Digital Dissertation is a tricky phrase. Google-search it and you’ll note that the first quadrillion responses refer to the ProQuest Digital Dissertation Database or to standards for formatting and submitting the dissertation electronically to university depositories and archives.
But look further: search for born digital examples of dissertations in the humanities, dissertations in which digital technologies are core elements of analysis, intrinsic to the thesis. You’ll eventually stumble across the pioneering dissertations of Chris Boese, Chaining Rhetorical Visions from the Margins of the Margins to the Mainstream in the Zenaverse (Department of Rhetoric and Communications, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1998).
Or that of Virginia Kuhn, Ways of Composing: Visual Literacy in the Digital Age (Department of English, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 2005).
Seek prototypes in history scholarship and you’re likely to enter a black hole.
Digital technologies, we are told again and again, are redefining the practice of history in academia and in public history, “yielding transformations so profound that their nearest parallel is to Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type more than half a millennium ago.”
The dissertation is an ignored product in this redefinition. Not even a proverbial elephant in the room, the dissertation is an unacknowledged step in scaffolded progression of …
[Recap, part one]The results of a survey of students in the doctoral program in history at George Mason University demonstrated that two-thirds of respondents were either fully committed to or seriously considering including a digital component in their dissertations.
Looking at hard questions
Before we can create it, evaluate it, defend it, and submit it, we need to know just what IT is. The seminal logical inquiry becomes Just what is a digital dissertation? The digital dissertation may fall in a vast middle ground between the totally text-based traditional dissertation and the funded digital project realized over numbers of years by large staffs and collaborative teamwork. It is also differentiated from the work published digitally in open-source scholarly journals such as the Journal of Digital Humanities.
Certain qualities seem integral to any proposed definition, however. The dissertation is likely to remain an individual work, the exemplification of one person’s creative intellectual processes. The dissertation is terminal; that is, unlike many digital projects where sustainability is a consideration, the dissertation has an end point, a situational determination that the work is done. As a result, the technology(ies) upon which a digital dissertation is built is/are part of that dissertation and …