Digital Humanities Project: Leadership at Indiana University


Recently, I have been managing a new digital humanities project called Leadership at Indiana University: Andrew and Theophilus Wylie, 1820-1890  that officially launched today.

Last year, I helped to write the grant to the IU Office of the Bicentennial which was awarded to the Wylie House Museum.  The project contains a series of digital exhibits that:

  • Highlight the roles that President Andrew Wylie and his cousin, Professor Theophilus Wylie had in leading Indiana University during its infancy as an institution of higher education
  • Establish a platform for the development of additional online exhibits related to the Wylie House, its historic objects, and rich archival collection
  • Provide content and digital space for Indiana University courses to use as resources for both research and exhibit creation

Science Serving Industry: Documentary Authority and Industrial Influence in 19th Century American Chemistry

I recently published an article in the Proceedings of the Document Academy on the links between documentation practices in Chemistry journals and the influence of industry in 19th century American Chemistry.  The full article is available at, the presentation I gave is available at and the original proposal is below.

As early as 1874, one of the early presidents of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, J. Lawrence Smith, suggested the progress of science depended on its utility to industry and on its publication in technical journals.  There is a question, however, of why prominent figures like Smith recognized these two fundamental attributes of the scientific process.  Utilizing the theoretical frameworks of documentation, the philosophy of chemistry (Smith’s academic discipline), and diplomatics, it is possible to better understand Smith’s assumptions and to comprehend why these two aspects of science were so important for him.  Industrial needs in a rapidly changing economy were an incredibly important influence on 19th century American chemistry.  These needs heavily influenced the very ways in which scholars communicated their research.

Documents produced in journals like the American Journal of Science and later in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in the nineteenth century were also representations of a much larger social structure that provides historians of science and documentation a way to investigate the underlying assumptions of the scientific project in the United States.  Additionally, the knowledge initiatives of universities and professional associations institutionalized larger cultural ideas.  At the very time that the modern higher education system began to form itself and at the time that modern professional associations began to create the system of scholarly communication, industry dominated. The American scientific world at that time was heavily influenced by the needs of a rapidly industrializing nation.  Such larger forces led to particular genres being produced in the documents of these scientists.  They wrote articles that eschewed supposition and focused on facts and causes that could more easily be reproduced.  Additionally, they  sought out news from the very professional associations and universities that were attempting to meet the needs of the industrial United States.

Why are these developments important?  Over time, the state became more involved with the work of scientists and universities.  Maurizio Ferraris in Documentality:  Why it is Necessary to Leave Traces has suggested that such developments are a result of what he terms informatics documentality, or the way in which sovereign power is extended over a larger number of people.  If indeed it is true that industry dominated the earlier pre-informatics documentality, at least in the United States, does it mean that industry will continue to extend its influence?  The answer to that question is unclear, but its implications have tremendous consequences not only for the system of scholarly communication, but indeed for the future of science itself.  At a time when the communication of scholarship is also being reviewed and when the very nature of authority in science is questioned, understanding these early motivations may help to better recognize the evolution of the scholarly communication, and perhaps reform it in the future.

Professionalization in Chemistry

I will be giving a presentation at the upcoming conference of the Association of Information Science & Technology (ASIS&T) on the ways the discipline of chemistry professionalizes over the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Abstract of the paper below.

This paper uses topic modeling and statistical analysis of keywords within early American scientific journals in order to better understand the professionalization of American science in the late nineteenth century.  The Journal of the American Chemical Society was one of the first professional scientific journals developed in the United States in 1879, and analyzing its content may help to understand the professional concerns of nineteenth century American scientists.  How did these early scientists view their profession?  What did chemists see as the most important scientific issues of their time?  By using computational and statistical analysis of the first 40 years (1879-1922) of the journal, it becomes clear that the professionalization of chemistry took roughly twenty years and had much to do with external factors affecting science in the U.S.

Research Management in Libraries

As we think about how open access for e-scholarship should be implemented in libraries, there arise two questions.  How do we create infrastructure to support digital research?  More importantly, how do we incentivize scholars to utilize such infrastructure?  Last year, I gave a presentation attempting to answer these questions at the Library Publishing Coalition’s IFLA Satellite meeting (you can see my proposal for that presentation).  I also wrote an article detailing my thoughts for the Journal of Electronic Publishing, which is now available at  I’d be interested in hearing further thoughts.

Sharing Data in the Sciences

If you’re interested in learning more about how data can be shared, particularly between the producers, managers, and users of data, check out the most recent issue of the Data Science Journal.  Devan Donaldson (assistant professor at Indiana University and specialist in digital curation), Thomas Proffen (director of the Neutron Data Analysis and Visualization Division in the Neutron Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory), and I wrote an article about current data practices for this government sponsored science facility.

The article is titled “Understanding Perspectives on Sharing Neutron Data at Oak Ridge National Laboratory” and you can read it by clicking on the link.  Thanks to both Prof. Donaldson and to Dr. Proffen for the opportunity to work on this.

A Tale of Two Chemists: Academic Journals and the Technology of Science Communication

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I’m excited to participate in the next Society for the History of Authorship Reading and Publishing (SHARP) 2017 conference June 9 – 12 in Victoria, Canada.

The abstract for the talk is in the next paragraph, and the above picture shows the two chemists discussed:  Theophilus A. Wylie (left) and J. Lawrence Smith (right). I’ve included more information about the image sources at the end of this post.

Abstract Proposal:

Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media suggested that “the medium is the message” meaning that scholars should focus on the way in which a message is communicated rather than the content of the message itself. Today, scientists have a variety of media in which they can spread their work through television, blogs or newspapers, but, the primary medium for communication amongst themselves and for professional advancement and reputation is the scholarly journal.  In the United States, that medium was being developed in the late nineteenth century.  Yet, even as it was being created, scientists at the time used it very differently, if at all.  The question is why did scientists choose (or not choose) particular technologies of print?

A case study of two scientists both in the same field, but with incredibly different views, may help to understand that question. J. Lawrence Smith (1818-1883) a chemist, professor at the University of Louisville, and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science published nearly one hundred and fifty articles in the scholarly journals of his day.   On the other hand, Theophilus A. Wylie (1810-1895), also a chemist, professor of natural philosophy, and three-time interim president of Indiana University, had very different views about how to communicate science and published only one book, around six scientific articles, and a few newspaper stories in his lifetime.

J. Lawrence Smith chose to publish in the scientific journals of his time because he believed that the chemical research was needed to advance industrial manufacturing and that publication of results in scientific periodicals would lead to patents and marketable products. Wylie on the other hand believed that the purpose of communicating scholarship was not to advance industry but rather to teach the general public about the connections between scientific methods along with philosophical and religious principles. Smith used the medium of publishing in scientific periodicals frequently, likely with the hope that his work could be utilized by a growing chemical industry.  Wylie, however, spent much of his time teaching his students, and publishing in more generalized media (like newspapers) probably with the hope of educating the general public about science and philosophy.

Thus, for these two men, the medium (specialized scientific journals and generalized periodicals) was indeed the message.  Their use of these media is equally as relevant in today’s changing scholarly publishing environment.  Modern scholars are often required to create a greater impact.  Should impact be measured in terms of patentable products (in ways that Smith emphasized), or should it be measured by popular interest (in ways that Wylie might support)?  Depending on the answer to that question, scholars will be required to use very different media to circulate their message.  Understanding the debates and philosophical views of these scientists who were also attempting to navigate a new publishing landscape in the 19th century may help to focus current debates on how scholars should communicate their research in the 21st century context.

Image Credit

Left, Theophilus Wylie, image from and right, J. Lawrence Smith, image from