“The Woman Behind the Webtexts”: Cheryl Ball

Dr. Cheryl E. Ball has been working with editing webtexts, also known as scholarly media, since 2001 and has published numerous webtext that are still today relevant to challenging generic and technological conventions. “Webtext” is a technique that was developed in 1996 as a plain html screen that people could log on to and with the added feature of having a few links so one could jump between pages. In the article “Editorial Workflows for Multimedia-Rich Scholarship,” Ball and Douglas Eyman give a brief overview on how to establish and publish webtexts for scholarly use.

Ball also uses webtexts methods when she is teaching her writing class at Illinois State University. In “Assessing Scholarly Multimedia: A Rhetorical Genre Studies Approach,” Ball states that “[t]he major project that I assign students in multimodal composition courses is to compose a webtext, which can include many possible genres, technologies, media, and so forth, but will always be scholarly-creative and aimed at an academic audience” (Ball, 63-64). Ball takes an interest in teaching students these skills that may have never had the opportunity to learn the. She makes the methods simple by making the webtext easy for the intended audience to understand. Ball also discusses issues that arise when working with larger groups while doing a webtext. She states that in larger groups the conversation is harder to maintain due to all the emails that are circulating at a given time. Ball now prefers to work in smaller groups of about 5-7 people so that all the points can be organized and touched on in a timely manner.

One thing that Ball referred to that I loved was how digital humanists should “consider it our responsibility to make judgements about the morality of acts, artifacts, systems, and processes, but not on the morality of people and organizations. Judging the latter is dangerous and misleading: nobody judged immoral is beyond redemption, and no one judged moral is beyond error.” Alluding to many different subjects that are not only from blogs, social media sites, and internet propaganda but also academic texts, it is important that we as scholars do not bash the person behind the work but have a critical conversation of their work without attacking, because this can also backfire.

I am personally looking forward to seeing this genius behind the production of these thousands of webtexts. Ball is truly what we aspire to be in the academia world of digital humanities.


Editorial Practice in Digital Spaces

In anticipation of Cheryl Ball’s upcoming talk (“Rigorous Peer-Review in OA Publishing Environments”), this post explores the formal, developmental, and technological implications/complications of editorial practice across digital spaces. As Director of the Digital Publishing Collaborative at Wayne State University Libraries, project director for Vega, and editor of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, Ball stands at the forefront of the open-access (OA) movement, offering unique insights into the production, evaluation, and dissemination of webtextual scholarship.

Although principles of transparency and cooperation are ostensible cornerstones of the humanistic tradition, this “ethos of openness” has arguably been obscured and impeded by an outdated and lugubrious infrastructure (Fitzpatrick and Avi 4). Proposing OA not as “radically new” but as potentially restorative, advocates gesture toward a future of cross-disciplinary engagement, collaborative dynamism, and academic diversity (Fitzpatrick and Avi 4).

Amidst this lofty rhetoric, Ball acknowledges the many practical challenges associated with systemic implementation. For example, the prevalence of “voiceovers or headshots” in scholarly multimedia renders “double-blind or anonymous review”—an important part of print-based editorial practice—virtually impossible (Ball and Douglas). Quoting Kuhn, she notes the difficulty of “strik[ing] a balance between convention and innovation” especially in the context of digital proliferation and recombination. Given the ever-shifting nature of the field, there are often terminological or definitional misunderstandings. What characterizes/constitutes “webtext”? Is it dynamic delivery, multimodal augmentation, or something more?

To assist in the cultivation and evaluation of “multimedia-rich, digital, screen-based” artifacts that not only supplement but also enact “an author’s scholarly argument” (Ball and Douglas), Ball suggests the use of flexible assessment frameworks—loose “rubrics” that can be adapted to the needs of the material at hand. On a basic level, she expects online journal submissions to exhibit topical suitability, technological functionality/interoperability, and critical development (“Assessing” 75). Beneath these self-evident criteria, however, lie the fundamental characteristics of all well-formed critical products: a conceptual core, a research component, form/content, creative realization, a clear audience, and timeliness (Ball “Assessing” 75).

Of particular importance here is the matter of form and/as content: “The trick of [this] category is that it cannot be assessed separately from the purpose, or conceptual core, of a piece” (Ball “Assessing” 68). Failing to recognize this connection, newcomers will sometimes attempt to expedite the editorial process by plucking “written content from its design,” and, in doing so, “introduce hundreds of small errors that must be undone” (Ball and Douglas). Digital editors/makers are thus encouraged to approach/articulate “design choices (form=content relationship) as rhetorical, aesthetic, technological, and other choices” (Ball “Assessing” 70).

With the constraints and affordances of digitality in mind, it becomes clear that webtextual scholarship requires a set of individualized, adaptive workflows. The anonymity, asynchronicity, and linearity of the traditional process (submission, independent review, acceptance/rejection, copy-editing, layout, printing/distribution) fails—at points—to accommodate the need for editorial iteration and real-time collaboration. Google Hangouts, Skype, and similar tools may occasionally prove useful here; however, they lack the infrastructural scalability and extensibility that a larger entity like Kairos might demand. How then does one systematize a dynamic process?

Enter Vega, an soon-to-be-released academic publishing system “made from a series of application programming interfaces (APIs)—modular and reusable programming tools that specify how software components should interact when combined” (Ball “Building” 109). With features ranging from development tools to peer review tracking, Vega is designed to “guide authors, editors, and publishers through a set of best-practice processes for publishing scholarly multimedia” (Ball “Building” 110).

Exciting as these new technology-enabled spaces for theorization and application may be, Ball cautions against wholesale adoption of any one methodology, framework, or toolset: “my values system for assessing webtexts may not, cannot, will not necessarily be yours” (“Assessing” 68). One must engage in constant evaluation of “community goals and needs,” maintain awareness of “unintended consequences,” and—of course—strive toward transparency throughout the ongoing process of implementation and remediation (Fitzpatrick and Avi 4; Ansolabehere et al. 4). It is only at this juncture of elasticity and structure, rigor and play, self-reflection and collective action, that editorial practice emerges as truly OA-compliant.

Works Consulted

Ansolabehere, Karina; Ball, Cheryl [lead author]; Devare, Medha; Guidotti, Tee; Priedhorsky, Bill; van der Stelt, Wim; Taylor, Mike; Veldsman, Susan; & Willinsky, John. (2016). The moral dimensions of open [access/scholarship/data]. Open Scholarship Initiative Proceedings, Vol. 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.13021/G8SW2G

Ball, Cheryl E. (2012). Assessing scholarly multimedia: A rhetorical genre studies approach. Technical Communication Quarterly, 21 [Special issue: Making the implicit explicit in assessing multimodal composition], 61–77. http://ceball.com/2011/11/26/assessing-scholarly-multimedia/

Ball, Cheryl E. (2017). Building a Scholarly Multimedia Publishing Infrastructure. Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 48(2): 99-115. DOI: 10.3138/jsp.48.2.99 [access at FSU]

Ball, Cheryl E., & Eyman, Douglas. (2015). Editorial workflows for multimedia-rich scholarship. Journal of Electronic Publishing, 18(4). http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0018.406

Ball, Cheryl E. (2013, January 28). The kairotic nature of online scholarly community building. mediaCommons: a digital scholarly network. http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/question/how-do-we-build-digital-cohorts-and-academic-communities/response/kairotic- nature-online-sc

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen, & Santo, Avi. (2012). Open Review: A Study of Contexts and Practices [white paper]. https://mellon.org/media/filer_public/20/ff/20ff03e0-17b0-465b-ae82-1ed7c8cef362/mediacommons-open-review-white-paper-final.pdf

Rigorous Peer Review in Digital Publishing Environments

Friday, February 16, 2:30-3:45 pm
Digital Research & Scholarship Commons (Strozier, lower ground level)

Digital Publishing Environments and Rigorous Peer Review

The Digital Scholars / DH Reading & Discussion Group is pleased to announce our first guest speaker of Spring 2018, Dr. Cheryl Ball, currently director of the Digital Publishing Collaborative at Wayne State University Libraries, project director for Vega, and editor of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. Dr. Ball will ask us to consider how the relationship between “open-access,” “digital” and “publishing” can be both generative and speculative, raising questions about the affordances for academic freedom as well as the constraints for valuation of circulating, publishable objects. Ultimately, Ball will ask us to consider how the implications of this conversation might speak to three principal concerns widely shared among digital humanists: (1) the nature of online scholarly community building; (2) the accessibility of research infrastructures; and (3) the need to maintain rigorous peer review in an open-commenting environment.

All are welcome, regardless of mindset or expertise, and all are welcome to read or peruse the following articles and white papers:

We hope you can join us,

2016-2017 Retrospective

Wednesday, January 24, 12:30-1:45 pm
Williams 415 (4th floor, L off the elevator)

2016-2017 Retrospective: “New” Directions and Contentions in the Digital Humanities

The organizational meeting for Spring 2018 Digital Scholars will be dedicated to a brief retrospective of discussions in 2016 and 2017 surrounding issues of computation, publishing, and pedagogy. Some of these discussions have occurred as critiques of data ethics, while others have served as calls to spatial justice. Many of these discussions invite us to delineate the boundary between mechanisms for and practices of the digital humanities, and all of them have moved incrementally forward in the past two years. The meeting is primarily for enrolled graduate students, but all Digital Scholars participants are welcome to read and join us for conversation on the following:

  • Ball, Cheryl E. “Building a Scholarly Multimedia Publishing Infrastructure.” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 48.2 (Jan 2017). 99-115. DOI: 10.3138/jsp.48.2.99 [access at FSU]
  • Battles, Matthew and Michael Maizels. “Collections and/of Data: Art History and the Art Museum in the DH Mode.” Debates in the Digital Humanities (2016 edition) http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/78
  • Hsu, Wendy F. “Lessons on Public Humanities from the Civic Sphere.” Debates in the Digital Humanities (2016 edition) http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/75
  • Sayers, Jentery. “Dropping the Digital.” Debates in the Digital Humanities (2016 edition) http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/88
  • So, Richard Jean. “All Models Are Wrong.” PMLA 132.3 (May 2017): 668-673. DOI: 10.1632/pmla.2017.132.3.668 [access at FSU]

Enrolled participants are asked to read any 3 of the 5 articles listed above so as to chart a matrix of concerns for grounding our discussions throughout the term. We hope you can join us,


The Invisible Interface

At our meeting on December 1, our group met with Rob Duarte, who — as an artist — offers a unique perspective on how objects can be used as a critique of culture and culture’s tacit political ideologies. What makes these critiques powerful is also what makes them scary.  The “work” may not always be seen as a product of its original intent.  A satirical critique about consumer culture may also be seen through a lens of real needs or wants.  A simplified realization may require an understanding that is unrelated or contrary to the artist’s beginning desires. Duarte’s machine that inserts razor blades into apples, for example, capitalizes on commodified fears in recent cultural memory. It may well be this element of danger that engages the mind for critique and inspires a potential deeper realization: If there were no danger, would there be no need for critique?

One comment that surfaced during discussion was a statement about Millennial Culture: We may realize what is happening upon consumption, but accept the message for its convenience. Similarly, artistic critiques may incite concern that we will one day stop questioning our involvements and simply accept a dystopian society of our own making — we might accept the interface as something invisible.  On the one hand, although invisibility of any interface can make things easier, on the other hand the interface’s invisibility limits creative potential. (For example, the digital camera that adjusts your blurry picture, even if blurring was the intent.)  An invisible interface obscures options that the user can’t see and may not think about.  As more features become embedded in our tools and as interface becomes a more integrated component of human activity, how will this affect our critical making?

Finally, extending Duarte’s theme to questions of alterity: Who makes these interfaces?  As these interfaces become more invisible and embedded, they may subtly alter our personal frameworks — they may begin to alter how we view the world.  As Duarte states, artists mean to create work that provides a frame for others to see the world differently.  Programmers and marketers provide frameworks for access, and the frameworks in turn become embedded cultural practices, wherein users inherit their biases. If consumer culture continues to be built on a principle of invisible interact, then the frames of a select few could conceivably dictate the experiences of whole communities.  An alterity lens might require expanding these constructive frameworks to include more viewpoints.  It might also mean looking at the technologies we use every day, recognizing the biases that went into making them, and finding ways to counter these biases in our daily lives.

The Digital Realm of Artistry

At our Digital Scholars meeting this past Friday, we were honored to have Rob Duarte’s expertise in teaching us about Digital art work. Duarte gave a in depth presentation that consisted of past electronic devices that made a major comeback into modern day art world. The artwork that I appreciated most was the pho bowl with the built-in cell phone holder. This concept is cool and disturbing: cool because we can multitask while eating, disturbing because when we go into restaurants and social gatherings as a society almost everyone is on cell phones. People never look up to essentially enjoy the surroundings around them. Another cool digital artwork invention was the lie detector test that another artist recreated. This particular lie detector test interviewed the autobiographical books of former presidents such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Duarte himself created a very intriguing digital art piece. Duarte created a machine that inserts razor blades into apples. This type of art work can be seen as fearful or a cautionary tale. Either way its brilliant to have in the realm of digital artistry. Digital artwork in my opinion does many things, it teaches us where we have been in the digital world and what our future may look like if we stayed on the same track or sway away from our digital pass and evolve into something we cannot yet describe.

“Am I a man or a machine?” (Dunne, 21). Humans have put so much time and energy into making machines that machines are becoming apart of us. In many of the Digital artworks that we had to examined in the readings a shared trend was man as the machine. Digital Artist such as Marco Zanuso, Matthew Archer, Lisa Krohn, and Stelarc the artist to name a few have incorporated actual human artificial intelligence in their digital designs.

With all the defaults in machines created by humans only reflect the actual defaults of humans. We cannot be perfect therefore our work in machine will never be perfect. In the realm of digital artistry, it captures the imperfectness of the human through the machine.

How Do We Recognize and Create the Ideologies in Electronic Objects?

And How Do We Find Their Alternative Purposes?

For the December 1 meeting of the Digital Scholars Reading group, Rob Duarte will join us to discuss the relationship between technology and people, focusing on the implicit ideologies that are assimilated into their making. His project “Prototype for a Machine that Inserts Razor Blades into Apples” asks us to consider the absurdity not only of machines that outright state their potential harm, but also of the technologies that we rely upon daily. How can we recognize the ideologies behind our use or employment of electronic objects and how does making them transparent provide us with answers about how to use them differently–even when doing so complicates the most seemingly mundane?

Through Dunne and Raby’s synthesizing the use of imaginative speculation (such as in film and literature), we can support our discussion of the relationship between man and machine by thinking of the complexities of working with and around the perceived and actual limitations of technology. Electrical objects at face value are often placed in a vacuum where we can only see it for its initial purpose and not for any other uses. The easily accessible function and programming of technology limit the challenge of its users to further expand our perception of the world and view technology narrowly. This “user-friendliness” minimizes our ability to expand its uses because they are reductionist and limits our creativity. Dunne discusses how this streamlining leads to a dependence of people to their technologies in his work Hertzian Tales: Electronic Products, Aesthetic Experience, and Critical Design.

When the phrase “enslaved to the machine” is said, I tend to think of the familiar dystopian scenery mentioned in Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. The advancement of technology surpasses its creators and humanity witnesses the political ideologies that were all along just behind the surface of their electrical faces. Dunne’s Hertzian Tales provides us with questions about the transparency of our technologies political ideologies. Any utopian technology would function as most believe they do, which is apolitical. However, the reality we face as creators is that our ideologies are implicitly assimilated into the objects that we create.

Utopia, an ideal discussed further by Dunne and Raby is noted by Erik Olin Wright as an impossibility, a fantasy “morally inspired designs for a humane world of peace and harmony unconstrained by realistic considerations of human psychology and social feasibility” but we are encouraged to continue striving for it. There have been notorious individuals who have attempted this and have failed. However, when it comes to innovation in technology and art, this desire for progress is valuable. It’s not so much the pursuit of making Utopia real but the pursuit of getting as close as possible so the alternatives are visible.

These alternatives to the functions of technology as we know them are apparent in Charles Dodge’s use of a speech-synthesize computer, originally used for speech research, to “Speech Songs“. This creative use of technology for its unintended purpose exemplifies the ideologies of a machine and just one of the ways a machine can be alternatively used to create something new and interesting. I viewed this project as also answering the question “When does the purpose that a technology serves in our lives become more valuable than the technology itself?” If the purpose of a technology is altered or expanded upon it continues to remain valuable. It is however up to its creators and users to determine the alternative purpose a technology provides.