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Author: Deborah Lines Andersen
Title: Considering Alternate Standards
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 2001

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Source: Considering Alternate Standards
Deborah Lines Andersen

vol. 4, no. 2, August 2001
Article Type: Benchmark
PDF: Download full PDF [24kb ]

Considering Alternate Standards

Deborah Lines Andersen

Benchmark: a standard by which something can be measured or judged [1]


This feature began in the last issue of the JAHC as a guest editorial on benchmarking in digital scholarship, [2] with a specific focus on digital history, the AAHC 2000 award winners, and the concept of collaboration in digital endeavors. Since digital history is an illusive subject, shifting and progressing as individuals in the field try new media and new ways of presenting historical information, benchmarks will also necessarily shift. The focus of this feature will thus be on individuals, projects, and writing that set standards, push the envelope, or shed light on the use of computers, of technology, in historical scholarship.


Within academia the triumvirate of teaching, research, and service often prevail in determining whether or not a professor is granted tenure and promotion by his or her institution. There are, nonetheless, academic institutions for which this triad does not hold. Elementary and secondary schools are one example—teaching is nearly everything. Two-year colleges and many undergraduate institutions also consider teaching and then service to be primarily critical for tenure and promotion. One would expect that even if research were not the primary business of a college professor, he or she would nonetheless be extremely aware of trends in academic fields, of findings, and research, and developing theory. This is the stuff of teaching—passing critical knowledge on to students in new and exciting ways, making connections where there have been none before.

Does this kind of connection making require a change in our thinking? Undoubtedly the answer is "yes." It would be interesting to ask academics if they ever conduct research specifically because it will better inform their teaching. If would be equally interesting to ask college professors to draw pictures of their work, using connecting arrows to establish how teaching, research, and service interact and are informed by each other.

In 1990 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching sponsored a special report based upon their 1989 national survey of faculty. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate set forth a vision to realign our thinking about service, teaching, and research for the academic community. At the start of Chapter 3, Ernest L. Boyer, author of the study and then president of the foundation, stated:

The richness of faculty talent should be celebrated, not restricted. Only as the distinctiveness of each professor is affirmed will the potential of scholarship be fully realized. Surely, American higher education is imaginative and creative enough to support and reward not only those scholars uniquely gifted in research but also those who excel in the integration and application of teaching. Such a mosaic of talent, if acknowledged, would bring renewed vitality to higher learning and the nation. [3]

The idea of a "mosaic of talent" challenged the notion that research must come first in considering an individual for promotion and tenure. In fact, the report recommended that the old triumvirate be discarded in favor of a new set of standards and criteria for faculty members.

In place of the old triad, Boyer's report set forth four new categories for assessing the productivity of a scholar in academe.

  • The scholarship of discovery comes closest to the concept of research, focusing on scholarly investigation. "The scholarship of discovery, at its best, contributes not only to the stock of human knowledge but also to the intellectual climate of a college or university. Not just the outcomes, but the process, and especially the passion, give meaning to the effort. The advancement of knowledge can generate an almost palpable excitement in the life of an educational institution." [4] It is worth noting that this quotation uses the words "passion,""excitement," and "life" to explain the concept. It is not just that the individual must "do researc" in order to remain at a university—a rather dull thought—but that discovery infuses passion into all the members of an academic institution!
  • The scholarship of integration moves to make connections across academic disciplines and departments, looking at the larger pictures that integration can paint. "In proposing the scholarship of integration, we underscore the need for scholars who give meaning to isolated facts, putting them in perspective. By integration, we mean making connections across the disciplines, placing the specialties in larger context, illuminating data in a revealing, way, often educating nonspecialists, too." [5] The scholarship of integration is a call for multidisciplinary work, for teaching and research that cross disciplinary boundaries and make new sense out of seemingly unrelated concepts.
  • The scholarship of application looks to how the knowledge of an individual, a department, or a university can be applied to make a difference in a multiplicity of environments. "The scholarship of application…is not a one-way street. Indeed, the term itself may be misleading if it suggests that knowledge is first "discovered," and then "applied." The process we have in mind is far more dynamic. New intellectual understandings can arise out of the very act of applications—whether in medical diagnosis, serving clients in psychotherapy, shaping public policy, creating an architectural design, or working with the public schools. In activities such as these, theory and practice vitally interact, and one renews the other." [6] The challenge for individuals who work in history is to establish how they can engage in the scholarship of application. Can one gain insights about historical events and their interpretation in the processes of teaching, creating curricular materials, or designing a web page or historical database? How will they make a difference? How will new intellectual understandings arise out of the act of application? These questions speak directly to groundbreaking work that individuals are pursuing in history and computing.
  • The final of the four categories is the scholarship of teaching. "As a scholarly enterprise, teaching begins with what the teacher knows. Those who teach must, above all, be well informed, and steeped in the knowledge of their fields. Teaching can be well regarded only as professors are widely read and intellectually engaged. One reason legislators, trustees, and the general public often fail to understand why ten or twelve hours in the classroom each week can be a heavy load is their lack of awareness of the hard work and the serious study that undergirds good teaching." [7] For individuals who work in multimedia products of digital scholarship this last remark is particularly pertinent. Paraphrasing Boyer, there is a lack of awareness of the hard work and serious study that undergirds good multimedia design and application. Boyer goes on to state that "without the teaching function, the continuity of knowledge will be broken and the store of human knowledge dangerously diminished." [8]

Realigning our thinking requires examining the basic tenets of the profession. Sometimes we get so used to doing activities in our lives that we fail to question why we do them. Is it just because we always have? The scholarship of discovery, integration, application, and teaching is not the framework upon which tenure and promotion are granted today in U.S. history departments. Nonetheless, if historians were asked to draw a picture of their work lives in terms of these four tenets, would the picture reveal changes that they could make, or behaviors they would like to reinforce in their intellectual pursuits? Would they rediscover the passion that led them to become historians in the first place?


The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, extending Boyer's 1990 work, published Scholarship Assessed: Evaluation of the Professoriate. The central piece of this book, from this writer's vantage point, is a summary of standards to assess scholarship, produced in its entirety in the following table. [9] These standards can be used to evaluate both teaching and research activities. Furthermore, written five years ago, the beauty and foresightedness of these goals are that they are broad enough to be used to evaluate the products of digital scholarship in both teaching and research. Such standards as appropriate methods, and, in particular, modifying procedures in response to changing circumstances, are critical in the changing world of technology. Additionally, the standard of effective presentation speaks strongly to historians engaged in digital scholarship. Suitable style, effective organization, appropriate forums, clarity, and integrity are all particularly critical focuses for creating scholarly work on the World Wide Web, and could undoubtedly be used by history departments evaluating scholarship in non-traditional mediums.


Clear Goals

Does the scholar state the basic purposes of this or her work clearly? Does the scholar define objectives that are realistic and achievable? Does the scholar identify important questions in the field?

Adequate Preparation

Does the scholar show an understanding of existing scholarship in the field? Does the scholar bring the necessary skills to his or her work? Does the scholar bring together the resources necessary to move the project forward?

Appropriate Methods

Does the scholar use methods appropriate to the goals? Does the scholar apply effectively the methods selected? Does the scholar modify procedures in response to changing circumstances?

Significant Results

Does the scholar achieve the goals? Does the scholar's work add consequently to the field? Does the scholar's work open additional areas for further exploration?

Effective Presentation

Does the scholar use a suitable style and effective organization to present his or her work? Does the scholar use appropriate forums for communicating work to its intended audiences? Does the scholar present his or her message with clarity and integrity?

Reflective Critique

Does the scholar critically evaluate his or her own work? Does the scholar bring an appropriate breadth of evidence to his or her critique? Does the scholar use evaluation to improve the quality of future work?

The last standard in the above table, reflective critique, places the onus of evaluation on the scholar and asks the question of how the scholar documents his or her work for others who were not there, do not know the subject matter, or who are not familiar with the method of presentation. Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff addressed this issue in Scholarship Assessed:

Documentation should place scholarly work in perspective. The scholar presents, explains, and interprets his or her best work for those who will review it, in the process renewing his or her own reflective critique. Documentation also opens doors for dialogue in departments, professional schools, and campuswide forums. The faculty will grow more conversant with the range of scholarship performed by colleagues in their own and other disciplines as they discuss documentation and the kinds of evidence needed to make the best case of any piece of work. It may not always be a peaceable kingdom: the lion may not lie down with the lamb. But this approach has the potential to make the campus a more just community, where varying contributions to the institution's mission are better understood and more fairly honored once they are made public and evaluated by the highest standards to which scholars can aspire. [10]


In the final analysis the academic is an educator. Some individuals decide to pursue research as their primary focus. They do not do this in a vacuum. One of the primary products of research is publication. In this way the researcher educates the rest of the world about the new insights, findings, and meanings that he or she has created. Other academics consider themselves to be teachers first and foremost. This is where their passions lie, but they teach in an environment that necessarily values knowledge and passing that knowledge on to others. They do their work through class lecture notes, PowerPoint programs, World Wide Web creations, and the other digital products that offer insights into their particular areas of expertise.

A benchmark is a standard by which something can be measured our judged. One way of judging academic historians and their work is through the application of institutional standards for research, teaching, and service. Almost all of us live by these standards and need to pay attention to them. Nonetheless, beyond these standards are the ways we judge ourselves—the benchmarks we use to decide for ourselves how well we are doing. The Carnegie Foundation scholarship categories provide yet another view of academic life. These standards rework the original three to allow additional space for creativity, integration, and multidisciplinarity—all areas that are of importance to the American Association for History and Computing. As the AAHC continues to be concerned with new forms of scholarship in history, and with assuring that historians are credited for the innovative work that they perform, it behooves us to think about which benchmarks are important, for the association, for academic institutions, and for individuals in the field. How do we judge ourselves?

.06. NOTES

1. "Benchmark," American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed., 2000.

2. Deborah Lines Andersen. "Benchmarks: A JAHC Guest Editorial." Located at

3. Ernest L. Boyer. 1990. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., Publishers, p.27.

4. Ibid., p. 17.

5. Ibid., p. 18

6. Ibid., p. 23.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid., p. 24.

9. Charles E. Glassick, Mary Taylor Huber & Gene I. Maeroff. 1997. Scholarship Assessed: Evaluation of the Professoriate. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, p. 36.

10. Ibid., p. 49.

Deborah Lines Anderson