Humanities Scholarship In The Digital Age: The Role And Influence Of Information And Communication Technologies

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Based on a qualitative case study at the Society for the Humanities (Cornell University), this project investigates how information and communication technologies (ICTs) support research and scholarly discourse by humanities scholars. The research is guided by the principles of grounded theory and social informatics in gathering and analyzing data about scholars' perceptions and accounts of technology use. The research strategy is built on the premise that technologies are mutually constituted by interactions between the properties of technological artifacts and their broader context. The study not only examines the practices of scholars who employ technologies but also attempts to understand the perspectives of those who choose not to integrate them into their workflows. Several themes emerge to illustrate the situated, fluid, and emergent nature of technology assessment and adaptation. They include the evolving notions of distance and place, the enduring value of the affordances of physical knowledge spaces, the increasing role of search engines in research, and changing patterns of reading and interdisciplinary collaborations. Also considered are the role of multimodal scholarship and social collaboration media in academic practices. The findings not only confirm well-established patterns of ICT use but also demonstrate how interactions with technologies might lead to multiple, unexpected, and paradoxical effects. There is an inherent tension as the informants' accounts also reveal negative perceptions of technologies and unintended consequences for their scholarship. The study was designed to interpret the notion of digital humanities from the informants' perspectives and to explore the meanings they associate with this evolving concept. As we envision a digital infrastructure for facilitating and enhancing humanities scholarship, the optimism about the transformative role of new media must be carefully balanced by aligning technological affordances with principal goals and norms of humanities scholarship. Understanding scholars' ICT use patterns and opinions requires a holistic approach that also factors in variances in their technological frames and the structural elements of the academy such as publishing systems, information policies, and institutional support services. The paper concludes with policy and design recommendations to facilitate the construction of e-scholarship systems and services that align with the needs and practice of scholars.
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