¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 This weekend we spoke about our experience as co-editors of Writing History in the Digital Age at THATCamp CHNM 2012, aka The Humanities and Technology Camp “unconference” hosted by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. A year ago, the initial stage of our edited volume was announced during the “dork shorts” lightning talk at THATCamp CHNM 2011, but this time both of us participated in a session titled “Open Peer Review in Practice.” The session was organized by Sarah Werner, an Associate Editor at Shakespeare Quarterly who guest edited the open peer-reviewed issue on “Shakespeare and Performance.” Sarah also posted a link to a cluster of essays, titled “The State(s) of peer review” at Postmedieval Forum, featuring a very wide range of views from scholars on pros and cons of open peer review. (We wish that we had found these March 2012 essays prior to finishing our “Conclusions,” but perhaps we will have an opportunity to refer to them into a revised draft.)
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Mills Kelly posted his summary of discussion themes on his EdWired blog, weighing the risks and benefits of open peer review across the handful of models that people have tried so far. Writing History in the Digital Age contributor John Theibault offered an author’s perspective on what worked or could have worked better. Sarah reminded us to reflect on what open peer review does not do well before leaping into the process. We also heard from several people who are actively considering an open peer review model and looking for more logistical advice than what appears in our “Conclusions” section, so here’s an expanded version of some of the notes we scribbled during our session:
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 • Think ahead and be upfront with contributors and commenters about your editorial policies. We spent considerable time thinking through some key questions, such as: Who “owns” the content, including the comments? Who decides whether it will be “published” and how will this be communicated respectfully to authors? Since open peer review is a new concept to many authors, with different models in practice, we did our best to spell out our editorial and intellectual policy (and require contributors to agree to it) before accepting their submissions.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 • In open peer review it’s not just about publishing; it may also be about unpublishing what you’ve already made public. Be clear about how many versions of an open peer reviewed work will remain publicly accessible under your aegis and for how long. Will the open peer review version and comments be removed from public view once the ultimate version of that work has been published? What happens to the open peer reviewed version of work that does not get carried over for publication in your journal or volume? Such decisions have a significant effect on the “life” of scholarly works, including their accessibility and citability, as well as authors’ chances of having them accepted elsewhere in the case that they do not succeed in open peer review in the first instance. For our part, all versions of essays submitted to Writing History in the Digital Age remain publicly available, and we encourage the citation of the various versions much as working papers are cited in other disciplines, with the ultimate version then serving as a capstone (or tombstone, in Paul Krugman’s description).
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 • Match your expectations with the cycles of the academic calendar. No one wants to attend an open peer review “party” where no one shows up, so we strategized about planning key events to match with our general impression of the (North American) academic calendar. Specifically, we scheduled our open peer review period for October-November 2011, since we thought it resembled a “virtual conference” discussion and wanted to fit it into the same period when scholars were participating in fall conferences (and not yet overwhelmed with end-of-semester obligations).
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 • Make the review process authentic by linking it directly to publication decisions. We designed the open peer review period, where both expert reviewers and general readers commented on the essays, to inform our decisions about which contributions would advance to the final manuscript. But we were surprised to learn that some other models of open peer review do it very differently, including one where the editors decided — in advance — which pieces would be published, then opened them up for comments. Other editors are wondering if or how open peer review makes sense for receiving comments on content that has been previously published on other blogs. One size does not fit all cases here, so the burden is on each editorial team to think carefully about their goals and methods.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 • Share responsibility for generating commentary with all of your contributors. As co-editors, we took the lead by inviting readers to participate in the open peer review, through personalized emails, guest blog posts, listserv announcements, and Twitter and FaceBook social media. But we also reminded our 30+ authors of their role in spreading the word through their own networks to encourage readers to participate, because all of us had “skin in the game.” Our experiment in open peer review relied upon a collective effort, and several of our authors played a vital role in posting and responding comments, and encouraging other readers to do the same.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 • Speed is your ally in a born-digital, open peer review scholarly publication, particularly in the fast-changing world of the digital humanities. We worked hard to make sure that the most recent version of an author’s work is visible at the top-most level of our site, with links to previous versions. Our web format allows us to be more nimble than traditional print-only peer reviewed publications, where 12 to 18 month turnaround time is routine in our field.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 • Check out features of the newest version of CommentPress, the WordPress plugin & theme that enables page- and paragraph-level commentary. Many thanks to developer Christian Wach for his continued work on code improvements. See details at http://cowriting.trincoll.edu