Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Date of this Version

May 2006


Paper delivered to the American Literature Association, Digital Americanists Panel, May 2006. Copyright 2006 Andrew Jewell.


As digital Americanists, we are in the exciting but somewhat unfortunate position of having to give new ideas a try. Some of us will succeed and alter the paradigms of American literary scholarship; some of us will, like Lucius Sherman, one day look a little ridiculous. Though I think we can trust the value of some of our digital work, like making important but hard to find texts rigorously edited and fully accessible, we cannot finally predict which experiments will succeed and which will fail. As academics with tenure and review committees in our future, many of us do not feel that we have the luxury to fail, or, more appropriately, that we do not have the luxury to have our successes be unrecognizable to the wizened members of the committee. Therefore, it is important that we begin to make our work, and the digital work of our peers, more fully recognized by the profession. We need to offer one another the security to innovate, for digital media can be a new and powerful way to discover and articulate fresh ideas about American literature and culture.

The prospects for digital American literary study are, I think, quite good, but a true flowering of this work will only happen when digital projects are more securely supported by professional structures, when, for example, there are ample mechanisms for peer review, serious considerations of digital projects in the pages of established American literature journals, and tenure committees and departments fully supportive of non-print publications and of thoughtful risk-taking. We do not know what will ultimately be accepted as the most valuable kinds of digital scholarship, so we must help create a profession that allows interesting ideas to be pursued, even if there are no assurances for their success.