July 29th, 2009

I followed some links sent by Charlie today and ended up on the website for the Scholarly Communications Institute. They just released a full report and an executive summary of the SCI 8 meeting on experimental models for scholarly communication. The thing that stuck out to me — because of my interest in anthologies as a genre and as a form of writing that can be taught in composition classroom — was the term “stewardship.” The writers of this executive summary said that scholars in the digital humanities need to increasingly take on the role of stewards in digital scholarship. Stewards are editors and compilers and archivists and anthologizers and curators. They make “thematic collections.” Typically, in the humanities, editing has not been a prestigious activity and it has not been viewed as real scholarship. That needs to change (in the opinion of SCI) because if humanities scholars do not act as stewards, then that role will be left to librarians and system engineers, who do not have the same content knowledge. Humanities scholars need to intervene in that work, but if it is not regarded and rewarded as scholarship, then it won’t happen as much as we need it to.

From my point of view, as a teacher of writing, I would add that, not only do humanities scholars need to perform stewardry on the web, they also need to mentor students on this practice — it needs to be part of the composition that we teach in writing classrooms and elsewhere.  Stewardry,  sometimes seen as pre-critical, is clearly rhetorical and argumentative.  Given that many of our students will have been “born digital,” the mentorship will likely go in both directions.

Before reading this executive summary, I’d never heard this word “stewardship” used in this context but I liked it. All of its precursors — editing, curating, anthologizing, archiving, compiling, aggregating, collecting — have fatal flaws when used in digital contexts. Does anyone know where I can read more about digital stewardship? I was hoping for some citations in the executive summary but it didn’t have any.