to myself. I am willing to make this available to researchers or others wanting to know more about Mother Studies, but I do not want these materials to be widely available for the merely curious. So, anyone who is interested in accessing the password protected process notes will have to write for permission. Finally, I did apply for a CUNY Advance Grant, which I did not get. I did, happily, receive an e-mail from one of the administrators for the grant saying that she had an academic interest in Mother Studies and would like to be involved in the Editorial Board. The grant would have enabled me to access a coding expert in order to use the CommentPress plug in. I plan on doing this and developing other digital humanities options at a later date when I have team members well-versed in coding. Ultimately, I would also like to build an interactive map so that users can track courses around the world. In the meantime, I will make the site available for feedback using a basic comment form at the bottom of each page.

JourMS will uphold the values of inclusion espoused through Digital Humanities, promote open-access resources, encourage collaboration, and offer community-building opportunities with the broad aim of advancing the field of Mother Studies. The goal of JourMS is to help facilitate the creation of a new academic-based journal, while innovating with the latest technology to enhance Mother Studies and to emerge as a pioneer within the interdisciplinary humanities, including mother studies as informed by: the arts, history, culture, the social sciences, women’s and gender studies, men’s studies, literary studies, anthropology, the folkloric, psychology, and media studies. This is how we will reach the next generation of would-be mothers, scholars, artists, and activists. This is how we will inform them, educate them, and challenge them to have a basic knowledge about the social construction of the world in which we live, and continue to expand on the theories presented here.

[1] The Media Commons Press is a place where individuals can experiment with collaborative online publishing. Web. http://mcpress.media-commons.org/plannedobsolescence/

[2] CommentPress facilitates comments on WordPress themed websites. Web. http://futureofthebook.org/commentpress/

[3] http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/articles/journal/

[4] http://www.internationalbreastfeedingjournal.com/

[5] http://www.womenandperformance.org/

[6] http://www.h-e-r-a.org/hera_journal.htm

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