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“Research without Borders: Negotiating Contracts and Open Scholarship” (Columbia University, February 27, 2014)

The panel entitled “Research without Borders: Negotiating Contracts and Open Scholarship” took place on February 27th, 2014 that featured different panelists, ranging from professors to data scientists. Although Digital Humanities wasn’t the main topic of this event, despite having a Professor of the subject at the panel, but it none the less had incorporated this field into their own profession.

Dennis Tenen, an assistant professor of Digital Humanities and Media Studies, was introduced by the speaker Manan Ahmed (an assistant History Professor at Columbia University) as a “unique position that not many departments have” (Ahmed, 2014). Sadly, despite his “unique position” (Ahmed, 2014) at Columbia University, he didn’t speak about his job details in terms of and digital humanities, but rather spoke about a website called “Skeptics Stack Exchange.” He referred us to this website as another way to seek information about certain questions of intellectual curiosity to its users. However, a requirement of their questions posted on the website must be backed up by a reliable resource, i.e. no independent research (Tenen, 2014).

Users can also vote on the most important topic and thus keep the thread popular on the website (Tenen, 2014). It is also within the users rights of the site if the topic is deemed offensive to get removed depending on how many negative votes it gets (Tenen, 2014). Tenen explained he goes on the Skeptics website because its “fun, to support the cause, civic duty and to experiment in peer review” (Tenen, 2014). He also appreciated the rewards the website gave him, such as points when his posts or comments were voted as the best, etc (Tenen, 2014). This can also assist him in his academic life since he peer reviews for fellow colleagues’ papers. In conclusion, Skeptics can be considered a different form of digital humanities, since it is a way to allow users to communicate and discuss important issues from reliable sources.

Tenen then related his postings on this website to academic publishing online versus in a journal. Tenen felt posting online has more opportunities/rewards than posting in a paper publication (Tenen, 2014). When a paper is published, the work itself according to Tenen is not recognized and obtaining feedback is also time consuming (Tenen, 2014). Such as, when an essay is being submitted for publishing in a journal, for example, it takes a year to review.  If additional corrections are needed, it can take more than a year to publish since its sent back to the writer to fix them. Tenen feels there is more reward in publishing online since there is “speed, visible work, virtuous participation, transparency of prestige, efficient peer reviews, feedback” (Tenen, 2014). Despite the undeniable benefits of posting online, Skeptics doesn’t seem a part of the Digital Humanities since its mostly discussions posted by users on a forum. The articles themselves are posted elsewhere on another source, probably not created by the individual posting on Skeptics. It is a shame that a professor of Digital Humanities and media studies didn’t present something relating to the field. According to Burdick in his book, Digital Humanities Fundamentals: “The mere use of digital tools for the purpose of humanistic research and communication does not qualify as Digital Humanities. Nor, as already noted, is Digital Humanities to be understood as the study of digital artifacts, new media, or contemporary culture in place of physical artifacts, old media, or historical culture” (Burdick, 2012). According to Burdick , the definition of Digital Humanities is “new modes of scholarship and institutional units for collaborative, trans-disciplinary, and computationally engaged research, teaching and publication” (Burdick, 2012). Despite the first part of his speech not being related to Digital Humanities, speaking of new forms of publications and the benefits of posting online does relate to the topic. However, being a Professor of Digital Humanities, Tenen could have presented the other databases he posts his publications on. However, in terms of “Research without Borders”, Tenen is bringing the information to a forum where it wouldn’t have been otherwise shown. Tenen still fits Burdick’s description in terms of publishing his works in a computational way. In spite of this, Tenen was a good speaker for the event but how his works related to Digital Humanities could have been more in depth since he is involved in the field.

Lela Prashad, the final speaker, is a Chief Data Scientist at NiJeL who performed numerous research projects that she developed into online databases for individual companies, etc. Her main goal overall, as she stated in the lecture, was to present research that benefited the community (Prashad, 2014). Prashad’s work relates most to the digital humanities field since her company, NiJeL, is commissioned by other companies to make maps, databases, etc. to present their research. One digital mapping project she worked one was called “Riverkeeper” and was a data collection site about the “quality monitoring data along the Hudson from New York Harbor to Waterford, NY since 2007, but had no effective means of communicating their findings to the public on their website. NiJeL developed overview maps, tables and customized charts showing each sampling location and the amount of pollution tracked over time” (“Riverkeeper,” 2007).

These maps she helped established at NiJeL can be considered apart of digital humanities since they are databases to assist the community. What gives digital humanities so many options is because the databases and information can be of any assistance to numerous fields. As stated above, Burdick wrote that Digital Humanities: “refers to new modes of scholarship and institutional units for collaborative, trans-disciplinary, and computationally engaged research, teaching and publication” (Burdick, 2012).  Also, because they are done online, they give more mobility to be spread across numerous communities and be able to assist more people. Prashad’s work fits into this category of digital humanities as stated by Claire Ross in her book entitled “Digital Humanities in Practice”:


“As well as studying users, and trying to design more suitable resources for their needs, digital resources can also integrate user-generated content, using social media and crowdsourcing techniques, as Claire Ross shows in Chapter 2. Social media has attracted millions of users, many of whom have integrated these sites into their daily work practices. Although this is sometimes seen as an ephemeral leisure activity – being on Facebook as a distraction from real work – social media is increasingly attracting the attention of academic researchers, who are intrigued by its affordances and reach. Social networks, blogs, podcasts and crowdsourcing are now central to our work in digital humanities. Because of their ease of use, they offer an opportunity for powerful information sharing, collaboration, participation and community engagement” (Ross, 2012).

Through her work at NiJeL, Prashad has made numerous data projects that have assisted the community through crowdsourcing and as well as word of mouth. Her mappings can relate to numerous territories and thus, give information more possibilities of being noticed since they are done in interesting ways. Another example of Prashad’s work is a project entitled “Harass map” which began in 2005 after “one of our four co-founders was working at an NGO in Cairo. Overwhelmed by the awful sexual harassment she and her co-workers encountered on a daily basis, she decided to start investigating the issue in order to understand whether sexual harassment was as common in wider society. After circulating a survey, she realized that it was in fact a much bigger problem, affecting most women in Egypt – and that many people were raring to do something about it. So, together with volunteers and friends, she started a campaign to address sexual harassment which eventually got adopted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights” (“Harassmap- how and,” 2005).

The focus of the map, according to Prashad, was to determine what kind of harassment was occurring in Egypt in certain forms (Prashad, 2014). It was also created to determine where the harassment had occurred in order to take more precaution in those areas. Upon clicking on the areas themselves, the kinds of harassment reported by users and what occurred  (“The map,” 2004). Most of the sources are unverified but the users themselves wrote they felt nothing different would occur had they gone to the police (“The map,” 2004). The website has also grown since they developed the map itself. Those who run the website have a volunteer section, places for therapy for harassment victims, and a section to fill out about the disturbances themselves. An issue that arose after the website was created, Prashad noted, was that the website became underused after a certain amount of time (Prashad, 2014). The women commissioned NiJeL to create Harassmap began to prefer offering their services in public, such as meetings, etc. rather than using their website to its full potential (Prashad, 2014). Prashad brought up the question how to make their digital creations useful in order not to be forgotten (Prashad, 2014). Despite this being the choice of the website’s commissioners than Prashad herself, Harassmap is still an effective database and tool within Digital Humanities to help the community at large.

In conclusion, both speakers referred to in this paper how they are presenting data using digital humanities in order to inform the public of new information in an intriguing way. Despite Tenen’s not necessary being related to Digital Humanities, he is still presenting his research to a forum that wouldn’t have seen the information otherwise and be able to discuss it amongst fellow users. Prashad’s work included interactive maps of various subject matters such as harassment, polluted waterways, etc. These various possibilities for digital humanities demonstrate how its possibilities are endless since numerous and various databases are still being created today.


  1. Ahmed, M. (2014, 02). Research without borders: Negotiating constraints and open scholarship. Presentation delivered at Columbia University Research without borders: negotiating constraints and open scholarship.
  2. Burdick, A. (2012). Questions & answers 1 digital humanities fundamentals. In Digital Humanities (pp. 122-124). Retrieved from
  3. Harassmap- how and why we began. (2005). Retrieved from
  4. Prashad, L. (2014, 02). Research without borders: Negotiating constraints and open scholarship. Presentation delivered at Columbia University Research without borders: negotiating constraints and open scholarship.
  5. Riverkeeper. (2007). Retrieved from
  6. Ross, C. (2012). Social media for digital humanities and community engagement. In Digital Humanities in PracticeRetrieved from
  7. Tenen, D. (2014, 02). Research without borders: Negotiating constraints and open scholarship. Presentation delivered at Columbia University Research without borders: negotiating constraints and open scholarship.
  8. The map. (2004). Retrieved from

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