Digital Studies Fellowship Opportunity at the Library of Congress

The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress has announced a new set of Kluge Fellowship in Digital Studies to examine the impact of the digital revolution on society, culture and international relations using the Library’s collections and resources. I am thrilled to have the chance to talk with Jason Steinhauer, Program Specialist with the Kluge Center about how this unique opportunity could fit with ongoing scholarship and research in digital stewardship.

Trevor: Could you give us a quick overview of the fellowship? What are the key points for anyone interested in it?

Jason: Sure. This is a call to scholars and thinkers worldwide to examine the digital revolution’s impact on how we think, how we live and how we relate to one another. Digital technology has made its way into every facet of our lives. Although it may be too early to fully know what the impact of the digital revolution is, it’s not too soon to ask the question. We hope to catalyze thinkers and scholars to take a step back, take a broad look at the evidence of the digital revolution’s effects on our lives and look deeply to see if something has fundamentally shifted. If so, what is it?  What does it mean for us? What are the implications, positively or negatively? We hope to bring great minds to the world’s greatest repository of knowledge to investigate these questions.

Trevor: A reoccurring theme on The Signal as been bringing data science and computational analysis to bear on cultural heritage collections. For example, work funded through the interagency digging into data grants program often falls into this area. Would this call be an opportunity for data scientists and computer engineering researchers to develop that kind of corpus analysis research on things like the more than 30 million online documents in the National Digital Library mentioned in the call? I would be curious to hear you explain a few of the kinds of things you might imagine scholars could propose in this vein. Further, could you give us a sense of what would make this kind of proposal strong and compelling to reviewers.

Jason: Well, it’s a wide topic and applicants can approach the subject any number of ways. Most important, though, is to ensure that proposals address questions of deep concern to the humanities and the social sciences. We’d encourage scholars to go beyond data science and computational analysis and think about the digital revolution’s impact on language, education, communication, our thought patterns, on our values. Is the digital revolution ushering in a fundamental change in how we communicate, for example?

Some scholars speculate that the language of computer programmers may become the lingua franca of the future. Is that one of the implications of the digital revolution? Are there other implications for language, as more and more exchanges between people and nations are conducted through digital means? Is the digital revolution fundamentally shifting our values? If so, how? We want scholars who are willing to think deeply and critically about the implications of this massive transformation using the Library of Congress collections, as well as additional resources in Washington.

Trevor: Reading the call I thought of two very different streams of digital scholarship that might fit into it. On the one hand, there is work in new media studies that focuses on close readings and analysis of digital materials and their histories. On the other there is work in the digital humanities that focuses on computational analysis of digitized collections of existing primary sources from earlier eras. Matthew Kirshenbaum talked about these different streams of research in a recent interview. Are both of these kinds of research projects in play for the fellowships? If so, could you provide a sense of how these very different kinds of proposals would be evaluated against each other?

Jason: It’s best to think of this as a humanities fellowship that critically explores the digital revolution’s impact on our lives. Not to say that digital scholarship is not interrelated to this, but a deeply-rooted humanities framework may be most helpful in crafting a proposal.

In terms of evaluation, all applications to the Kluge Center are evaluated against five criteria: the significance of the contribution that the project will make to knowledge in the specific field and to the humanities or social sciences generally; the quality of the applicant’s work; the quality of the conception, definition, organization and description of the project; the likelihood that the applicant will complete the project; and the appropriateness of the research for the Library of Congress collections.

We hope to offer up to three fellowships in the first year of this competition and the three selectees may take very different approaches. We’re hoping to see a lot of differing, creative approaches to the topic.

Trevor: The call specifically mentions the Twitter archive. Do you have a sense of the kinds of modes of access proposing scholars would have with the twitter corpus?

Jason: The Twitter archive is a new kind of collection for the Library of Congress. Archiving and preserving outlets such as Twitter will enable future researchers access to a fuller picture of today’s cultural norms, dialogue, trends and events in order to inform scholarship, the legislative process, new works of authorship, education, and other purposes.

The Library has received billions of tweets and corresponding metadata to date, and is now working to develop a stable and sustainable way to preserve and organize the collection. In the near term, the Library is working to develop basic levels of access for on-site researchers and scholars-in-residence. We anticipate this Kluge Fellowship in Digital Studies to be an ongoing program, so we felt it appropriate to mention the Twitter archive as a potential resource, even though the full functionality may not be in place by the time the first fellows arrive. Scholars should not base their proposals around the Twitter archive, but rather consider it as one of the resources to mine while here at the Library of Congress.

Trevor: Aside from its born-digital and digitized collections, the Library of Congress has extensive holdings of personal papers and other primary sources that would seem to offer considerable value to answering questions about the impact of the digital revolution. Off the top of my head, something like John Von Neumann’s papers comes to mind. To help spark potential researchers’ imaginations, do you have any thoughts on particular Library of Congress collections that might be ripe for this call?

Jason: This is a great point. The Library of Congress has 35 million books, millions of manuscripts, moving images, sound recordings, digital collections, journals, newspapers, oral histories, the general humanities collections, the Law Library collections, the records of the U.S. Copyright Office, the holdings of the Science, Business and Technology Division, the writings of 20th and 21st century writers and thinkers… depending on the research question proposed, any number of these collections could be appropriate. The sky is really the limit.

Trevor: The Library of Congress has a sizable collection of video games at the Packard Campus A/V Conservation facility. Would proposals that focused on studying this collection of video games and related materials be relevant to this fellowship? Assuming they are, what would make a proposal to study these materials need to be able to establish to be compelling?

Jason: That’s a great idea. The effect of video games and online simulation on the cultural and societal norms that shape our lives has been seismic. The video game collection could certainly support a proposal; the proposal should indicate how these collections would inform the larger research question.

Trevor: Are there any key final words or thoughts that you want to stress about the program?

Jason: This is a unique moment for the Kluge Center and the Library of Congress. We have an opportunity to step back and ask important questions about ourselves and how we relate to one another in this new digital world. The insights from the scholars and practitioners we bring to Washington will open numerous possibilities for programs, symposia, seminars and more, to explore with policymakers and the public what the digital revolution means to us and future generations.

This fellowship is just the start. We hope people across the world will join us—including The Signal—and those interested should subscribe to our RSS feed on our home page, as well as  check out the Digital Studies Fellowship page on our website. Thanks for letting us share this announcement with your readers, and we hope that some of them will apply!

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