Project Name: The Writing Studies Tree: An Academic Genealogy
Grantee: Benjamin Miller and Amanda Licastro
Funding Cycle: 2013-2014
Project Status: In progress
About the Project
Disciplinary dynamics are essential to understand because they influence the many ways we signal the value of academic work, including admissions, hiring, tenure, and promotion. The Writing Studies Tree (WST) – an online, open-access, interactive database of individual scholars, educational institutions, and the disciplinary movements that connect them – offers an “academic genealogy” for the field of writing studies that serves as a model for visualizing the social history of humanities disciplines. Through a fixed data structure that gives open editing privileges to thousands of members, the site aggregates, visualizes, and recombines data, enabling us to discover large-scale patterns and movements, and thus to map the collaborative interpersonal paths by which a discipline emerges and matures. Moreover, by crowdsourcing disciplinary self-study and trusting site members to curate the archive, the WST encourages users to see themselves not just as individuals, but rather as members of an evolving network of scholars who contribute to the collective project of knowledge-making within the field. As more self-identified members of the field contribute, the representation of the field becomes more accurate — and, thanks to auto-complete, the ability to add new relations becomes easier over time.
In its third year of existence, the WST aims to publish its source code, improve the user experience through a front-end redesign, and develop analytics to complement the data visualizations. In the course of promoting the WST at a number of conferences and symposium events over the past year, we’ve received useful feedback and suggestions from site users, which continued funding from the Provost’s Digital Innovation Grant will enable us to address.