Academic Exchange: What audience are you aiming for with Practical Matters?
Liz Bounds: We're trying to aim at some different audiences, which is tough. There's one audience--scholars in the field--who might hear about this in more conventional ways, like at a scholarly meeting. But we also wanted to be accessible to people who might be scholars in other fields, or who might not be scholars at all. The Internet makes it possible to follow a connection, and you go, Look, there's this whole journal that's doing all this stuff. The web-based platform and the nature of the medium enable it to be used in ways we don't fully anticipate yet.
AE: The journal is staffed by students in the Graduate Division of Religion. How is it structured and funded?
LB: At the moment funding is primarily from a Lilly Foundation grant, which got us started. Lilly's desire is that we ultimately be self-sufficient. It's been a remarkable coincidence that the emergence of this journal happened with the emergence of the digital initiatives at the library. That support from Emory has been critical. It includes server support and staff support. Production and contents of the journal are managed by the Practical Matters staff, but the enabling platform and ability to use that platform are what Emory has contributed. These are skills that are going to start changing the criteria for what is scholarship. It's going to be slow, but it's going to happen.
We, like Southern Spaces, are a student-run journal, but we're not a student journal. That's a huge distinction. We have a faculty advisory board that periodically reviews the journal and gives feedback. But the complexity and rapid changes in the digital environment are such that we need more than that, so now I am serving as a faculty advisor.
AE: How is digital technology changing scholarship?
LB: It's going to have to change for lots of reasons. One is material, or economic. Scholarly presses won't be able to provide monographs anymore. It was already very difficult before the economic downturn. So there's a practical dimension that requires change.
Simultaneously, there's a perceptual dimension. Traditional scholarship has tended to cleave to that cultural divide between popular and academic, but people are experiencing the world through multiple media. That may mean we need to think about different forms of scholarship. This shift links with our conversation at Emory about the public dimension of scholarship, which has not been traditionally considered important for tenure. This question of new media will get linked with questions of accessibility and audience as we are thinking about the criteria for tenuring faculty. People are tenured now in relationship to the opinion of a particular guild, and I think universities need to ask, Are these really the only criteria that we want? I'm not saying we should get rid of the traditional criteria, but saying to ask if there are other faculty who are valuable to the university who may be evaluated by some different criteria.
AE: How has Practical Matters addressed the question of peer review?
LB: We wanted to try to keep the twin goals of greater access and high academic standards. Our students worked very hard on developing the peer review process. I was amazed when the student who has done the most in film studies said to me that even the film studies journals don't have peer review standards for film. They have peer review standards for scholarship about film, but not for scholarship as film. There is one video in the journal that is a piece of ethnographic film work, which demonstrates that film itself is scholarship. The material in the journal that is peer reviewed is in a particular section.
AE: Where does curation fall within the wider concept of scholarship?
LB: Curation requires an incredible amount of scholarship, even when it's done for an exhibit on the web. Visual examples, such as historical documents or photos, might require detailed written captions that offer a commentary on each one and contextualize the work. To do that well takes an immense amount of research.
AE: What's in the future for digital scholarship?
LB: I am reasonably clear about the enormous impact of digital media in terms of pedagogy and increased access. What it means for scholarship I'm still mulling over. There are certain simple things I understand, like access to collections of documents or photographs. But how does this kind of access change the scholarship itself? I don't think we know how to think about that yet. It has to be an open conversation for a while.