Why Peer Review?
Digital humanities projects have long lacked a framework for peer review and thus have often had difficulty establishing their credibility as true scholarship. NINES exists in part to address this situation by instituting a robust system of review by some of the most respected scholars in the field of nineteenth-century studies, British and American.
NINES provides peer-review of digital resources and archives created by scholars in nineteenth-century studies. Our Editorial Boards locate reviewers to evaluate both the intellectual content and the technical structure of each project submitted for inclusion in NINES. Please visit our NINES / NEH Summer Institutes website to learn more about our efforts in evaluating digital scholarship.
As part of the peer-review process, NINES requires the submission of metadata describing the objects within the resource. This metadata (in the form of RDF) is largely based on fields such as author, title, date, and source. It also includes a set of genres relevant to nineteenth-century studies. A complete set of RDF specifications can be found on our wiki. In this way, NINES can bring hundreds of sites into conversation with each other without the necessitation of overly restrictive standards.
A developed resource will be web accessible and have structured data (e.g. files coded in XML or to accepted standards such as those of the TEI Consortium). The data should be encoded so that required NINES metadata can be extracted from the files. (This RDF metadata is largely based on Dublin Core fields such as author, title, date, and source. It also includes a set of genres relevant to nineteenth-century studies.) In addition, the project should have the integrity expected of any work of scholarship. It need not be “completed” but it should have a clear and finished conceptual design with substantial content in place.
NINES resources can be either free culture/open access projects (i.e., projects whose content is distributed freely on the web under a Creative Commons license, is in the public domain, or falls under fair-use protection) or revenue-generating projects (like those of most journal publishers and university presses). We have produced two documents addressing frequently asked questions about joining the NINES consortium:
- a precis for “free culture” resources in the humanities (PDF, 205kb)
- a precis for revenue and subscriptions-based organizations (PDF, 206kb)
Know a project that would benefit from peer review? To inquire about participation in NINES please contact us at $$$$.
The NINES Executive Council has produced a set of General Guidelines and Peer Review Criteria for NINES Content. (MSWord, 34kb) If your project is ready for peer review, the Submissions page may be more helpful.
Two questions are pertinent to the peer review criteria for NINES content: first, is the content important and interesting to existing scholarship; second, is the material presented in a clear, accessible, well-organized, and well-documented fashion?
I. Site Rationale and Content
NINES reviewers will evaluate site content and quality relative to existing scholarly and critical standards for print materials – critical books, scholarly editions, periodical publications. NINES scholarship should be relevant to existing debates, concerns, and topics in the field of British and American literature and culture in the long nineteenth-century. NINES submissions should come with a brief abstract and project summary. If one is unclear about what to call a scholarly web site, the definitions of terms available at the Journal of American History. Web Site Reviews are immensely helpful and reflect a growing consensus among digital studies scholars regarding nomenclature. There, archive, electronic essay/exhibit, teaching resource, gateway, journal/webzine, organization, and virtual community are defined.
II. Interface Design and Usability
Projects included in NINES are required to meet certain technical standards that allow the project’s data to be aggregated for interoperability with other NINES resources.
Beyond that, scholars are free to organize and design their materials as they judge best, given the purposes and goals of the project. In this respect NINES wants to encourage scholars to think in fresh and imaginative ways about how to organize and present their work in digital forms.
General standards for good interface design and site usability are widely available. The NINES homepage provides references where scholars can find useful guides for interface design. Key issues include layout, navigation, searchability, and documentation. Contributors to NINES will be required to include an explicit “rationale” for their project that addresses these issues and any others that may be especially pertinent to the project. NINES contributors might also want to consult human-computer interaction specialists at their home institution (if available).
III. Site Code and Documentation
As with interface design, various types of coding may be desirable for any given project. The primary goal here is sustainability. To that end, projects would do well to avoid proprietary formats unless overriding intellectual demands require their use.
For text files, a TEI application of XML is recommended unless – once again – overriding intellectual concerns justify an alternative schema. Image and audio files should be prepared to known and current standards. The many resources that describe and explain these standards are made available through the NINES website, where scholars can also find recommendations about programs that will help scholars prepare their data.
The MLA’s “Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions” is another valuable resource. This set of General Guidelines and Peer Review Criteria established by the NINES Executive Council can also be downloaded here.
If you have been asked to review a project for NINES, you’ll want to take a look at our guidelines for scholarly projects, as well as the Peer Review Criteria (MS Word). The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities has also compiled a very helpful list of Recommendations for Digital Humanities Projects if you’d like to know more about best practices in digital scholarship.
NINES solicits feedback from two reviewers (at least) for each resource: a content specialist familiar with the topic of the project, and a specialist in textual encoding or digital humanities work. For those who do not feel entirely comfortable reviewing such aspects of the site as interface, usability, or technical specifications, we recommend following the MLA’s “Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions.” Even though peer review in a digital framework does require an examination of technical matters, an investigation into the source material under discussion and the project’s place within a larger field of study remains a critical and necessary function. That said, you are welcome to comment on your own experience with the site and its design.