an image of a sculpture at the Equal Justice Initiative's National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Free: Liberating my Research from the Page

This post is authored by Dr. Mila Turner, Associate University Librarian. Dr. Turner’s Project centers on “the publication of data on the experiences of dark tourism to key African Diasporic heritage sites throughout the Afro-Atlantic region.” Read more about Dr. Turner’s project here.

Through the process of creating my research blog I’ve learned a lot about what it means to do academic work in a digital space. Overall, the digital dissemination of knowledge allows me to share my research with a global audience, increase the visibility and impact of my work, and engage with the public in new and meaningful ways. It has also changed the way that I think and do research since organizing content for a website differs from organizing content for an academic paper in several ways.

My site will include a variety of multimedia elements such as images, videos, and audio files. That’s something I can’t do in an article or book since they’re both primarily text-based. I’ve got so much rich content from visiting dark tourist sites all over the world, and my incredible journeys cannot be captured by words alone. As a bonus, I can continuously update the site by adding new content as my project develops. I also plan to allow comments to make the site interactive and engage with my audience, colleagues, and maybe even potential collaborators. Due to the gravity of the subject matter, I may even allow visitors to post their own reflections.

A photograph of an inscription reading: "For the hanged and beaten. For the shot, drowned, and burned. For the tortured, tormented, and terrorized. For those abandoned by the rule of law.

"We will Remember.

"With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice. With Courage because peace requires bravery. With persistence because justice is a constant struggle. With faith because we shall overcome"
An image of the inscription on the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Not only am I disseminating my research to a wider audience, but in the process of this I’m stretching my writing muscles by writing for a more general audience instead of the usual specialized, technical writing that is expected of researchers. I get to use a language and tone on my site that feels more natural, and will hopefully be more accessible than in a peer-reviewed journal article. I created a site map to be very intentional about each page I’m creating, and how the site will be navigated overall with clear, intuitive menus and links. Thus, it should be easily searchable too. There are no page or word counts, though there can be a limit on the amount of multimedia content that can be hosted–but even digital storage can be expanded. When I write academic papers they follow the same generic format and are typically organized in a linear structure, with standard sections and subheadings.

As a result of knowing that my research will also be disseminated through a web interface, I feel more whole. What I mean is that I’m no longer limited to just formal academic writing nor the print limitations of standard academic publishing outlets. I don’t have to divide my work into separate categories like “academic” versus “creative,” or choose between publishing in a peer-reviewed journal read by mostly only scholars and sharing on public platforms to a wide general audience. I can do both. This is really significant for the autoethnography method which centers on personal interpretation of data at all stages of a project. It’s also significant for me as a human who no longer feels torn between promoting the professional and personal or creative aspects of my work. For me, this is a big part of what it means to do academic work in a digital space–more freedom. In fact, I’d describe it as a liberatory practice that frees one from the constraints of the physical page.