The Future of the Scholarly Article

This is the fifth and final post in a series in which I am hoping gain some insight on how the Internet the scholarly journal article in the field of history, as well as what kind of adaptations we might see in the future. Previously: The History of the History Article, The History Article and the Database, The Article, the Digital, and the Creation of Community, Publishing, Copyright, and Open-Access.

"Rainbow of Journals" by Selena N. B. H.; Copyright

Rainbow of Journals” by Selena N. B. H.; Copyright

Since this series is supposed to be an examination of the scholarly journal article and how it has been impacted by the Internet, I now would like to look at some digital forms of scholarship with an eye towards specific ways that they have remediated functions that have been held by the scholarly article. I originally wrote “characteristics” rather than “functions,” but I think that functions gets more at the root of how traditional scholarly forms are being remediated online.  After all, different characteristics can perform the same function, and when looking at remediation I think that it’s more important to see through the characteristics to what their functions are.

So, what are the functions of the scholarly history article?  After looking back through my previous posts, I think that we can say that articles are supposed to make an argument, they are supposed to lend themselves to review by other scholars (by using footnotes, for example), they are supposed to demonstrate professionalism, and to create a community of scholars.  I’m sure that I’m missing plenty of other functions, but these are the ones that I think are the most important.  How have these functions been remediated in some of the (still largely experimental) forms of digital scholarship?

Digital Primary Source Archives

I’ll start with the digital primary-source archive (DPSA) because I think that it has, so far, been the most successful new form of history scholarship.  I’m loosely defining DPSAs as websites that exist primarily to make a lot of primary sources available for examination.  Allow me to give two examples.  The first is The Valley of Shadow.  Hosted by the University of Virginia, the makers of this cite have gathered a huge number of documents from the neighboring counties of August County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania.  These documents cover the period from 1859 to 1870, and are gathered from letters, diaries, census records, church records, Freedmen’s Bureau records, newspapers, and a few other places.  The second DPSA is the Woodrow Wilson Center Digital Archive: International History Declassified.  This archive focuses on presenting declassified Cold War documents from governments around the world.

So, how do these sites remediate the article functions outlined above?  Well, it’s clear that neither site makes an argument in the traditional sense.  There are implied arguments made through the way that the documents are organized, but these mostly just have to do with periodization.  The Wilson Center’s site also organizes its documents along some general themes, but these are so broad that I would hesitate to call them real arguments.  I suppose that one could also argue that the documents selected creates its own kind of editorial argument, but I’m not sure how I would begin to decipher such a thing.  I would therefore argue that, if these sites make an argument, it is only in the most vague sense of the term.  I’d be willing to be convinced otherwise, however.

Do the sites make themselves available for review?  I would answer that yes, they do.  Each provides extensive documentation for the primary source documents that it presents.  In an article the footnotes are supposed to combine with the reviewer’s knowledge of the subject under discussion to make the article reviewable.  In an archive, the documents are all available for perusal, so any reviewer can determine for themselves whether the archive has categorized the documents correctly.

Do the DPSAs demonstrate professionalism?  This is hazier.  Using the criteria from my earlier post, they definitely show the ability to conduct research and they probably show that the individuals involved are able to work well with other scholars, but I’m not sure how much they demonstrate the ability to stay on deadline or the ability to write.

Do the DPSAs create a scholarly community?  As these particular two are constructed, I would say that they don’t.  However, I think that this flaw, as well as a coupe of others, could be fixed if these archives created spaces for historians to contribute short (or long, I suppose) posts in which they make arguments using the sources that the archive has made available.  This would allow the DPSAs to host scholarly discussions that brought together historians (and others) who were interested in the same topics.

Blogs

As mentioned in an earlier post, a number of history of science blogs participate in a monthly “blog carnival” called The Giants Shoulders, wherein bloggers each month create a post, on their own blogs, that deals with that month’s themes.  All of the various posts are then organized and presented by whichever blog is “hosting” that month, which allows participants and readers to look at the titles and brief descriptions of the posts related to that month’s themes.  In this way the blog carnival serves the same function as the what Ethan Kleinberg claimed for the individual journal issue: it gathers a number of takes on a similar issue together to invite comparison.  So, does this blog carnival remediate the function of a journal article?

Screenshot of Giants Shoulders Blog

Screenshot of Giants Shoulders Blog

Does it make an argument?  Yes, each individual blog post makes an argument exactly in the sense that historians have traditionally understood it.  Given that they are blog posts, and therefore shorter than traditional journal articles, I think that the main quibble (as far as argument goes) would be with whether the argument is developed enough.  However, I think that reviewers can look through several (or more) blog posts and find a long and detailed argument of the kind found in journal articles.

Does it make itself available for review?  Yes, I would say that the blog posts in the carnival make themselves available for review.  In my experience, the hardcore citing discipline that has been drummed into historians carries over quite well into the blog form, where historians can provide links instead of footnotes, thereby actually making checking the sources easier for reviewers.  (Many primary documents can’t be linked to, but that’s the exact same problem that’s always existed.)

Does it demonstrate professionalism?  Blog posts meet all of Coclanis’ criteria except that the blogger can work will with editors and reviewers.  But given Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s (to my mind) convincing arguments about the value of post-publication peer review, I think that an ability and willingness to work with peers can be demonstrated without much trouble in comment threads and future blog posts.

Does it create a scholarly community?  Oh heavens, yes!  In fact this is another area where blogs may have an advantage over the scholarly article.  It may actually be easier to create a scholarly community in a space that encourages so much feedback and discussion.

In Conclusion

So what has been the impact of the Internet on the scholarly article in the field of history?  Well, after this whirlwind series of posts, I doubt that I’ve come much closer to really nailing anything down, but it seems to me that the traditional form of the article has been most impacted by the creation of article databases, as I first stated.  These databases have changed a great deal of how articles are received, but very little of how they are produced.  That may change as time goes on, but it looks to me like some or all of the functions of the classic scholarly article can be remediated into new online genres.  These genres will be able to do perform some of these functions better than that journal article could, but this doesn’t mean that the article will (or should) ever go away.  It’s just that it will be joined by newer forms that do their own kinds of scholarly work.

Publishing, Copyright, and Open-Access

This is the fourth post in a series in which I am hoping gain some insight on how the Internet the scholarly journal article in the field of history, as well as what kind of adaptations we might see in the future. Previously: The History of the History Article, The History Article and the Database, The Article, the Digital, and the Creation of Community.

By art designer at PLoS (plos.org) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0">http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)</a>], via Wikimedia Commons

By art designer at PLoS (plos.org) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Internet has dominated discussions of copyright at least since the rise of Napster in the late 1990s, and probably earlier.  The Internet has allowed the rapid replication and dissemination of most forms of intellectual property, sometimes to the detriment of copyright holders and sometimes, surprisingly, to their advantage.  It has also brought into relief the uneasy relationship between scholarship and intellectual property that has long existed in the academy.  Plagiarism is the most damnable of the deadly sins in history, as it is in most of the humanities.  For the last hundred-plus years historians have jealously guarded their words – and rightfully so, as those words were their primary product.  And yet, even as they invoked much of its spirit, my impression is that historians have rarely explicitly summoned copyright to deal with plagiarists.  Punishment instead has involved loss of status and censure from professional organizations.  This is because historians wish their work to be easily accessible even as they wish to retain both authorship and control over their work.  In this post, I’ll be exploring the interactions of the copyright (and by extension capitalist) system with academic publishing, the open-access movement, and the Internet.

Over the last four or five years, the founders of Academia.edu have built their user base into the millions on the promise of creating a community where scholars could disseminate their work to encourage both a wide readership and timely feedback.  The Academia.edu community hit its first major speed bump recently when journal publisher Elsevier began sending DMCA takedown notices by the hundreds, asking that the website pull from circulation articles that had been published in one of Elsevier’s journals.  Many users of Academia.edu have bristled at the takedown notices, angered by the assertion that they do not control their own work.  And this perhaps points to the difference between copyright and authorship, with most academics valuing the latter much more highly than the former.

The primacy of authorship, rather than copyright, in the minds of academics would explain the popularity of the open-access movement.  Those in favor of open access to scholarly material retain their esteem of authorship, but believe that scholarship works best when it is easily available to fellow scholars, a view that I wholeheartedly agree with.  Publishers and more cautious academics, however, worry that too much open-access will lead to the collapse of the entire scholarly publishing apparatus.  After all, university presses are already struggling to make ends meet, to the detriment of historians interested in publishing monographs.  Those in favor of open-access would argue that it is companies like Elsevier, who control journals and article databases, that cloud the issue with their need to turn a profit.  And a recent study of journals in the social sciences and humanities shows that the open-access model is still not viable, even if authors go the route of “gold” open access and pay thousands of dollars for the rights to each article.  (This model may actually work in the sciences, but only because science articles are much cheaper to produce since they generally require less time investment from the editorial/referee apparatus.)[1]

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association, argues that part of the original mission of universities – and university presses – was not just the generation of new knowledge but also its dissemination.  Fitzpatrick thinks that the responsibility for solving this problem therefore rests with universities, who should stop expecting their presses to break even (or sometimes turn a profit) and instead support them in their efforts to disseminate the work of the professional academics that the university employs.  This will require experimentation with online forms of publishing and the patience to see those experiments bear fruit, then adjust accordingly.[2]

I agree with Fitzpatrick in particular and, for the most part, I tend to agree with scholars who back the open-access movement.  However, I worry that part of the value-added by commercial publishers is the function of article databases as content aggregators.  As a historian of technology, I have confidence that I can find almost everything that’s been published (in article form) on a given subject by searching just a few databases.  Finding open-access works, on the other hand, poses the problem of finding the resources easily.  Unless I go and intentionally look for something in the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, for example, I don’t really run across items from it.  This problem is more technical than anything else, and I have confidence that a technical solution is easily workable.  Perhaps universities can band together to help create some sort of central search function like WorldCat.  Or maybe services such as WorldCat or Google Scholar will continue to be refined until they can find the material that I’m looking for.


[1] Andy Gass and Helen Doyle, “The Reality of Open-Access Journal Articles,The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 2005; Mary Waltham, The Future of Scholarly Journals Publishing Among Social Science and Humanities Associations (Princeton, NJ, 2009).

[2] Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (New York: NYU Press, 2009).

The Article, the Digital, and the Creation of Community

This is the third post in a series in which I am hoping gain some insight on how the Internet the scholarly journal article in the field of history, as well as what kind of adaptations we might see in the future. Previously: The History of the History Article, The History Article and the Database.

In my previous post, I discussed how the creation of article databases such as JSTOR has led to a rise in status for the journal article in the field of history, while at the same time leading to a possible decline in the status of individual journals.  In this post, I’d like to look at the role of the journal article in the creation of the scholarly community, how that role might either change or be enhanced in the digital age, and how some of the articles functions have been remediated online.

Peter Coclanis, a historian at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, in a column about getting published, pointed to the ways that (in an environment unfriendly to monograph publishing) publishing a journal article has become a sign that a historian is ready to join the profession.  According to Coclanis, publishing an article shows a number of specific professional competencies, including research skills, the ability to write, the ability to meet deadlines, and the ability to work well with editors and reviewers.  Journals therefore help to create the profession as well as tie the scholarly community together.  This is unsurprising since, as I noted in part one of this series, scholarly journals date back to the creation of history as a profession.[1]

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association, whose book Planned Obsolescence I’ve been using as a resource during this project, appeared on the Copyright Clearance Center’s “Beyond the Book” podcast earlier this year to discuss the future of academic publishing.  During the interview, Fitzpatrick draws attention to some of the aspects of scholarly publishing that become more visible as scholarly work is remediated into newer forms online.  What moving scholarship online particularly highlights is the two-way nature of communication between scholars and the how that communication helps to build a scholarly community.  Scholars have always communicated with one another about their work both before and after publication, and moving scholarship online makes those interactions visible, assuming that the infrastructure is in pace to display those interactions.  Article databases currently don’t have the functionality to allow discussions to take place online, so those interactions sill mostly occur in places where they traditionally have: during the peer review process, at conferences, in informal interactions, in seminars, and in personal communications.  However, newer places to publish such as blogs, online archives, and platforms like the Media Commons Press, where Fitzpatrick’s book is published online, do have this functionality built in and allow scholarly discussions to move into a place where more people can participate and where that participation is recorded.[2]

But what about peer review?  The biggest reservation that many historians have about digital forms of publication is the lack of a peer review process.  The article database model of scholarship has obviously not abandoned the peer review process.  For the most part, it is the post-publication life of the article that is changed after remediation into the online world.  (This remediation also affects negotiations over copyright both pre- and post-publication, but I’ll get to that in another post.)  Fitzpatrick argues that the scholarly discussions that occur online are, in fact, a form of peer review.  They just happen to be post-publication peer review.  Fitzpatrick acknowledges that accepting this form of peer review will require a cultural shift within the academy, but such a shift is already happening in the sciences, which have been journal-dependent for much longer than the humanities.  The open-access repository arXiv has become a place where scientific researcher, especially in physics, have begun to turn for feedback on their research prior to any journal publication.  In fact, some papers are now published exclusively on arXiv, as their authors can be sure that they have both been reviewed and have reached the intended audience.  If the intent of peer-review is to ensure the quality of scholarship, argues Fitzpatrick, then the discussions, revisions, and follow-up posts fulfill that purpose.  What’s more, post-publication peer review can take into account the impact of the work, whether that be within a specific specialty or with a broader audience.

There currently is no equivalent of arXiv for the humanities, but some historians have started experimenting with publishing online in forms that encourage other scholars (or the public) to comment on their work.  In the history of science, a nice little blog network has developed around the blog The Giants Shoulders, which coordinates a monthly “blog carnival,” where a number of history of science blogs contribute posts around a central theme, thus encouraging discussion and cross-linking between blogs.  I’ve noticed that, so far, historians seem loath to use the comments function on most blogs.  They prefer to respond to each other with their own blog posts.  Maybe they just consider the comments function to be too little space in which to create a properly wordy response.

In the next post I’ll be looking at the academic publishing process, intellectual property, and the open-access movement, to see how historians have responded to the particular concerns raised by each.


[1] Peter Coclanis, “Publishing in Journals in the 21st Century,” Perspectives on History, April 2011.

[2] Chris Kenneally and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Academic Publishing: Obsolete,” Beyond the Book Podcast, 2013.

The History Article and the Database

This is the second post in a series in which I am hoping gain some insight on how the Internet the scholarly journal article in the field of history, as well as what kind of adaptations we might see in the future. Previously: The History of the History Article.

jstor_logo

There’s not a doubt in my mind that article databases such as JSTOR and Project Muse have brought about the greatest changes to the scholarly article in the last two decades.  Scholars across the humanities and social sciences have completely altered their work habits over the last two decades to take advantage of the new affordances offered by searchable article databases.  In doing so they have raised the standing of journal articles (in the field of history, at least) while also flattening some of the distinctions in editorial viewpoint brought by various journals.  Historians conducting their secondary research now have the ability to call on over a century’s worthy of journal articles on their topic, allowing them to more clearly see trends in the historiography of their subject.  This has led to a rise in the prominence of the article within the historical profession, as an article database is often the first place that a historian will look when conducting her research and, increasingly, when assigning seminar readings.

Robert A. Schneider, editor of the American Historical Review, went so far in 2006 as to declare this the “golden age of the scholarly article” in the historical profession. In that piece, Schneider puts special emphasis on the fact that history professors have recently been filling their seminar syllabi with articles, rather than monographs.  Thanks to article databases, professors can assign journal articles with absolute confidence that students will be able to access them (for free!) without having to worry about out-of-print books or differing editions.  In my personal experience as a graduate student, this has indeed been a general trend.  Two of the three most historiographically intensive seminars that I’ve taken have focused almost exclusively on journal articles.  As Schneider notes, articles are often the ideal length to make a particular historiographical point.  To that I would add that the use of articles allows professors to break the one-book-per-week rhythm of many seminars and instead present a cross-section of historical thought on a single subject by assigning three or four articles by historians with differing points of view. (Some would argue that this is sacrificing depth for breadth, but I’ll get into that later.)[1]

This rise in the prominence of the article in the field of history has led to a corresponding decline in the status of the monograph.  As I noted in my previous post, the monograph has been considered the gold standard of academic history ever since the field became professionalized in the 19th century.  While I don’t think that anyone would make the argument that the monograph is now considered the lesser of the two genres, it certainly seems to have lost some ground.  One major reason, other than the easy accessibility of journal articles, seems to be that university presses are increasingly reluctant to publish specialized monographs that are unlikely to financially break even.  As Kathleen Fitzpatrick has pointed out, university presses have traditionally relied on financial support from their institutions to make up for their financial shortfalls, but in the last several decades institutional support has dried up as universities have increasingly expected their presses to break even, or even turn a profit.  Paula Findlen at Stanford has noticed this trend and argued for the creation and acceptance of other genres that would allow historians more freedom in publishing their work.[2]

Even as article databases have raised the status (or at the very least the utility) of history articles, they may have simultaneously begun to level the status of individual journals.  On his Percolator blog at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Paul Basken discussed a study of science articles that found that the journals with the highest impact factor (a metric that counts cumulative citations), have begun losing out on the most-cited articles.  According to Basken, the researchers attribute this leveling to Internet databases, which allow researchers to find all the articles on their subject regardless of journal.  Although it has not been studied or documented as extensively, something similar has been happening in history.  In a more recent piece than the one of his that I cited earlier, Robert Schneider worries that one of the side effects of the use of article databases will be the loss of identity for individual journals.  Schneider points out that journals aren’t just raw repositories for scholarship, but instead often represent particular scholarly traditions and historiographical points of view.  Whereas historians traditionally known which journals to turn to if they wanted a particular take on a subject, more recently trained scholars have begun to lose some of that knowledge because they rarely approach journals as a whole, instead searching for articles on specific topics.  Ethan Kleinberg, the editor of History and Theory, makes a similar argument when he discusses the dangers of losing issues of journals built around specific themes.  Kleinberg worries that journals will begin to adopt an iTunes-style model where articles are published online as they come out, instead of packaged with related articles within an issue.  Such a publishing model would lose much of the value that a good editorial staff brings to the publishing process.[3]

The advent and widespread adoption of databases have led to these debates over the value of the journal, even as they’ve increased the value of the scholarly article.  In my next post I’ll be looking more closely at what the journal article does for the historical community and how both the article and the community may change in the future.


[1] Robert A. Schneider, “The Golden Age of the Scholarly Article Is Now,” Perspectives on History, September 2006.

[2] Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (New York: NYU Press, 2009);Paula Findlen, “What Counts: On Books, Articles, and Productivity,” Perspectives on History, September 2013.

[3] Paul Basken, “Top-Ranked Journals Are Losing Their Share of Top-Cited Articles,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 2012; Robert A. Schneider, “Scholarly Journals in the Digital Age: One Editor’s Reflections of the Moment,” Perspectives on History, January 2011; Ethan Kleinberg, “Academic Journals in the Digital Era: An Editor’s Reflections,” Perspectives on History, December 2012.

The History of the History Article

 This is the first post in a series in which I hope to gain some insight on how the Internet has affected the scholarly journal article in the field of history, as well as what kind of adaptations we might see in the future.

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Photo by NDU Press; Copyright notice

The scholarly monograph has long been the gold standard by which academic historians are judged.  It conveys a depth of research and argument difficult to replicate in any other form.  Yet, when I look (with envy) at the lengthy CVs of my colleagues, they are dominated not by monographs, but by peer-reviewed journal articles.  And while a lot has been written on the fate of the book, both non-academic and academic, in the digital age, quite a bit less has been written on the impact of the internet on the scholarly journal.  I am thus starting a series of blog posts that will explore the impact of the Internet (and the new affordances that the Internet has provided) on the scholarly journal article in the field of history.  Obviously, it narrows the available literature quite a bit to focus solely on the field of history, so I will have to fall back now and then on pieces that have been written about the humanities more generally.  With that small disclaimer out of the way, let us begin!

Being a historian, I will begin by going backwards.  I figure that if I’m going to examine how recent changes in technology, society and the academy have influenced the scholarly article, then it’s probably best to look at how changes in those same areas brought about the existence of scholarly journals in the first place.

Journals of learned societies, from which today’s academic journals are directly descended, can be traced back to the mid-seventeenth century, when the Royal Society in London began publishing the Transactions of the Royal Society.  At that time, the continuing evolution of the printing press worked together with a variety of local historical factors in Restoration England to make the periodical an obvious choice for the Society’s dedicated membership.  Jump forward a couple of centuries, and the modern university system began to take shape. As with many academic fields, the profession of history as we would recognize it today dates back to the nineteenth century.  A group of historians in Germany, famously led by Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886), essentially created professional academic history.  They brought together skills from traditional history, philology, and literary criticism to create Geschichtswissenschaft, which they thought of as a more scientific approach to history – an approach that was taught in graduate seminars and emphasized the priority of primary sources in research.  I think it’s important to note here to note that these German historians, and those in other countries that followed their example, were trying to make history more like the sciences.  They were attempting to generate knowledge that would have the rock-solid imprimatur of science. 1

Historische_Zeitschrift

The 1859 cover of Historische Zeitschrift

The first edited, peer-reviewed history journal, which was, again, based on the scientific journals that had been around for a couple of centuries at this point, Historische Zeitschrift, was founded in 1859.  As the German system spread, journals were founded in other countries, including the Revue historique (1876) in France, the English Historical Review (1886) in England, and the American Historical Review (1895) in the United States.  In the American case, the university system was already rapidly maturing when the American Historical Association (itself dating to 1884) formed the AHR. The journal quickly stopped accepting submissions from historians not employed at universities.  As the AHR‘s first editor, J. Franklin Jameson, put it, the journal’s most important role was “to regularize, to criticize, to restrain vagaries, to set a standard of workmanship and compel men to conform to it.” The journal was thus created as a professional regulator and barrier to entry, thereby helping the American Historical Association fulfill its mission of turning history into a distinctive occupation whose members could lay claim to a special kind of expertise.2

The peer-review process seems to have had its own interesting and not-entirely-clear history.  Some argue that it began as a way for the state to monitor, police and, if need be, censor royal academies such as the Royal Society.  It evolved, however, to become a standard part of scientific practice, as thus appears to have been imported into the humanities along with the form of the scholarly journal itself.  The whole story is not entirely clear, but Kathleen Fitzpatrick has a nice summary of current research.

All of this is to say that the history journal was created in at a specific time and within a specific context, and can therefore be examined as a historical subject despite (it might be better to say because of) its continued importance in the field of history.  Though the monograph long held the position of the most prestigious of historical genres, the journal article has been integral in defining the community of scholars and the profession itself.  In my next entry, I’ll look at how the Internet, and more specifically the internet database, has changed the way that journal articles are found, consumed, and considered.


1. Daniel Woolf, A Global History of History (Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 365-377

2. Christopher L. Tomlins, “The Wave of the Present: The Printed Scholarly Journal on the Edge of the Internet,” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 29, no. 3 (1998): 133–150. Republished here.