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Trying to Move the Needle: Expanding the DH Reviewer Pool

Posted in Digital Humanities

Today it was #Brexit. Two days ago it was #nobillnobreak. Two weeks ago it was #Orlando. Friends and colleagues in Texas are attending workshops on how to deal with campus carry. Friends and colleagues in the U.K. and Europe are wondering about … everything. I don’t mean to conflate the profound and disturbing events and trends that have led to fear and hatred and tragedy on so many levels. What can we do in the face of all of this, when doors are being slammed shut, and friends and colleagues are in real physical and personal and professional danger?

We can keep wedging open a door. Even a little bit.

It’s been almost exactly a year since I was drawn formally into the increasingly fraught and urgent discourse on diversity and inclusivity within the digital humanities. And it is through this lens, trying to make sense of the regional and cultural complexities of diversity in our rhizomatic academic discipline, that I have watched and listened and read, and received advice from many wise people who have patiently helped me to understand why seemingly miniscule efforts like changing the climate of an annual conference can actually help us affect change on a much larger level. At DHSI two weeks ago, one of those wise and patient friends, Kathi Inman Berens, advised me to think about DH2017 in terms of small amounts of meaningful progress. She said something to the effect that, ‘if we move the needle just seven degrees we’ll still have moved the needle.’ So it’s time to start moving the needle.

Earlier this week, after really valuable, productive, instructive collaboration among the combined program committees for DH2017 and DH2018, I submitted to the ADHO Conference Coordinating Committee a recommendation that we expand the DH conference reviewer pool. My request was that the CCC consider, comment upon, and amend the proposal if necessary, and then forward it to the Steering Committee for further consideration and hopefully adoption this summer, so that we can then reach out to Constituent Organizations, Special Interest Groups, and other associated committees and invite nominations.

I made the decision to do this formally, inviting input from and collaboration with the joint committees, to begin to frame the discourse about diversity and outreach in terms of the annual conference – knowing that as a program committee our purview is limited, but aware that the conference is in some ways and for some colleagues a metonymy for the discipline. In the process of drafting the proposal, we have identified further subjects that the committee will address regarding how the submission and review process works, and what we can’t effect for DH2017 I hope we can move into position for DH2018.

I won’t publish the proposal now (I think it’s appropriate to wait until the CCC has given their input and it has been reviewed by the SC) but think it’s reasonable to share the rationale behind the proposal.

How does adding more reviewers help our process?
With more *active* reviewers, more abstracts can be thoroughly vetted and we are better able to consider the value of a broader array of proposals.

What does adding new reviewers to our pool offer to our conference(s)?
It better reflects and represents the dimension of scholar-practitioners in DH whose work is presented at the conference in all inclusive senses (in terms of language, region, race, ethnicity, culture, labor, identity, as well as the ever-expanding types of scholarship, publication, and expression that are associated with DH).

Why does adding new reviewers help our discipline?
It supports ADHO’s recognition of the global as well as professional footprint of DH, and invites participation from scholars who may have been and/or are currently underrepresented.

To give you a sense of scale, approximately 450 reviewers took part in the DH2016 conference review process. There are some 3,500 registered users of ADHO’s conference database. You can see the geographical disbursement in the rough visualization below (NB: I have shared only a screenshot of a CartoDB visualization; several members of the program committees and I have been trying to clean up data, but it is not yet in a state where I feel that I can responsibly share more dynamic and sophisticated visualizations.) Even this snapshot reveals what a huge task and opportunity we have ahead of us.

DH conference reviewers (green) and registered members of ADHO conference database (orange).

Claire Clivaz drew my attention this week to something that is particularly promising (and of which I was unaware): according to ADHO’s Annex to Conference Protocol, “[a]uthors of accepted papers from the past two years should be invited to serve as reviewers; reviewers should also be encouraged to recommend additional reviewers.”

You see what that means, yes? If the Steering Committee approves our proposal, then in August I will send invitations to a remarkable number of people (well, remarkable from a disciplinary perspective) asking you/them to commit to being an active reviewer and nominating your/their colleagues to take part in the review process for DH2017 and DH2018. We’ll have expanded the criteria for nomination, as well, in the hope that we really can begin to recognize many, many more of the professionals who constitute our discipline. I think that could nudge the needle just a bit.

Thinking best thoughts for friends and colleagues everywhere who suffer in the face of adversity. Be strong and resilient.