Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 25, 2011 [Scholarly Review 6]: An Exemplary Voice

[As a part of my own thoughts toward next steps and extended versions of this blog, but also as a way to highlight some of the amazing models for digital scholarship that are already out there, I’m going to focus this week on impressive scholarly sites. This is the first in that series.]

For those of us who’ve grown up with the world-wide web, who (to get very specific and autobiographical for a second) can still remember going to our Dad’s office in the early 1990s and accessing what was (as I remember it) a long alphabetical list of web documents and conversations, it can be pretty difficult to cast our minds back with any depth or analytical rigor to the state of the internet circa 1994. Moreover, so few specific web resources (or even general types of websites, for that matter) have been around for that long that such analytical historicizing can feel interesting but largely irrelevant to the state of the internet in 2011.Yet one of the best resources for digital scholarship, the University of California Santa Barbara-housed website “VoS: Voice of the Shuttle,”  has, in fact, been in existence since that distant year; and both the site’s consistent goals and its impressive evolution model what digital scholarship can be and do.
Since its origins “Voice” has presented itself not as a venue for scholarly writing or argument per se, but rather as an analytical database, one of the first online scholarly archives (if not indeed the first such archive). Librarians, archivists, and scholars have been posting, uploading, scanning, retyping, and otherwise putting manuscripts and primary sources online for as long as there’s been an internet; the issues were thus from the beginning ones of awareness and access, of letting other scholars and researchers know what was out there and giving them the tools for both finding and utilizing those online materials. In its earliest iterations (a 1999 version of which you can find at the second link below) “Voice” did have an overt scholarly perspective and lens, a women’s studies approach alluded to in its title (a reference both to Greek mythology and to modern literary theory) and made explicit in most of its first subjects and focal points. But while it was certainly possible to focus on and engage with that scholarly perspective in using the site, it was also equally possible—and, I would argue, more the site’s central goal—to find your way into and through the resources linked there; the title’s ultimate meaning, in this argument, was simply that the site gave an online voice to a much broader number of literary and cultural figures (of both genders and in every other conceivable category of identity) than would have been possible without the site’s archival work.

Thanks in no small measure to the pioneering work of sites like “Voice,” there are now literally hundreds of scholarly archives, including many housed through huge institutions or organizations such as the Library of Congress, Project Muse, JSTOR, and various university libraries. Recognizing that abundance, the editors and scholars behind “Voice” have done something that might be common in the digital world generally but I have found pretty rare in the world of digital scholarship: radically and successfully adjust their site’s identity and goals without losing its originating purpose and identity. As the current site, available at the first link, makes clear, those revisions are still a work in progress; but the new “Voice” already features a much more interactive and multi-directional scholarly database, one that connects primary and secondary sources through both numerous categories and through the particular frames of a given researcher and starting point. The site will also offer databases and archives for resources more specific to conversations about teaching, publishing, conferences, and a variety of other parallel academic and scholarly questions. And the new site’s more open-ended qualities will eventually be exemplified by the opportunity for individual and linked groups of users to customize their own sets of links and resources, turning the site into an example of social networking on a scholarly and research-driven level.
But as with all of this week’s focal points, don’t take my word for it—check out “Voice” for yourself! I think you’ll be impressed, and maybe even find some resources you didn’t know about; I know I have. More tomorrow,

PS. Three links to start with:

1)      “Voice”:

2)      1999 version of “Voice,” as captured through the Wayback Machine:

3)      OPEN: Any nominations for sites I should include and/or that we should all know about?

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