When we came up with the inaugural question to our MediaCommons Front Page survey on topics near-and-dear to the digital humanities I thought to myself "this one's a no-brainer." Indeed, I was so confident that I knew how to approach the question that I volunteered to go first. It's not that I ever thought that the answers to how to build digital communities and cohorts were simple or straightforward, but I did feel strongly that my experiences co-creating projects like Flow, In Media Res and MediaCommons had prepared me to offer sage (or trite) insights like "Kevin Costner lied! They don't just come because you built it" or "check your egos at the door! Digital communities work best when networked conversations eclipse cults of personality."
But then pesky word placement did me in. Is the question: "how do we create digital scholarly communities and cohorts" or is it "how do we create digital communities and scholarly cohorts"? This is more than mere semantic chicanery. The first (naively) conflates two very different groupings under the banner of "the scholar," while the second (again naively) distinguishes between a virtual community much broader than just scholars and a self-contained peer group made up exclusively of scholars.
The trouble is that I've always wanted membership in both. I've wanted to generate conversations both inclusive and exclusive; to find peers that I never knew existed and to exchange ideas with folks that would never once consider themselves "peers," but nonetheless cross paths at the same digital hub. Ultimately, the answer hinges on how we define "community," "cohort," "peer." We are at an interesting crossroads where peer boundaries are becoming porous yet for many of us the scholarly mantle remains an important mark of distinction. How do we participate in digital communities while retaining our affiliations with scholarly cohorts?