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To: Tom Dwyer (Editor-in-Chief, University of Michigan Press)
Cc: Shana Kimball (Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library)
From: Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki
Re: Response to reviews on proposal for Writing History in the Digital Age
Date: April 11, 2011
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In light of the constructive comments we recently received from two reviewers on our November 16th proposal, we have refined our plans and offer this more detailed response. It consists of two sections:
A) Goals of the book, and its contribution
B) Editorial roles, workflow, timeframe, and technology
To move forward on this project, we request that the Press reach its decision on an advance contract by May 2nd. As outlined below, our timetable is driven by our academic work schedules and those of many of our prospective authors, and by our desire to create an online volume of draft essays and commentary that would be suitable to be presented, if the Press desired, at HASTAC in December 2011.
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A) Goals of the book, and its contribution
Like many humanists, academic historians have been slow to exploit digital media in the service of their work. Digital History has long been promoted by the American Historical Association and advanced by the work of scholars nation- and indeed worldwide, including the pioneering and prolific Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Yet while the vast majority of academic historians utilize at least some digital and web-based technologies and resources, they use them to produce traditional scholarship, published in traditional (paper-based or -inspired) formats. Both pre-tenure and tenured scholars continue to be put off by the sense that web-based publications, whether traditional in format or not, lack the scholarly recognition and prestige of print (Townsend 2010). They are also concerned about the difficulties in getting non-traditional, often multi-media, electronic scholarship reviewed (Townsend 2010, Harley et al. 2010). Considering the primacy the historical profession gives to closely-reasoned argumentation, it has been easy for many within the discipline to dismiss non-traditional scholarship as incorporating bells and whistles which might either distract attention from the argument or else attempt to cover up for the lack of one (Harley et al. 2010).
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Historians’ reluctance to engage with the web in terms of scholarly communication is particularly unfortunate because the web offers opportunities to overcome some of the widely lamented limitations of traditional historical scholarship and publishing processes. Traditional scholarship in history is solitary work which takes a long time to see the light of day, both because peer review and publication processes are slow, and because historians do not tend to share their work with colleagues (for example, in conference settings) until it is close to completion (Grafton 2011). Moreover, traditional historical scholarship is linear in form, bound by definitions of discipline and genre and by resource-determined limitations imposed on length and contents. It is exclusive in terms of who can produce/publish and who can read it (both literally and figuratively) and in terms of who gets a voice in critiquing it. Its purportedly blind review processes help preserve the hierarchy of power relations between referees and authors, junior and senior scholars, those in resource-rich and resource-poor institutions, and those within and outside of the academy. These hierarchies tend to foster antagonism and forms of competition that do not serve well the goals of intellectual advance (Fearn 2011). Writing History seeks to contribute to the breaking down of these intellectual and professional barriers in the service of excellent scholarship.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 As Amy E. Earhart and Andrew Jewell (2011) note in their recent book on literature scholars and digital media, “[n]ot every scholar will create digital materials, but, eventually, all scholars will use some sort of digital materials.” (2). Indeed, although the mainstream of academic historians do not yet author digital materials, nearly all create scholarship digitally; that is, whether or not they use digital tools to identify, gather, and organize and analyze their data, nearly all turn to their computers when it is time to write. It is this digitally-supported thinking-writing process – the essential, universal work of the historian – that is the focus of Writing History. The proposed volume is therefore not about Digital History in the sense of “gathering, preserving, and representing the past on the web” (Cohen & Rosenzweig 2005), but is instead about digital knowledge production and dissemination.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 With our unique focus on writing, our innovative web-born format and our open review process, we seek to move beyond the traditionalist ways humanities scholars – and historians in particular – have tended to think about and to use digital technologies. In a recent lecture delivered in advance of his forthcoming book, The Ivory Tower and the Open Web, Dan Cohen (2011) observes that most scholars have preferred “to impose traditional ivory tower genres on the web” rather than accept its most successful models, such as blogs and social media. What would happen, Cohen asks, if we reversed this flow and “embraced the genres of the open web?” How might the web challenge prevailing norms of scholarly work, particularly in how we generate and communicate knowledge with one another? This, in short, is what we seek to explore in our Writing History volume.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 While we appreciate the new terrain opened up by Cohen and Scheinfeldt’s forthcoming edited volume Hacking the Academy, our proposed volume differs in both its thematic focus and its process of creation. In terms of theme, relatively few of the posted essays on the Hacking the Academy contribution website directly address how our writing practices may be changing. By comparison, our proposed volume, Writing History in the Digital Age, asks explicitly: How is the digital revolution changing our writing process? How does our work-craft of researching, authoring, and publishing look different now, if at all, and what are the broader implications for our profession? Furthermore, in the “Scholarship and Scholarly Practices” section of Hacking the Academy’s contribution site (2010), only 15 of the 50 submissions appear to have been written during the one-week call for papers, and a mere handful of these essays responded directly to one another (most notably, the strand on “Open Access Publishing and Scholarly Values”). By contrast, our born-digital Writing History volume will be dynamically written with direct, public feedback provided while authors are still engaged in the writing process. This submission and open review process will create a more reflective, dialectic setting for contributors to focus and refine their ideas before drafting and crafting their full and final essays. In its use of the CommentPress plugin, Writing History will also make visible the work of diverse readers as active interpreters and constructors of the text (e.g., Barthes, 1974) by encouraging them to participate — at the paragraph level — in a public dialectic as reviewers of the text.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Our experience with the first round of “Writing History” in Fall 2010 led us to a number of realizations that we have used to shape this proposal and the project as a whole. Our first round began as a project within one sub-field of history, but quickly broadened to encompass themes and concerns applicable across the discipline. For one thing, perhaps because of their tradition of solitary work, historians are extremely interested in learning about how and why their colleagues near and far actually do what they do, in both professional and personal terms. This underscores our interest in opening up the traditionally private processes of historical writing and reviewing, not only but also for the benefit of younger scholars and those outside the academy. In addition, we have been reminded of the potential of truly reflective historical practice, for this volume and for the historical profession more generally. What are good historians doing? How do they make decisions? What role can technology play in that?
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 We also realized that the type of people who chose to participate in our online project as authors and commentators represented a relatively narrow slice of the profession, something which we aim to ameliorate in the proposed volume. Furthermore, while online communication may be instantaneous, a rich community of sustained dialogue does not grow automatically. Instead, we had to seed the soil and cultivate discussion, setting the tone for substantive comments ourselves and by personally soliciting written contributions from particular individuals. We also found it necessary to initiate participants into the new modes of discussion enabled by the WordPress platform, while at the same time encouraging them to shape the discussion’s tone and form via their participation in it. These aspects of our initial experience have also found their way into the plans detailed below.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Based on discussions sparked by our first round of essays, we can imagine a set of generative questions for our second round that address a broader array of themes on digital technology and historical writing, such as the following:
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 1) Historians are increasingly experimenting with digital tools such as text mining, relational databases, and spatial mapping to inform our analyses. Are these tools also changing the way that we think and write — or not?
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 2) When one author shares ideas on another author’s writing, either through a conventional peer review or online comments on a website, who “owns” the resultant text? Or does it belong to the “commons”? What insights can we gain on this question from historians of intellectual property and copyright law?
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 3) What can we learn from historians who co-author scholarly works with collaborative tools, such as Track Changes or Google Documents? And do their experiences differ from earlier generations of historians who collaborated without these tools?
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 4) Some historians have banned their students from citing Wikipedia in their papers, while others have created innovative class assignments for students to contribute and edit Wikipedia essays. What do these conflicting practices reveal about our fears and hopes for the next generation of historical writing?
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 5) What happens when online reader comments challenge the author(ity) of historical scholarship? How has the democratization of historical analysis on the open web changed the nature of writing in our profession?
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 6) Traditionally, readers have relied on historians to include and interpret the most relevant evidence to support their argument. But today, more historians are digitizing a significant amount of research source materials to create an online archive, linked to their scholarship. How does this shift affect how we write — and read — history?
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 7) A decade ago, perhaps the most widely discussed issue of the Journal of American History was the 1997 roundtable, “What We See and Can’t See in the Past,” where editor David Thelen published Joel Williamson’s essay on lynching, and persuaded all six blind reviewers to reveal their names in print, “to demystify our own practice.” Given the growth of the open web, would this issue generate the same reaction today — or not?
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 8] What has our experience with H-Net, the topical history email lists that emerged in the 1990s, taught our profession about sustaining online scholarly communities? Has the quantity and quality of written exchanges on H-Net changed as newer technologies have emerged, such as blogs and Twitter?
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 9) Clearly, writing an online history blog only is not the same as authoring a scholarly history book. But is there only a fuzzy line that separates them, and other forms of historical authorship, such as delivering public lectures and penning op-ed essays?
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B: Editorial roles, workflow, timeframe, and technology
In revising our proposal for Writing History in the Digital Age, we have drawn from Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Katherine Rowe’s reflections (2010) on their successful Shakespeare Quarterly online experiment, as well as lessons we learned from our first round of essays and discussion in Fall 2010.
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- Press Editor (Tom Dwyer)
- Series Editors/Advisory Board
- Book Editors (Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki)
- Expert Reviewers
- Open Reviewers
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Before we can proceed, the Press Editor and Series Editors must reach a decision, in consultation with their Board, regarding an advance contract prior to May 2nd. This decision date is driven by our personal schedules, the need to obtain commitments from potential contributors prior to the summer, and our desire to generate a preliminary product prior to the December 2011 HASTAC meeting at the University of Michigan. If the Press grants us an advance contract, then we propose to divide our editorial process and timetable into the following phases:
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1) Open call for essays, with theme deadline & discussion (May 3rd – June 15, 2011)
As Book Editors, we will widely circulate an open call for essays through conventional scholarly channels, social networking tools, and personal invitations to prospective contributors. The WritingHistory website will serve as the hub for more detailed communications about the vision for the volume, the submissions process, and online discussion for prospective authors. While the book project is under advance contract, we will bear responsibility for administering the WritingHistory site, which is hosted by Trinity College. We ask the Press to allow us to include language on the site, such as “under advance contract for the Digital Humanities Series at the University of Michigan Press.” Publicly announcing our working agreement in this way will allow us to attract the highest quality of essays from prospective contributors.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 To build a richer scholarly community and intellectual coherency for the volume, we will require contributors to post, at minimum, a one-paragraph description of their essay theme by June 15th, six weeks prior to the deadline for completed drafts. Our online forum provides a space for authors to formulate their initial ideas, read what others are proposing, and refine their thoughts in response to the emerging volume as a whole. As the Book Editors, our open comments will signal to prospective contributors which themes seem best suited for the volume, and other areas that we would like to see more fully developed. Also, we may encourage authors who share similar interests to consider writing a collaborative essay, or pair two essays with contrasting perspectives on the same theme. Here is the draft text of our announcement:
Call for Essays: Writing History in the Digital Age
To historians, we pose these questions: How is the web changing our writing? How has the digital revolution transformed the ways we conceptualize, author, and communicate our work, and learn about the scholarship of our peers? What aspects of the craft of historical writing have not changed? And what does all of this tell us about the current state of our field, and its relationship to broader trends in the humanities?
Contribute an essay to our open-review, born-digital edited volume, [under advance contract with the University of Michigan Press]. Join the online discussion at (http://WritingHistory.trincoll.edu), post your proposed essay theme by June 15th, 2011, and respond to ideas raised by other readers. Our online forum provides a space for authors to refine their writing in response to the emerging volume as a whole. Completed drafts must be submitted by July 30th, and selected essays will be open to public review — with commentary by newcomers and experts in the field — during early fall 2011.
We welcome innovative essays that incorporate first-person perspectives, collaborative authorship, external links, and experimental media. But each essay, at its core, must address our central question on the web and the writing process for historians. Our readers will hold these online essays to the same high standards as other forms of scholarly writing, and we expect insightful analysis backed by imaginative uses of evidence. All contributors must agree to freely share their content under the same terms as our Creative Commons license. See our website for additional details and advice on style, length, and our WordPress platform.
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2) Invitations to expert reviewers (June 2011)
Once the preliminary theme posting and discussion are underway, the Book Editors will prepare a list of 6 candidates for expert reviewers, who are recognized for their historical writing and digital scholarship. After consultation with the Press Editor and Series Editors (who may wish to draw up their own lists), the Press Editor will officially invite our set of experts to commit to writing online comments on essays during the designated six-week review window, as evaluators appointed by the Press. Following the Shakespeare Quarterly model, the invitation will clearly state that comments by all reviewers, invited or open, will be public and labeled with their full names. Our goal is to make the behind-the-scenes work of peer reviewing more visible and transparent to the profession, and also to allow untenured contributors to show that credentialed reviewers had evaluated their work. If the Press typically offers a token stipend to experts who review book-length works, we would ask the same for this online edited volume.
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3) Essay submission deadline and editorial policy agreement (July 30, 2011)
Six weeks after the initial deadline for posting themes, all contributors must submit full digital drafts of their essays and agree to the terms of participation:
Editorial and intellectual property policy:
As the author, I am the original creator of the work submitted, and agree to share it under the same Creative Commons license used by the editors of Writing History in the Digital Age. By doing so, the Creative Commons license allows the author to retain the copyright of the work while making a non-exclusive agreement for it to be freely shared with others, as long as the original source is cited. Any portion of this essay that is under review or has been previously published elsewhere is clearly marked. If any material in this essay has been copyrighted, I have obtained written permission to include it here, unless it clearly falls within fair use guidelines.
By submitting this essay, I understand that the editors may accept or decline it for inclusion in the Writing History in the Digital Age website and/or publication. If accepted for the website, and after a final approval by the author, the essay will be publicly available for a six-week period of open review and commentary, during which it may not be possible to make revisions, since doing so could break links to readers’ comments.
At any time, an author may request that the editors “close comments” on an essay and remove it from active discussion on the website, and also from consideration for further publication. However, the Creative Commons license for this work cannot be retracted, and a static copy of the essay (with comments prior to closing) may be digitally archived by the editors and made publicly accessible.
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4) Preliminary editorial screening and web formatting (August – September 15, 2011)
As the Book Editors, for each essay submitted, we will decide whether it meets basic standards for inclusion on the website and further consideration for the proposed volume. We expect to exclude some essays for lack of direct relevance to our central focus on the writing of history, while others will be dropped due to the lack of a coherent argument or original point of view, or the number of submissions on the same topic. For each essay deemed worthy of peer review, we will upload the text onto a draft page of our WordPress site, and grant authors privileges to modify and improve their essays prior to the open review period. We will create a simple online tutorial to show authors how to add footnotes, images, captions, and external links according to our uniform style. This process enables authors to continue to improve their digital drafts and grant final approval in the late summer, at which point we will use our administrator privileges to publish essays to the site.
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5) Essays open to peer review and discussion (September 15 – October 30, 2011)
Beginning on September 15th, we will open the essays to public review and discussion for a six-week period during the early fall. In addition to our existing communication channels, we will draw upon the expanded social networks of contributing authors who have a stake in attracting readers to comment on their work. All visitors to the site — open and invited reviewers, novice students and senior scholars — will be encouraged to comment on the essays, draw connections between them and broader trends in the literature, and build on their personal experiences of writing history. As Book Editors, we will encourage substantive feedback in our “how to comment” tutorial as well as via direct online communication with individuals. All commentators will be required to submit comments using their full names; no anonymous feedback will be permitted. Furthermore, by pressing the submit button, each commentator will be required to agree that their words may be publicly shared under the Creative Commons site license, and that any language deemed inappropriate by the editors may be removed.
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6) Invitations to write concluding reflections (October 2011)
Midway through the review period, we will invite up to three of the most thoughtfully engaged online commentators to submit reflective essays for the conclusion. Granting the honor of writing the “last words” this way stems from a suggestion by Fitzpatrick and Rowe (2010), whereby contributors earn the right to submit this essay based on the value of their prior contributions to the collective discussion. Rather than inviting “famous names” in the field to pen their reflections, we seek to bring to the forefront the normally behind-the-scenes work of peer reviewing that makes communities of scholarly publishing possible. By inviting up to three final contributors in this way, we may be able to include different perspectives — such as graduate students, senior scholars, and voices from outside the field — to share their points of view on the substantive issues and our experimental format.
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7) Focused editorial feedback for contributors (November 1st – December 15, 2011)
After the six-week review period, we will “close comments” on the site. In our role as book editors, we will clearly communicate our editorial feedback to each contributor, in a private email, with our decision about whether or not we will include the essay in our final submission to the Press. Our judgments will be based on the quality of each essay and its relationship to the volume as a whole, as shaped by the context of the online commentary. We expect to send “revise & resubmit” instructions to some authors, and to turn down others whose topic was addressed more thoroughly elsewhere in the volume, or do not significantly contribute to the field of historical writing. Essays that spark thoughtful commentary are more likely to advance than those that do not. We will recommend that some authors incorporate selected comments as block-quotes, identified by the reviewer, into their revised essays, followed by their response. Doing so will emphasize historical writing more as a process than a final product.
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8] Author revisions & final reflections deadline (December 15 – January 30, 2012)
Contributors who have been invited to revise their essays will have the opportunity to do so during this six-week period, timed around the U.S. semester break. Final versions must be submitted to the book editors by January 30th. The concluding reflection essays also will be due at this time. Furthermore, as Book Editors, we will use this time to prepare our introduction to the volume, which will include some of our own reflections on the process, and we will make final decisions on content to be included in our manuscript.
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9) Submission of full manuscript to the Press (February-March 2012)
In early 2012, the Press will receive the full manuscript of our edited volume, consisting of our introduction, the peer-reviewed essay chapters, selected commentary, and the invited concluding reflections. We expect that the Series Editors and Press Editor will make a recommendation on publication to the Board, based on the online commentary of both invited experts and open reviewers. If the Press does not approve publication, then the Book Editors will delete the Press logo and advance contract language from our website, and will be free to pursue publishing opportunities elsewhere. However, if the Press accepts the manuscript for publication, then we will update the website with this announcement. Also, the Press may request that all dynamic and/or archival content from the Writing History in the Digital Age site, as well as the URL link, be transferred to University of Michigan servers.
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Enhancing our web technology
Since launching the first round of “Writing History” in fall 2010, we have learned several lessons about how communities of readers and writers interact with our web technology, and we continue to make enhancements in anticipation of the next round. Our specific ideas are outlined below, but we always welcome suggestions from the Press and the Library on ways to improve.
¶ 42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 As described above, we propose that all dynamic web content for the volume-in-progress be hosted on the Trinity College server (http://WritingHistory.trincoll.edu), where we have administrative privileges. (If the Press agrees to publish the final manuscript, we would agree to transfer static copies of all drafts and commentary to a University of Michigan server for archival purposes.) Since our November 2010 proposal, we have shifted our core WordPress technology from digress.it v2.3 to CommentPress v3.2, which is better suited for reading and commenting on book-length texts with multiple sections and chapters. Furthermore, we have made several small enhancements to improve reader navigation between the “Table of Contents” and “Reader Comments.” A preview of our new site, which is ready for the next round of essays, is shown below:
¶ 44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 If we receive an advance contract from the Press by May 2nd, we will immediately disseminate our Call for Essays and begin the initial six weeks of theme postings and dialogue by prospective contributors. Furthermore, we will continue to enhance the site layout and add a brief video tutorial on how to read, comment, and contribute essays for first-time visitors. By the Fall, we anticipate that a forthcoming version of Anthologize (a WordPress plugin developed by the Center for History and New Media) will allow us to repackage dynamic web content (such as draft essays with linked comments) into a static format (such as a PDF file), to simplify the revision process for authors, and also to generate archival products that will be readable well into the future. Of course, we would welcome all suggestions and support from the Press on enhancing our editorial process, graphic design, and web technology.
¶ 49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 Earhart, Amy E. and Jewell, Andrew (2011) Introduction. In: Amy E. Earhart and Andrew Jewell (eds.) The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
¶ 50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Fearn, Hannah (2011) Hey, you, get off of my cloud: are scholars too selfish to share IT? Times Higher Education, 24 March.
¶ 53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Harley, Diane. Acord, Sophia Krzys, Earl-Novell, Sarah, Lawrence, Shannon & King, C. Judson (2010) Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines. UC Berkeley: Center for Studies in Higher Education.
¶ 54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 Rosenzweig, Roy and Cohen, Daniel J. (2005) Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. Center for History and New Media; and Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press.
¶ 56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 Townsend, Robert B. (2010) How is New Media Reshaping the Work of Historians? Perspectives on History, November.