My18th

Peer Review

Digital humanities projects have long lacked a framework for peer review and thus have often had difficulty establishing their credibility as true scholarship. 18thConnect (and its partner site, NINES) exist in part to address this situation by instituting a robust system of review by some of the most respected scholars in the field of eighteenth-century studies, British and American.

18thConnect provides peer-review of digital resources and archives created by scholars in eighteenth-century studies. Our Editorial Boards locate reviewers to evaluate both the intellectual content and the technical structure of each project submitted for inclusion in 18thConnect. See below for a set of General Guidelines and Peer Review Criteria.

As part of a federation of sites, projects that pass peer review in 18thConnect are also or will be discoverable via other sites such as NINES and REKn (forthcoming), depending on their relevance to those literary and historical periods.

As part of the peer-review process, 18thConnect requires the submission of metadata describing the objects within the resource. This metadata (in the form of RDF) is largely based on fields such as author, title, data, and course. It also includes a set of genres relevant to eighteenth-century studies. A complete set of RDF specifications can be found on our wiki.

A developed resource will be web accessible and have structured data (e.g. files coded in XML or to accepted standards such as those of the TEI. The data should be encoded so that required metadata can be extracted from the files. This RDF metadata is largely based on Dublin Core fields such as author, title, date, and source. It also includes a set of genres relevant to eighteenth-century studies.) In addition, the project should have the integrity expected of any work of scholarship. It need not be “completed” but it should have a clear and finished conceptual design with substantial content in place.

18thConnect resources can be either free culture/open access projects (i.e., projects whose content is distributed freely on the web under a Creative Commons license, is in the public domain, or falls under fair-use protection) or revenue-generating projects (like those of most journal publishers and university presses).

Know a project that would benefit from peer review? To inquire about participation in 18thConnect please contact us at inquiries@18thconnect.org.

GUIDELINES FOR NEW PROJECTS

The Executive Council from NINES along with the Director of 18thConnect have produced a set of General Guidelines and Peer Review Criteria for Content. (MSWord, 34kb)

Two questions are pertinent to the peer review criteria for 18thConnect and NINES content: first, is the content important and interesting to existing scholarship; second, is the material presented in a clear, accessible, well-organized, and well-documented fashion?

I. Site Rationale and Content

18thConnect reviewers will evaluate site content and quality relative to existing scholarly and critical standards for print materials—critical books, scholarly editions, periodical publications. 18thConnect scholarship should be relevant to existing debates, concerns, and topics in the field of British and American literature and culture in the long eighteenth-century. In addition, an environmental scan of digital resources in the same area is helpful, though reviewers should remember that there can and should be multiple versions within the same scholarly field, just as there are multiple editions of texts. It is more important that the scholars submitting their work indicate awareness of other resources covering the same topics than that they are treading new ground.

The Journal of American History has formulated some questions that reviewers of web sites might ask:

  • Content (Is the scholarship sound and current? What is the interpretation or point of view?)
  • Form (Is it clear? Easy to navigate? Does it function effectively? Does it have a clear, effective, and original design? Does it have a coherent structure?)
  • Audience/Use (Is it directed at a clear audience? Will it serve the needs of that audience?)
  • New Media (Does it make effective use of new media and new technology? Does it do something that could not be done in other media–print, exhibition, film?)

18thConnect submissions should come with a brief abstract and project summary.

II. Interface Design and Usability

Projects included in 18thConnect are required to meet certain technical standards that allow the project’s data to be aggregated for interoperability with other 18thConnect resources (see below). Beyond that, scholars are free to organize and design their materials as they judge best, given the purposes and goals of the project. In this respect 18thConnect wants to encourage scholars to think in fresh and imaginative ways about how to organize and present their work in digital forms.

General standards for good interface design and site usability are widely available, detailing caveats for developers such as the number of links the average person will follow before leaving a site, frustrated at not having found what he or she sought. Key issues include navigation, searchability, and documentation. In thinking about digital editions or archives, reviewers will evaluate the resource’s general design, its opening or “splash” page, pages set up for navigating through the documents available at the site, and the interfaces and tools used for presenting documents.

III. Site Code and Documentation

As with interface design, various types of coding may be desirable for any given project. The primary goal here is sustainability. To that end, projects would do well to avoid proprietary formats unless overriding intellectual demands require their use.

For text files, a TEI application of XML is recommended unless–once again–overriding intellectual concerns justify an alternative schema. Image and audio files should be prepared to known and current standards.

For further discussions of standards and their uses, see the bibliography below.

The site should be well documented so that users can determine its code and structure. For instance, a simple way of letting people know that an HTML page has been generated from a TEI master is to include a link to that master on the page.

IV. Interoperability Requirements

Each digital object comprising a contributor’s digital resource (not the web site but each web page within the site) will need to be given a permanent 18thConnect identification number. That number will correspond to unique URLs for a web page, a text file (if you wish to have the resource be full-text searchable), the xml master that generated the web page, an associated image, and a site thumbnail. These URLs will go to the web page, text file, xml file, and image hosted by the contributor on his or her site.

All of this information (the id number and the URLs) for each individual digital object will be given to 18thConnect using an XML RDF form that includes metadata (title, year of publication, author, etc.) and is very easy to create. For more information as to how to create it, please see the article about RDF on the wiki, and contact inquiries@18thConnect.org.

V. Other Guidelines

For creating a valuable electronic scholarly resource, the “Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions” by The Modern Language Association’s Committee on Scholarly Editions should be consulted, paying particular attention to the Principles (1.1: accuracy, adequacy, appropriateness, consistency, explicitness) and to 2. Guiding Questions for Vettors—section V. Electronic Editions. This set of General Guidelines and Peer Review Criteria established by 18thConnect and NINES can also be downloaded here.

Bibliography

Online Introductions to Digital Humanities

John Unsworth, “What is Humanities Computing and What is Not?”

Lisa Spiro, “Digital Scholarship in the Humanities”–especially:

  1. Ways that digital resources can transform teaching and research
  2. Research Methods

Editing Digital Resources

Electronic Textual Editing, ed. Lou Burnard, Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, and John Unsworth–especially:

  1. MLA Committee on Scholarly Editions, Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions
  2. Guiding Questions for Vettors (also called “A Summary of Principles”)
  3. Dino Buzetti, Jerome McGann, Critical Editing in a Digital Horizon
  4. Julia Flanders, The Women Writers Project: A Digital Anthology
  5. Morris Eaves, Multimedia Body Plans: A Self-Assessment
  6. Kevin Kiernan, Digital Facsimiles in Editing
  7. Sebastian Rahtz, Digital Facsimiles in Editing

Best Practices

A Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth–especially:

  1. Introduction
  2. Stephen Ramsay, Databases
  3. Allen H. Renear, Text Encoding
  4. Perry Willett, Electronic Texts: Audiences and Purposes
  5. Willard McCarty, Modeling: A Study in Words and Meanings
  6. Martha Nell Smith, Electronic Scholarly Editing
  7. Carole L. Palmer, Thematic Research Collections
  8. Daniel V. Pitti, Desigining Sustainable Projects and Publications