Scholarly Peer Review

Traditional mechanisms for the peer review of digital projects have been taken up by each ARC node and retrofitted for that period-specific community. However, all of the currently live nodes, NINES, 18thConnect, and MESA, follow the same general principles for evaluation of scholarly materials. Therefore, all ARC nodes:

  • utilize a set of general guidelines and criteria for review;
  • assemble editorial boards that contain some of the most respected scholars and digital humanists in the profession;
  • carefully review both the content and structure of each digital project submitted to the node.

The processes by which these general principles are carried out may differ according to the needs of each community, but the overall intention of our evaluation processes is to follow traditional standards while promoting and vetting the digital work of scholars.

ARC considers two questions pertinent to the peer review of scholarly digital resources:

  1. Is the content important and interesting to existing scholarship?
  2. Is the material presented in a clear, accessible, well-organized, and well-documented fashion?

While the first question parallels traditional reviews of scholarly materials by considering the intellectual content and originality of the resource and/or the resource’s argument, the second allows the nodes’ editorial boards to promote, encourage, and reward scholars for adhering to standards that have been developed by the digital humanities community. The ARC nodes will peer review any site, regardless of format, but we encourage resources to think of interface design in terms of navigation, searchability, documentation, and interoperability. As a way of encouraging interoperability, node directors and project managers recommend that resources use community standards such as TEI, as well as best practices in creating and presenting databases, images, video, and audio.

Whether undergoing peer review by NINES, 18thConnect, or MESA, ARC provides the scholar with legitimization and inclusion into a community of the best aggregated, digital materials in their subject of study. When a node editorial board/community approves the inclusion of the digital resource into ARC, the appropriate node director writes a letter to the scholar detailing that their resource was not only approved by a highly lauded, period-specific editorial board, but describes how their research adds needed knowledge to the scholarly community as a whole. This letter, geared towards tenure and promotion committees, highlights equivalencies to print publications in order to call attention to the high intellectual quality of the resource. For, as stated in an article for the Journal of Digital Humanities, written by one of the authors of this paper (Laura Mandell), “a database may in fact by more like an article in terms of work and impact than like a book, it may resemble an edition more than argument, or vice versa.”