Promotion & Tenure Criteria for Assessing Digital Research in the Humanities

Introduction and Goals

Digital Humanities crosses the boundaries between computer science and humanities disciplines such as cultural anthropology, archaeology, classics, English, history, modern languages and literatures, library science, and the arts. The emphasis is on humanities as a whole rather than specific disciplines; however some scholarship is more pertinent to specific discliplines than others. Where it comes closest to computer science is in the development of scholarly tools. Largely, however, the emphasis is on the humanities, and faculty may be engaged in creating new approaches to understanding the humanities through technological means.[1] Faculty engaged in digital humanities scholarship need to be evaluated rigorously and fairly. This document strives to provide a resource which outlines criteria for evaluating dossiers in this scholarly area.


Increased use of digital technologies has led in some quarters to rapid changes in the form and conduct of scholarly activity. Yet, digital scholarship in the humanities remains unfamiliar to many colleagues pursuing more traditional forms of work. Digital scholarship possesses a technical component, is interdisciplinary in form and substance, and is often (and necessarily) pursued through collaborative efforts. Digital scholars often rely upon research teams comprised of other scholars, librarians, archivists, and technical experts. Consequently, there is a need to alert review committees, which may be more familiar with the solitary scholar model in the humanities, about the scope, method, and contributions of digitally-based inquiry in the humanities. Understanding the nature of digital humanities scholarship is all the more important at a time of uncertainty for the monograph. As university presses face the future with fewer resources, digital humanities offer an alternative means of publication. How then can this digital publication be evaluated?

An excellent resource can be found in the "Candidates and Faculty Members" section of the Guidelines for Evaluating Work with Digital Media in the Modern Languages, and gradually other groups are beginning to discuss and develop guidelines. It is our hope that the criteria developed by the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will aid in such conversations, while serving the immediate needs of our institution.

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The traditional criteria of excellence, impact, originality, and reputable publication apply to both print and digital work in the humanities. The candidate's folders should define the uniqueness of his or her research with respect to content, process, and outcomes. Specifically, how does the digital component of the humanities research contribute to its originality? What are the implications in terms of audience, pedagogy, and the creation of research tools? Promotion and tenure committees should review folders with these questions in mind and will want to consider applicable criteria for evaluation.

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Criteria for Evaluation

These are the types of criteria for evaluation that should be applied toward evaluation of candidates' folders. Not all will apply to each candidate; thus, committees will wish to use those most suitable to the candidate's research and discipline.

  • Peer Review of digital research sites or tools
  • Collaboration or connections with related digital research projects at other institutions
  • Links from other sites to the scholar's digital research or other citation of the research
  • Use of internationally accepted encoding standards (e.g., XML, TEI guidelines)
  • Technical innovation and sophistication of projects
  • Preparation of materials must involve consultations with experts in design and implementation
  • Long-term accessibility, viability for archival use
  • Compatibility between design, content, and medium

Additional Criteria

  • Grant funding received. Note: Many granting agencies use peer review in determining awards.
  • Pedagogical application and assessment
  • Conference presentations
  • Print publications resulting from the digital research
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Additional Resources

The following links may be useful to reviewers who need more information about standards or digital humanities resources:

Special thanks to Geoffrey Rockwell of McMaster University for his advice.

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[1] For a fuller discussion, see such publications as:

  • Companion to Digital Humanities, ed. Susan Schreibman, Raymond Siemens, and John Unworth (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004).
  • Hockey, Susan. Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
  • McCarty, Willard. Humanities Computing (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005).
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