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Networking Humanities Style on Arcade


In the Salon of Madame Geoffrin in 1755, 1812. Château de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison, France.

Networking Humanities Style

In the academic sense, a salon is a gathering of intellectuals who engage in thought provoking discussion with each other and with their social and political peers. Salons were common in 17th and 18th century France, and the ideas and philosophies exchanged then have been credited with spurring the Enlightenment. The popularity of the salon waned in the succeeding centuries, but the increasingly social Internet era has inspired a group of humanities scholars to create a new and improved virtual incarnation of these intellectual get-togethers. 

This new digital salon, moderated by scholars from around the country is called “Arcade.” Taking a cue from the social media trend, Arcade is designed to serve as a social and scholarly community for those with an interest in humanities research. The website, launched in the Fall of 2009, offers a range of opportunities for intellectual networking in an environment that is especially unique because content is curated by an editorial board comprised of academics representing a range of disciplines such as several literatures, Information Studies and Digital History.

The site abounds with interactive elements including blogs, virtual seminars and online forums, making Arcade the first widely accessible and interactive platform for intellectual networking in the humanities. A number of digital-only academic journals hosted on the site reflect the editorial board’s support of the growing open access movement in scholarly publishing. Although the site debuted with a literary studies focus, the content has already grown to encompass academics from many humanities disciplines, which is precisely what the founders expected and hoped would happen.

Building a Global Community

Sponsored by the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages  (DLCL) at Stanford University, Arcade has the mission of creating a global intellectual network well beyond Stanford’s scope.  In keeping with that objective, Arcade’s editorial and consulting board is comprised of faculty from Brown University, UC Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and Yale University to name a few.

Roland Greene, the professor of English and comparative literature at Stanford who spearheaded the creation of Arcade, echoed that mission. “In an intellectual sense we [the editorial board] envision Arcade as belonging to everyone.” Greene hopes that in addition to scholars, alumni and others with an interest in literature and the humanities will discover that Arcade is an ideal place to continue on the road of life-long learning. Web surfers with an affinity for the humanities will enjoy direct access to conversations among scholars, poets, and public intellectuals.

Zachary Chandler, the Academic Technology Specialist for the DLCL, was largely responsible for building the site. He explained that while social networking in academia isn’t new, he thinks Arcade's unique set of multimedia features will fill a void for an underserved audience. “We think we can create a kind of community that might not exist elsewhere.” Chandler continued, “I want Arcade to reward the curious reader with a depth of offerings, foster a free flow of ideas and discussion, and allow our contributors to find a readership they might not otherwise enjoy.”

Editorial board member Katie Trumpener, a professor of English and comparative literature at Yale, said that Arcade will help scholars bridge cultural and geographic gaps. “The site provides a platform for researchers to converse about on-going work not only in different disciplines, but in different cultures. By sharing this content online scholars in far-flung corners of the globe will be able to track and contribute to the discourse in ways that were impossible before.”

Blogging Scholars

Conversations, and lots of them, are exactly what you’ll find in the aptly named "Conversations" blog section of the site. Blogging may not be an activity that is immediately associated with earnest academic pursuit, but a visit to the Arcade homepage makes it clear that blogging is breaking the academic glass ceiling. To date, 25 bloggers have shared their thoughts on topics ranging from human rights and race to Tolstoy and Machiavelli.

The bloggers represent 20 universities from around the U.S. and Canada; another 25 —including more international scholars —will join soon, all proposed by Arcade's editorial board. Greene said that blog discourse is representative of the reality of a professional life in academia and helps to illustrate “the kind of networks that professors belong to because  one's intellectual life is rarely restricted to the institution where one happens to work.” By glancing at the array of blog topics visitors also get an instant snapshot of the breadth of humanities research currently underway.

Academic Chat Rooms

"Transactions" is a rubric for several kinds of interactions.  "ArcadeWorks" is online forum with privacy filters akin to Facebook.  Scholars can convene virtual seminars by inviting colleagues to attend. They can also solicit feedback on papers, book proposals, and dissertation chapters from peers whom they invite. Prof. Greene said that the ArcadeWorks format will be especially appealing to scholars because reviewers will be able to see the remarks made by other reviewers, thereby allowing them to build on each other’s comments, which ultimately will give the poster more productive feedback than the typical one on one e-mail exchange.

Greene added that by providing a secure platform for scholarly exchange, the website would help researchers overcome the inadvertent walls that are frequently encountered in the humanities. “Most of us in the humanities depend on the criticism and attention of our peers —who can suggest a new angle, provide essential information, or raise an overlooked question — and yet there aren't enough media adapted to the purpose of intellectual exchange.  Arcade is built for exactly that purpose.”

Humanities Profs. Weigh In On Current Events

One forum in Transactions, entitled "Applied Expertise," encourages humanities scholars to lend their unique humanistic perspective to contemporary issues. In the first topic in the forum, entitled 'Humanities Perspectives on Security,' professors from Stanford expound on what the humanities can and should bring to matters of international security. Yair Mintzker, an assistant professor of history at Princeton, begins his post by addressing those who doubt that humanities have anything to contribute to the topic,  “At first sight, it seems all but impossible that humanists can substantially contribute to discussions about security.”

But Mintzker goes on to illustrate with ample evidence just how valuable humanistic contributions have already been in this area. In a concluding comment Mintzker emphasizes just how crucial the human element is in policy decisions. “Theory without practice, general formulations that do not put actual men and women at the center, are not only “wrong” from a moral point of view; they can also lead to disastrous results from the policy-making perspective as well.” A multimedia section in Transactions includes podcasts and videocasts from Stanford and elsewhere  as well as recordings of  DLCL events. In the future, Arcade will host and link to content from other groups or departments.

Digital Journals Break the Print Mold

Two new academic journals debuted in the "Publications" portal, which aggregates and showcases digital humanities journals. Republics of Letters and Occasion were built using a digital journal template that Greene said will be available for free to encourage more digital publishing. Republics of Letters, is an open-access, peer-reviewed publication with the unique capacity of allowing topics to grow over time. Unlike print journals, which are limited by the medium, Republics of Letters will indefinitely accept submissions on a topic.

Dan Edelstein, Stanford assistant professor of French, and one of the journal editors explained the value of this feature. “We hope in this way to create, over time, repositories of scholarship on some of the most important and lasting questions in the humanities.” As stated on the Journal’s website, the content will forward the study of politics, knowledge and the arts, “from Antiquity to the present with an emphasis on the early modern period.”

Even with the site operating in an unpublicized testing phase over the last few weeks, Greene said he has already been hearing positive feedback from contributing faculty and visitors to the site. “Our bloggers have been exploring the site, and I've heard from several of them that they are excited about using ArcadeWorks and intrigued by the videocasts.  Several of them have proposed group blogs that would share the conversations of research groups scattered around the country and the world.  I think the possibilities of this platform are endless."   

Ultimately, Arcade’s founders hope that humanities aficionados will feel compelled to visit the site regularly to keep abreast of the latest news and research. Professor Trumpener believes that by making the latest research trends available to anyone, anywhere, Arcade is positioned to forward humanities research in groundbreaking ways. “In the future we would like Arcade to showcase the diversity, materials, and methods of humanities scholarship around the globe.”