In a rich man’s world: Global DH?

The following map is from Melissa Terras’s infographic, Quantifying the Digital Humanities.

Physical Digital Humanities Centres

The map shows the distribution of physical centres in the Digital Humanities (as this is defined by members of ADHO communities) across the globe. As Domenico Fiormonte has argued, it can also serve as a proxy for other types of activity in the field, including, broadly speaking, the residency of members of ADHO affiliated Digital Humanities societies (see Fiormonte, fig. 1).But as Fiormonte also points out, the “blank” areas on Terras’s map can serve as an inverse proxy for other data. Linguistic diversity, for example, or Gross National Income as mapped by UNEP. Read the rest of this entry »

Rich and poor

Just to be clear, outsourcing is only one source of the huge disconnect between a tiny elite and ordinary American workers, a disconnect that has been growing for more than 30 years. And Bain, in turn, was only one player in the growth of outsourcing. So Mitt Romney didn’t personally, single-handedly, destroy the middle-class society we used to have —Paul Krugman

When I was a student in high school and university I used to work summers as a factory hand at Rowntree Macintosh (the candy company who made Smarties, Aero, and Black Magic–later bought out by Nestle). It was a great job I got via my neighbour, an old Yorkshireman who’d been a bombardier in the Lancs during the war. It was a union job that paid exactly the price of a dozen beer an hour (in the old, highly regulated Ontario system). I used to watch the clock, counting the beers.

Th other night I realised that I have no idea what it is like to work in a factory now. And more importantly, I don’t think any of our politicians do. Read the rest of this entry »

Ideas have consequences: Prometheanism, the university as corporation, and the leadership debacle at the University of Virginia

One of the books I am currently reading is Public no more: a new path for excellence for America’s public universities. This is a book by Gary C. Fethke and Andrew J. Policano, two business school administrators who explore how market-focussed techniques that apparently are common in U.S. business schools could be applied to the larger enterprise of running a public research university.

One of the thrilling things about this book is just how far out of line it is with what I (and the authors) imagine to be mainstream thought on the purpose of higher education, its relationship to societal and personal benefit, and the definitions of quality and success.  The authors take a fundamentally and completely market-based and competition-driven approach to their analysis, and seem genuinely unable to see any value in (or at times even literally understand) more traditional approaches. Read the rest of this entry »

This time it’s different: “ever since Plato” department (short)

From Public no more: A new path to excellent for America’s public universities, in which two business school deans explain how following the b-school model will improve higher education:

The belief that higher education should be funded by society dates back at least to the fourth century BCE, when Plato’s academy offered free admission to selected students–a philosophy that prevailed throughout most of history. Today we face a different and challenging environment… (3).

Talk about the need for transformative change!

Read the rest of this entry »

Chasing the (long) tail: Was the Readabilty subscription model really a failed experiment?

More on the changing business models (see my earlier entries, “Won’t get fooled again: Why is there no iTunes for scholarly publishing” and “Does Project Muse help of harm the scholarly community…“).

Readability is an app developer whose main product is software for improving the long-form online reading experience. I’ve not used it (yet), but it seems to involve a combination of applying an optimised style to existing content and suppressing the surrounding ads and navigation clutter (contrary to the comment feed on their blog, Readability doesn’t seem to extract and resell content without producer’s permission: it seems to be more like a specialised kind of browser plugin for viewing content you already have access to).

The original business model appears to have involved collecting subscription money ($5/month) from users who wanted a better reading experience and then distributing that money (minus a commission, I imagine) to the publishers who registered with them. There are aspects of this that you might quibble with–for example, had they thought they could communicate with the owners of every site their user base tried to read using their app? But on the whole it seems like an interesting and innovative idea: extracting some part of the capital required to produce content by selling a better experience in its consumption. And since I’d have thought they probably didn’t need to offer to share the money with the publishers (given that they were only reformatting the content), this is a business model that actually seems to have been constructive rather than purely exploitative.

And apparently one that doesn’t work. Read the rest of this entry »

Does Project Muse help or harm scholarship by refusing to list freely available journals? On the role of the aggregator

Yesterday, I posted an essay reflecting on the stratification of content development and delivery processes in the music, commercial publishing, and scholarly and scientific publishing industries (Won’t Get Fooled Again).

At the end of the piece, I discussed the developing role of aggregators at the distribution and marketing end of the process. While there is no equivalent to iTunes in the scholarly publishing world, the aggregators fill a similar function to a certain extent with the institutional customers (particularly libraries) that are responsible for most of the purchases in this area.

Read the rest of this entry »

Won’t get fooled again? Why is there no iTunes for scholarly and scientific publishing?

In the inaugural BBC John Peel Lecture, The Who‘s Pete Townshend described the music publishing business as being historically like “a form of banking in many ways”:

In cooperation with record labels – active artists have always received from the music industry banking system more than banking. They’ve gotten…

1. editorial guidance

2. financial support

3. creative nurture

4. manufacturing

5. publishing

6. marketing

7. distribution

8. payment of royalties (the banking)

(A full transcript can be found here; video here (full) and here (excerpt))

Mutatis mutandis, much the same can be said for other forms of publishing as well: scientific/scholarly and commercial book publication, even film development and distribution. In each case, historically, the distributors of the content also generally have been responsible to a greater or lesser extent for nurturing and supporting its development. Individual segments of the market have dropped or added to Townshend’s list of functions (adding peer review, for example, in addition to editorial functions, or focus-group testing final product before distribution). But on the whole, Townshend’s list is pretty complete. In the pre-Internet era, publishing was generally the province of highly vertically integrated organisations: the same group tended to oversee the production process from the submission of the original manuscript, idea, or prospectus to the final distribution of sales income.

Read the rest of this entry »

Canada’s cell phone gap

The Globe and Mail begins what looks like it will be an interesting series this weekend:

Canada Competes is a six-month project examining the people, politics and economic issues that are helping or hurting the countries ability to compete in a post-recession world.

First up: Loans, mobile, and travel, all of which, in Canada, are controlled by small cartels of protected Canadian companies. Read the rest of this entry »

Those who can’t teach do? The importance of “failure” to the survival of the humanities

Educating scholars: doctoral education in the humanities has an interesting set of chapters addressing the question of what happens to PhD students after they leave their programmes, with or without a degree.

The study of focussed on graduates of prominent departments in ten elite universities who were in programme in the period between 1991 and 2001 and so is looking at both a fairly strongly marked class of student and a strongly marked time period: the students they are following had what they describe as high “departmental prestige” when they entered the job market; and, while predictions of the faculty shortage in humanities that in part prompted this study (4) never actually appeared, their subjects do appear to have graduated into an academic job market that was more open than that immediately before or afterwards.

So with all these provisos in mind, what happened to the students? A number of sets of figures stand out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Love and marriage and progress-to-degree: Surprising effect of marital status and gender on PhD completion

From Educating scholars: doctoral education in the humanities:

We ask “Do the gender differences in attrition and completion patterns that we have observed reflect differences in family status by gender?”

To preview our findings, we find that there are no gender differences in the attrition and completion among students who are single. The overall gender differences in completion rates and attrition rates that we observed… are driven by the fact that married men are less likely to leave graduate school and more likely to earn degrees, whereas married women and single women do not differ in these respects. Having children at the time of entry to doctoral study is associated with increased chances of completing the degree within 10 years among men (but not significantly so), but this is not the case with women. Furthermore married men with children at the time of entry to doctoral study have shorter TTD [Time to Degree] than single men. In short marriage and fatherhood are beneficial for men when it comes to completing degrees. At the same time, contrary to popular expectation, marriage and motherhood are not detrimental for women (157, emphasis added).

I’ve long felt that the greatest pressure on attrition in graduate school, particularly PhD programmes, but also lower levels, is life. I.e. one is in graduate school at exactly the same time in one’s life when people with similar abilities and training are establishing themselves in careers, business, and, especially, families. As with the “popular expectation,” I assumed this would result in greater attrition pressures on women.

So it was a surprise to see that marital status has its real effect on the attrition of male students and that it doesn’t affect women.

Read the rest of this entry »


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