No more paywalls: Find the full-text of an article for free using Unpaywall


Last week, Impactstory released a trial version of Unpaywall- a highly anticipated tool that links you to free full-text  articles as you browse the Internet. In other words, a one-stop-shop for open access articles. I downloaded Chrome on my Mac  at home just to try it out (currently, the extension only works in Chrome and Firefox). Here’s some more information, a few of my initial thoughts, and the results of my own personal research study.

What is Unpaywall?

Unpaywall is an extension that allows you to find open access versions of paywalled research papers as you browse the web. Just click on the tab and it will take you to the full-text if available- free, easy to use, and 100% legal.


Unpaywall extension in Chrome



A green tab means that the full-text is available (click on the tab to go to the full-text); a grey tab means that there is no full-text available



Full-text article


How many articles are currently indexed in Unpaywall?

According to Unpaywall’s website,  over 10 million legal open access articles are currently available.

Where do the articles come from?

The articles have either been published in an open access journal (Gold open access) or they are full-text PDFs that authors have uploaded to institutional repositories, subject repositories, or preprint servers (Green open access). Unpaywall relies on open data services freely available on the web, such as PubMed Central. DOAJ, and Crossref, Datasite, and BASE. After pulling all of this data, Unpaywall uses the article’s DOI number and searches a number of sources for an OA version that article. In this way, it is very similar to oaDOI- a tool that searches for an open access version of an article using the  digital object identifier for that article (DOI). However, unlike oaDOI, where you have to enter the DOI manually into a search box, Unpaywall performs this search while running in the background – basically eliminating a step.

How is Unpaywall different from #icanhazpdf or Sci-Hub?

The major difference between Unpaywall and #icanhazpdf or Sci-Hub is that Unpaywall’s method of getting full-text articles is perfectly legal. Unlike Sci-Hub, which is currently facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit due to copyright infringement, Unpaywall finds copies of articles that are published in open access journals or that authors have chosen to share via institutional repositories, subject repositories, or preprint servers. In addition to working with, rather than against, copyright laws, the other great thing about Unpaywall is that, by choosing to use it, you are helping to support the Open Access movement. Traditionally, it has been hard to locate open access articles. Unpaywall is tool that streamlines this process by making open access articles more discoverable to researchers.

How often is Unpaywall able to find the full-text of an article you are looking for?

On their website, Impactstory claims a nearly 50% success rate- a percentage that varies by year and by subscription. However, the creators predict greater success, as more and more papers are made open access with recent open access mandates in the United States and the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy right here in Canada.

Sounds great right? But does Unpaywall actually work as well as the Impactstory claims? To find out, I tested this statistic myself using articles from  Almetric’s Top 100 Articles of 2016 and good ol’ Google Scholar. Here’s what I found…


Every year, Altmetric releases a top-100 list of the most-discussed articles. Of the articles listed in Altmetric’s Top 100 Articles 2016, roughly 30% of the articles were published under a Gold open access license– meaning that they were published in an open access journal (See Figure 1). Altmetric states that this number is higher than in past years.

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Figure 1. Of the one hundred articles in Altmetrics’s Top 100 2016, roughly 70%  were not published in an open access journal; 30% were published in an open access journal

Unpaywall found copies of these Gold open access articles over 80% of the time and had about a 20% failure rate (see Figure 2). Hopefully, this failure rate will improve after Impactstory works out a few initial growing pains.***

***Note: The DOIs for the missing Gold articles have since been fixed by Unpaywall. ***


Figure 2. Percentage of Gold OA articles where a full-text version was found by Unpaywall


However, the results get even more interesting. Of the 69 articles that were not published in an open access journal (aka articles that would normally be hidden behind a paywall), Unpaywall was able to find a full-text version for 25 of these articles. That’s 36% more articles that are freely available to you thanks to Unpaywall (See Figure 3). These articles were self-archived, meaning that they were uploaded by the author(s) to an institutional repository, subject repository, or to a preprint server. In other words, these are Green open access articles.



Figure 3. Percentage of full-text found for articles that were not published in an open access journal


Overall, my results match the 50% success rate claimed by Impactstory. Of the 100 articles in Altmetric’s Top 2016 list, Unpaywall found a full-text copy 53% of the time (53 full-text articles were found; 47 articles no full-text found).

In summary, Unpaywall is a great tool for finding full-text versions of articles with a few shortcomings. If you haven’t given the tool a try already, I’d highly recommend testing it out before its official April 4th release date.

Tool at a Glance:


  • Easy to install and use
  • Works seamlessly in the background- no extra steps needed
  • Colour coding option for tab allows you to differentiate between Gold OA articles and Green OA articles
  • Found full-text versions of articles over 50% of the time
  • Found full-text versions of articles that were previously behind paywalls (not published OA) or not as easy to find


  • Extension is only available currently for Chrome and Firefox
  • Some articles that were published in open access journals were not found
  • No way to store, cite, or share articles once found



For the Wealth of Nations?: Scholarly Piracy, the Public Good, and the (De)Commodification of Information


The main underlying driving force behind traditional economics is greed.

In a capitalist free market economy, only those who are willing to pay the price for products or services receive access to them. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith suggests that it is this selfishness and competition for scarce resources that drives the economy, as “every individual … intends only his own gain, and he is …led by an invisible hand to promote an end that was no part of his intention” (273). According to Smith’s invisible hand metaphor, each person acts in their own self-interest, which generates a demand for goods and services. This demand compels organizations to deliver these products in the most efficient manner possible and for the most profit. This system is self-sufficient and self-regulating and is at its most efficient when the government does not intervene (Birdsall 5).

Information is a commodity because it has value; it is a marketable item that is produced to satisfy an individual’s wants or needs. This definition of information is not new, but it became much more apparent with the commercial exploitation if the Internet. As Francis Heylighen notes, before the turn of the century, and “the advent of commercial interests on the Internet, the reigning culture among its users was one of freedom, cooperation and sharing, not of competition and exclusion” (2). Early Internet users were mostly researchers, who used the Net to exchange information and to get feedback on their work. In this context, the Internet became a public tool to disseminate information as widely as possible and at no additional cost to the user. Various businesses, however, soon turned to the Internet to make a profit through advertising, sales, and intellectual property rights (Heylighen 3). As a result, information became rivalrous or a private good, an item that, if used by one person, is unavailable to others (“Private Good.”).  In a free market economy, information is understood to be restricted in access, costly, and often only partially available- or, in other words, as a commodity that warrants competition.

Today, information is still a commodity- but it is the scholarly publishing industry that profits from the commodification of knowledge at the expense of consumers (libraries and their users). In order to operate, this free market economy relies on two tenets: excludability and rivalry.  

  1. Excludability

Excludability is the ability of sellers to force consumers into buyers, in which the product goes to the highest bidder. A good or a service is defined as excludable if it is possible to prevent consumers who have not paid for the product from having access to it (DeLong and Froomkin).

Libraries must pay a subscription fee to receive access to most journals. Consumers (institutions or individuals) who do not pay -or who cannot pay due to soaring journal price costs- do not receive access to this information.

2. Rivalry

Rivalry refers to the competition for resources, in which goods can be construed as either rival or non-rival (DeLong and Froomkin)

Knowledge is non-rival as it can not be depleted with repeated use. In other words, just because one person has access to an article, this does not stop another from using it. However,  access to information becomes more and more restricted as it becomes more costly. This scarcity  leads to competition- not between publishers (currently an ogliopoly with the Big 5) but between consumers for these resources. Each library acts in their own self-interest to purchase resources for their users, which generates a demand for these goods and services.

However, knowledge is and ought to be a public good. In other words, it should be non-excludable and non-rivalrous. There are many benefits when information is made publicly available and is not blocked by paywalls. Some of these benefits include: greater visibility and research impact, increased opportunity for collaboration, accelerated discovery, greater transparency with research funds and grants, increased creativity and innovation, and improved education for all.


Now, in the age of the World Wide Web, it is possible for research findings to be disseminated free of charge to anyone who wishes to read them. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the rampant increase in scholarly piracy, an illegal practice in which information published in articles and books is made freely available to all and without any apparent financial benefit to contributors.

Lets take a look at a few examples that have been in the spotlight recently:

Sci-Hub: Over the past year, some 47 million research articles have been made freely available through a site called Sci-Hub and thousands of papers are downloaded on a daily basis. The site uses login credentials that are submitted by those sympathetic to the cause or by accessing articles from  LibGen– another Russian site where users can search for pirated full-text science articles.

r/Scholar: A community on Reddit (subreddit) where redditors (users) post the title and details of the article they are looking for and another redditor obtains the article for them. Currently has over 25,000 subscribers and roughly  5 -10 article requests by redditors a day

#icanhazdPDF: A hashtag used on Twitter to request access to academic journal articles which are hidden behind paywalls using the article’s title,  DOI, or other identifiers

But what happens when private goods are made public?  

Well, we go back to the original intended use of the Internet. Back to a community of researchers who use the Internet to exchange information and ideas and to get feedback on their work. Back to when the Internet was not used as a tool for the commercial gain of greedy publishers who profit at the expense of consumers. Although the end may not justify the means, such incentives turn information into a public good that can be shared by all.

But how does a market thrive when greed is not used to elicit production?

Public goods present a problem for present day economists. In traditional economic practice, price serves to elicit production. As Murray and Trosow adequately summarize, information economies are based on the principle that “information- and knowledge-based goods and services will be underproduced without a guarantee of sufficient market-based financial incentives to creators and owners” (n.p.). A market cannot sustain itself when people use and enjoy information without having to pay for it. Also, all other things being equal, people will tend to concentrate their efforts on producing for profit. Thus, the rules of supply and demand that govern a free-market economy are inoperable when it comes to public goods. Economists refer to this imbalance between supply and demand as total market failure. Total market failure occurs with public goods due to inefficiency in the allocation of goods and services. In other words, the quantity of a product demanded by consumers does not equate to the quantity supplied by suppliers (Murray and Trosow). Scholarly piracy thus shakes the foundations of the standard case for the market, as this new market is not one that is driven by selfishness and greed.

But how then do such markets operate? To go back to Smith’s invisible hand theory and the idea that intellectual property is necessary to stimulate innovation- how does a market survive when price is not used to elicit production? And not only survive, but flourish? The answer, I would posit, is found in the concept of altruism.

Altruism is the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. More simply put, altruism is acting with an unselfish regard for others, even if it is detrimental to the individual. By extension, altruistic economics is a system that recognizes that people are not completely inherently selfish (Kolm and Ythier 85). Instead of a free market economy, this system is more like a gift economy. It functions based on a mode of exchange, in which resources are not sold to the highest bidder for money, but given freely and without the implication of future rewards (85-86). This altruistic model is fitting to describe the pirating of thousands of scholarly documents, in which users voluntarily upload these resources for the good of all and with no apparent benefit to them- financial or otherwise.

Yet, in an altruistic economy, it is not detrimental for users to share information with others on the dark web. In fact, according to Heylighen, this sharing of information actually benefits contributors. He argues that, by sharing with a community of users, the sharer will experience those “good feelings” that come with the knowledge that they have helped to fulfill the information needs of society (9). These “feel good feelings” result from contributing to a community that appreciates the user’s contribution, even without any formal recognition for a job well done. The example that Heylighen gives to back up his claim is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a web based application that keeps a very detailed account of all the changes made by its users and yet, it is impossible to see how much an individual author has contributed to the system. Despite its anonymous authorship, Wikipedia is one of the fastest growing open-source software programs on the World Wide Web, with more contributors than any other similar platform (10).

This example illustrates the benefits of altruistic sharing and, perhaps, offers at least a partial explanation of the reasons why scholars contribute papers to r/Scholar, Twitter, and LibGen. The success of Reddit, for example, can be attributed to its karma system. When posts are submitted to a subreddit, such as r/Scholar, redditors can vote for (upvote) or against them (downvote).  r/Scholar also has a front page that shows newer submissions that have been rated highly. Redditors can also post comments about the submission and respond to other comments; these comments themselves can also be upvoted and downvoted. The more points or upvotes a user has, the more “karma” they have, which reflects how much good the user has done for the r/Scholar community. In other words, redditors contribute papers to r/Scholar because it makes them feel good about themselves and because they are hoping that their good deeds will be recognized by other members of the community.


Source: Reddit FAQ 

People also work on such projects, however, with the hope that they will receive some help in return. Although this idea appears to contradict an altruistic economic model, in which unselfish authors offer their expertise for the public good, reciprocity is actually a key component of altruism and a gift giving economy (Kolm and Ythier 85). The success of such initiatives therefore can be attributed, at least partially, to reciprocal altruism. Users share these scholarly materials with the hope that others will help them out in return and provide them with resources that they need in the future.

If greed is what drives the information economy today, then scholarly piracy complicates such self-serving ends. The main principles of excludability and rivalry, that have traditionally been used to explain the success of capitalist markets, fail when applied to this new economy of information. Furthermore, the implementation and relative success of these ventures, in which information is made publicly available for the good of all and in which users do not profit financially from their work, suggests that greed is not the only way to elicit production. Alternative models do exist and they can be used to describe the success of these systems and public goods. One such model is altruistic economics, a system that is not based on selfishness, but on reciprocity and shared understanding. Altruism offers a good explanation for why researchers continue to contribute  to these projects, without the expectation of financial gain and with the very real possibility of litigation.

However, a guerrilla open access approach is not the answer. While the scholarly publishing system is undoubtedly broken, there  are other sustainable (and legal) economic alternatives in this information economy where scholars can make their work freely accessible online. For more information on how to make your work Open Access click here.


Benefits for Authors.” Nature Publishing Group. Web. 5 Apr. 2016.

Birdsall, William F. “A Political Economy of Librarianship?” Hermes: Revue Critique 6 (2000): 1-14. Web. 4 Apr. 2016.

DeLong, J. Bradford, and A. Michael Froomkin. “Speculative Microeconomics for Tomorrow’s Economy.” First Monday 5.2 (2000). Web. 3 Apr. 2016.

Garner, Carolyn Caffrey, and Gabriel J. Caffrey. “Bypassing Interlibrary Loan via Twitter: An Exploration of #icanhazpdf Requests.” ACRL 2015.

Heylighen, Francis. “Why is Open Access Development so Successful?: Stigmergic Organization and the Economics of Information.” Open Source Jahrbuch 2007. Eds. B. Lutterbeck, M. Baerwolff, and R.A. Gehring. Lehmanns Media, 2007. Web. 4 Apr. 2016.

Kolm, Serge-Christophe, and Jean Mercier Ythier. Handbook of Economics of Giving, Altruism  and Reciprocity: Foundations. Vol 1. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2006. Print.

Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon. “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era.” Ed. Wolfgang Glanzel. PLoS ONE 10.6 (2015): e0127502. PMC. Web. 5 Apr. 2016.

Maus, Jeff, and Angela Henshilwood. “Reference on Reddit: Can We Help?” Presentation at the OLA SuperConference 2015. Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Toronto, ON. 30 Jan. 2015.

Murray, Laura J., and Samuel E. Trosow. “Canadian Copyright: A Citizen’s Guide”. College Quarterly 17.4 (2013): n.p. Web. 5 Apr. 2016.

Open Access.” CARL-ABRC. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.

Oswald, Ed. “Setting Knowledge Free: Sci-Hub is the Pirate Bay for Research Papers.”Digital Trends. 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.

Private Good.” WebFinance Inc, 2014. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Vol 1-2. London: J. Decker, 1801. Print.

Willinsky, John. “Sci-Hub: Research Piracy and the Public Good.” Times Higher Education. 14 Mar. 2016. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.


Co-op So Far!

As some of you know, I recently started an 8 month co-op position at the James A. Gibson Library, Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. I’m really enjoying my time at the library so far- everyone here is super friendly and I’m learning so much and getting lots of great experience. The time is flying by- it’s hard to believe that I’ve been here a month already! (or maybe it’s not really that surprising looking back at my Outlook calendar- that thing saves my life on a daily basis..)


James A. Gibson Library, Brock University

So, with the first month in, and with so many of you asking how I’m making out, I decided to write a post on what I’ve been up to this past month or so. Here are a few of the projects that I’ve been involved with so far:


Yes- I got to do my first instruction session a couple weeks ago for a first year Nursing class!! I showed the students various search strategies, the power of keywords, and SuperSearch- Brock’s discovery layer. I think it went really well- and it’s great to be back teaching once again! Last week, I got to show some third year Health Science students PsycINFO and taught some upper year Nursing students how to search for background information on their topics. It also sounds like I might get the chance to do some instruction in the Humanities (English Literature? yes please!) and Social Sciences either this term or next. It turns out that September is a busy instruction time for librarians – and librarians in training.


I’ve also been helping my supervisor with Health Sciences in-person reference interviews. They recently took out the reference desk here at Brock and now there is only a circulation desk. However, students can book one-on-one appointments with librarians using the Book Me calendars on the librarians’ respective webpages or by email. Besides in-person reference, I’m also helping to staff the Ask a Librarian virtual reference chat for 2 hours per week (this is on top of volunteering 2 hours a week with askON- the college chat reference service).


The first couple of weeks after I started, I helped with data curation and marketing library services and events through the Personal Librarian Program. The Personal Librarian Program  is designed to introduce students entering Brock University to the many resources, tools and services available through the library. Students in select programs are then contacted by their personal librarian (I’m doing Sports Management and Health Sciences) occasionally throughout the year.

Right now, I’m also working on promotional materials and events for Open Access Week. Finally, I’m participating in a drop-in clinic for graduate student research help and planning a de-stress event for next week- Research Week.

Some upcoming projects:

  • Creating instructional videos and tutorials (e-learning) and quizzes for Sakai- Brock’s learning management system
  • Editing and creating new LibGuides for the Social Justice program and for Health Sciences
  • Helping to audit the existing library website for a User Experience project as they look at moving to a new content management system (CMS)

Well, that’s my first month under wraps, folks. Cheers to new beginnings..and looking forward to seeing what October has in store.

It’s been quite the year!

~ L


Sept 2014 liddylib says: First day of school! #psl #tradition #startingthesemesterright


Sept 2015 liddylib says: First Starbucks #psl of the year to celebrate my first instruction session of the year! #milestones #fall #librarianintraining

DH Tool Critique:

Website: is a web-publishing platform that is used to curate collections and to create digital exhibitions. is an offshoot of the powerful and popular content management system, Omeka ( Although provides the same functionality as Omeka, it is much easier to use and install, as it does not require the user to provide hosting or to look after their installation. However, it is limited in that using more than 500MB of space requires the user to pay for an account. Therefore, the free 500MB account is perfect for smaller projects, but for larger ones, it would perhaps be wiser to upgrade your account or to use

Omeka is designed for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions and makes it easy to show off the items housed in your collection. You can even tell a story about an item using their exhibits plug in. The tool is useful for historians who wish to display key documents, archivists who would like to organize artifacts into categories, and professors, such as in English Literature and History, who want their students to learn about the multitude of choices that go into assembling historical collections.

Librarians would also find this tool useful for curating a collection that they want mounted on the web. One cool feature about is that it allows the user to digitize anything- physical objects, photographs, people…or even ideas! One cool example of the later is the Image of Research site that is shown here. The Image of Research is a multidisciplinary competition that celebrates the diversity and breadth of graduate and undergraduate student research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Graduate and undergraduate students submit entries consisting of an image and brief text that articulates the connection between their image, text, and research. One of the semi-finalist entries last year is pictured below:


Visualizing the Flow of Knowledge, Image Research Contest 2015. Web. 22 July 2015.

Another aspect of that makes it useful to librarians is that it employs metadata standards. In other words, it allows for complete control over how each item is catalogued in the collection. Objects in the collection can be cataloged with Dublin Core metadata fields and even georeferenced for display on a map. One example of how libraries have used to georeference an item in their collection is evident at Virginia Tech Special Collections Online. The map below showcases Richard Colburn’s travels using dates from his diary, which is part of their special collections (for an image of the map, see screenshot below).

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 11.57.58 PM is also relatively customizable. These sites come with a few built-in themes which define how the website looks including colour, font size, layouts, etc. However, unlike with other CMS’s, such as Drupal, for example, you cannot control every element of your site’s appearance (for more control over site appearance, users should install In comparison to Drupal Gardens, for example, another open source CMS that runs in your web browser, the options for customization seem quite limited – there are only a few theme options for your project.

omeka_new_theme also includes several plugins that would be helpful for librarians. A few of these include COinS (which makes objects in Omeka accessible to citations management software, like Zotero), HTML5 Media (to play audio and video), and Library of Congress Suggest (which will auto-populate fields with LoC authority and subject headings). For an open source tool, it allows librarians remarkable control over the items in their collection.

Overall, is a handy tool for librarians, archivists, historians, and digital humanities enthusiasts alike who want to dabble with Omeka software and try their hand at building and showcasing a digital collection.

Rating: 4/5

Tool at a Glance:


  • Free/open source content management system
  • No installation required (runs in web browser)
  • Ease of use
  • Uses Dublin Core metadata standards


  • Limited space for free account (500MB)
  • Not very customizable (themes and plug ins)


“Visualizing the Flow of Knowledge.” Image of Research, n.d. Web. 22 July 2015. Retrieved from

“Richard Colburn Diary.” Virginia Tech Special Collections Online, n.d. Web. 20 July 2015. Retrieved from

DH & The Death of the Essay

In his blog post titled “What’s Wrong With Writing Essays,” Mark L. Sample describes how Digital Humanities can be applied in a more hands on and pedagogical way. Sample makes the claim that DH’s one great pièce de résistance, if you will, is that it has the power to supplant one of the traditional methods of student evaluation in the Humanities: the essay.

In his post, Sample makes the following statement:

 “Why must writing, especially writing that captures critical thinking, be composed of words? Why not images? Why not sound? Why not objects?”

Why must students be evaluated only by how well they write or by how they articulate their ideas using words only? The essay, Samples argues, as a main method of evaluation, does not allow students to think critically nor does it allow any room for flexibility and creativity. Why, Sample asks, do we ask students to put all their time and effort into writing papers that “mean nothing to no one” or that no one will ever read?

However, the bigger issue at stake here seems to be the shift from scholars as researchers to scholars as teachers. This change is perhaps due to the ever shrinking market for tenured professors and an increase in adjunct lecturers. Therefore, instead of a focus on academic publishing and solitary work, there is a need for scholars who can teach and who actively look for new ways to engage their students in the classroom. Why this shift in teaching styles and student evaluation? Because traditional teaching methods ultimately fail students. There are many different ways that students learn- by seeing, hearing, doing- and these, Sample argues, should be implemented in the classroom.

And this is where DH comes into play. In contrast to other less hands on methods, DH facilitates student engagement using otherwise incongruous material objects. This practice, in turn, allows students to develop critical thinking skills, as they must reflect on the building process and the product that they are creating. This more active learning style is one that Sample incorporates into his own teaching- an approach that he calls creative analysis:

With this in mind, I am moving away from asking students to write, toward asking them instead to weave—to build, to fabricate, to design. I don’t want my students to become miniature scholars. I want them to be aspiring Rauschenbergs, assembling mixed media combines, all the while through their engagement with seemingly incongruous materials developing a critical thinking practice about the process and the product. I call this type of critical thinking creative analysis” 

How does DH allow for more active learning? Well, the answer is that it can foster student learning in a number of ways. One of these methods is through games and gamification. In his video games studies class, for example, Sample has his students design an abstract visualization of a video game. In his post, he showcases the work of one of his students, who creatively “mapped” Sid Meier’s Pirates! (1991) onto a piece of driftwood. This method, Samples proudly claims, articulates the static nature of the video game and what the student was thinking, more than words or an essay ever could.


With Sample’s blog post in mind, I’ve been trying to think of other ways that DH can be used to encourage more engaged and participatory student learning. A few active learning sessions that incorporate DH and that could be used in the classroom include working together to create an interactive map, having your class update a wiki, or using data visualization and text analysis to create a word cloud.

How would you use DH in a classroom setting?

Sample, Mark L. “What’s Wrong With Writing Essays,” n.d. 20 June 2015. Retrieved from

Digging Deeper: Putting the H back into DH

Recently, a fellow MLIS friend and I were discussing what classes we are taking for our last term here at Western. I mentioned that I was taking a special topics course- LIS 9372: Digital Humanities and Library and Information Science and she asked me: “What is Digital Humanities?” As a former tried and tested Humanities scholar (BA and MA in English Literature), I’ve heard the term thrown around on multiple occasions and in a few English departments over the years. At Queen’s, I even had the chance to work a bit on a DH project of sorts. For a course on Web Design, my classmates and I spent some time creating a web page and writing code for an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. However, when my friend asked me to define what is meant by the term Digital Humanities, I had a hard time coming up with a response. Does it go beyond digitizing canonical texts and making them freely accessible to the public? Or does it have to do more with the tools themselves? And how is humanities used in this context? Finally, what implications does DH have for the humanities as a discipline? Needless to say, I’m still working on a response to her question.

In “A Letter to the Humanities: DH Will Not Save You,” Adeline Koh discusses a common perception regarding DH- that engaging in and with digital humanities projects will “save” struggling humanities departments. Apparently, there exists the school of thought that DH is going to add a new sense of purpose and relevancy to the discipline. Interest in the humanities will soar, faculty will gain research grants, and enrolment will increase exponentially. That is the dream. Perhaps, that is even the dream here at Western, where they just started a new Digital Humanities program in 2012- the first program of its kind in Canada. Koh states, however, that instead of helping to mitigate the financial cuts and setbacks of Humanities departments, Digital Humanities, as it exists currently, will only serve to accelerate their decline. Why? Because DH is focused too much on the how and not the why– that is on the tools and methodologies employed over the pedagogy and social implications of defining itself as a discipline. This oversight is mostly due to the fact that DH has its roots in humanities computing. As a result, DH projects have mostly been concerned with the digitization of texts, text encoding and markup, tools, big data, and topic modelling. However, by failing to get away from its roots and methodology…

Digital Humanities is not going to save the humanities from the chopping block. It’s only going to push the humanities further over the precipice. Because these methods alone make up a field which is simply a handmaiden to STEM – Koh, 2015

Koh posits that digital humanists should be more concerned with a new movement of DH, one that has the H, humanities itself, at its centre. The humanities, she states, has always been preoccupied with the study of how people process culture and ideas and scholars have questioned the methods used to document these ideologies. Therefore, one way that we can bring the H back into DH is to focus more on the fringe movements and consider the social implications of what we’re making- or maybe, even more importantly, what we have yet to create. Why is it, Koh asks, that we often only choose to digitize texts from canonical authors (read: white, male authors)? Why do we ignore class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, nationality- issues that are not peripheral, but of primary importance to the humanities and, by extension, to DH?

These are great questions and, for the most part, I agree with the position that Koh takes in her article. I think that the root of her identity crisis question lies in the fact that, in the humanities, we have continuously defined ourselves in terms of what we are not. We have relied on binary oppositions (such as humanities vs. science for example) instead of embracing our interdisciplinary nature. And I think that when we become more open to ambiguity, we will become less exclusionary towards other groups and a bit closer to defining DH- that is a DH with the H equally present.

What is Digital Humanities? Sorry E—-, I’m still not sure. But when I do finally get back to you, I’ll try to define it in terms of what DH is- instead of what DH is not.

Koh, Adeline. “A Letter to the Humanities: DH Will Not Save You.” Hybrid Pedagogy (April 19, 2015): n.p. Web. 30 May 2015.

First Summer 2015 Meeting

CAPAL: UWO Student Chapter

Interested in academic librarianship? Come check us out at our biweekly meetings and see how you can get involved in CAPAL. Our first meeting of the term will be this Thursday, May 14th @ noon in the Grad Club boardroom (please note the time change this term – as per popular request, we will now be meeting Thursdays at noon instead of Tuesdays at noon). We plan to meet biweekly throughout the term.

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