Introduction (Fall 2011 version)
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Our book began as a conversation among historians around one of our core work processes: the act of writing. Has the digital revolution transformed how we write about the past — or not? Have new technologies changed our essential work-craft as scholars, and the way in which we think, teach, author, and publish? Does the digital age have broader implications for individual writing processes, or for the historical profession at large? We seek to answer these questions in Writing History in the Digital Age, an edited volume under contract with the University of Michigan Press for the Digital Humanities Series at its digitalculturebooks imprint.1 In this collection of essays, historians discuss, debate, and demonstrate how our writing is reshaped by a range of electronic tools and techniques: crowdsourcing, relational databases, text encoding, spatial analysis, visual media, gaming simulations, and online collaborations. Even the conventional practice on how to disseminate this collection of essays is being turned on its head.
Permalink for this paragraph 3 Rather than creating a conventional book, the subject led us to experiment with a different approach to scholarly publishing. First, our edited volume is born-digital, meaning that we have integrated web technology more deeply into the fundamental processes of writing, revising, and publishing our work. What better way for historians to reflect on digital tools than while using them to write a book? The computing industry’s more colorful language calls this “eating your own dog food.”2 The “How it works” section details the open-source WordPress platform that hosts all of our essays and commentary. In the spirit of the open web, we made the normally behind-the-scenes key stages of the book more transparent. In “How this book evolved,” readers can trace our ideas beginning with the fall 2010 pilot project, the subsequent pitch to the publisher and responses to reviewers, and early exchanges between authors during the essay idea phase.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 Second, we created an open-review book to encourage commentary from three invited experts (appointed by the Press) as well as readers from the public during a six-week period, from October 6th to November 14, 2011. As the “How to comment” tutorial explains, anyone may respond to the text at three levels: general comments on the book as a whole, an individual essay page, or specific paragraph. All must identify using a full name; no anonymous feedback is permitted. The objective is to encourage all readers — both invited experts and general audiences, senior scholars and novice students — to openly participate in the process of peer review and make our personal judgments about what “good writing” means in the history profession more visible to all. To be sure, the Press may rely primarily on comments posted by its appointed experts in making its final publication decision. But the “wisdom of the crowd” may influence, or even outweigh, the experts. Furthermore, to recognize the behind-the-scenes work of peer review, we will invite up to three of the most thoughtfully engaged online commentators to submit reflective essays for the conclusion of the edited volume. Granting the honor of writing the “last words” this way, rather than automatically turning to “famous names” in the field, stems from a suggestion by two open-review advocates in the humanities, Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Kathleen Rowe.3 Our goal is to reward intellectual engagement regardless of status, perhaps from graduate students, independent scholars, or voices from outside the field, and reward thoughtful commentary that makes scholarly publishing communities possible.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Finally, our digital volume is open-access, or freely shared with readers on the public web. No subscription fee, password, or proprietary e-reader device is required to view or comment on our scholarship. Based on open-source software, our web-book can be read on the current version of all major browsers, whether on a desktop or laptop computer (and on some tablet and phone devices, though with limited ability to post comments). As described in our “Editorial and Intellectual Property Policy,” all contributors agreed to distribute the content of their essays under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (BY-NC) license for this site, which allows authors to retain the copyright of the work while making a non-exclusive agreement to freely share it with others, as long as the original source is cited.4 Furthermore, as outlined in our book contract, if the Press approves the final manuscript, they also will publish it under a Creative Commons license, and we anticipate it will be made available in two formats: a print edition (for sale) and an online version (for free).
Permalink for this paragraph 3 Embedded within this web-book is a broader argument for rethinking how academics publish our work, particularly in history and other humanities fields that have been relatively slow to embrace change in the digital era. Compared to other scholars, historians tend to research and write in isolation from one another. We typically author long monographs that may take several years, largely unseen by others, to eventually reach an audience. For this reason, we decided to explore how digital tools might help us to produce a more collaborative type of publication: an edited volume. As a genre, the edited volume can represent the worst qualities of humanities scholarship: fragmented, disjointed chapters that bear little intellectual relationship to one another. Reviewers politely refer to poorly implemented volumes as having “uneven quality,” or less politely as “staple jobs”. Part of the problem traces back to old practices. Traditionally, a “call for papers” announcement is circulated, individual contributors submit completed chapters, and volume editors make cuts, suggest revisions, and strive to package everything as a whole. Yet under this model, authors typically have little access to each other’s ideas or drafts during the generative or revising periods, and therefore lack the capacity to share comments and build connections across the volume as a whole.
Permalink for this paragraph 6 By contrast, Writing History in the Digital Age proposes a better way to create an edited volume. Moving the “call for essays” phase online, as we did in early summer 2011, enabled prospective contributors to offer and respond to each other’s ideas, creating more opportunities for intellectual coherence before drafting their full essays. At present, our “open review” phase welcomes participation by invited experts and general readers on the public web, with the potential to improve our editing more than conventional practices. Think of this as “liquid scholarship,” akin to the demands for “liquid democracy” — the chaining of ideas and recommendations– currently being made by Europe’s burgeoning Pirate political parties.5 Finally, if our completed manuscript is accepted, partnering with an established academic press to publish the volume in dual formats (paper for sale, and digital for free) could vastly increase its audience beyond the typical high-price hardbound-only edition. Digital tools do not do the job alone. A successful volume brings together insightful authors with divergent perspectives, and thoughtful readers to recommend cuts, reorganization, and revisions where needed. Our proposition is simply that web technology, when wisely implemented, can help us to create and circulate an edited volume in ways more consistent with our broader scholarly values.
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Historians as writers
Historians value good writing. All scholars construct new forms of knowledge, but we tend to hold our profession to a very high standard when writing about our discoveries. We prefer clear and persuasive prose over data tables or abstract jargon. We favor book-length monographs over the article-based publishing traditions of the social sciences. And most of all, we appreciate the importance of narrative, the ability to wrap meaningful insights about the past into a good story.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 Despite the central role that writing plays within our profession, its practice remains mostly hidden from public view. By and large, we historians do our work — the acts of researching, writing, and publishing — alone, rather than in collaboration with others. While we prize the influential books that hold a special place on our bookshelves and in our minds, historians rarely reveal the underlying processes that led to these finished products. Writing is our shared craft, the glue that unites our profession, but we tend to be private about it. “Do not circulate or cite without permission of the author” is an all-too-familiar warning label appearing on drafts of papers delivered at our conferences. Given this state of secrecy, how do we expect historians-in-training to learn our craft? How do we expect them to develop their skills as writers, particularly of dissertations and books, without openly sharing and comparing our writing processes? How can we advance the overall quality of writing in the profession without asking all of us to reinvent our own wheels? Collectively, the ideas presented here seek to interrupt this norm of silence within our profession, pull back the curtain, and make our individual work processes more public.
Permalink for this paragraph 3 The fact that this volume about writing has been digitally conceived, developed, and published is anything but coincidental. We see this volume and the essays in it as an intervention into a complex and changing landscape of digital scholarship and scholarly publishing. On the one hand, in the last decade self-described digital humanists have delineated and demonstrated the numerous and wide-ranging ways in which technology might make speed up and improve the quality of research and writing in the humanities.6 Discipline-specific efforts in the field of digital history have been led by institutions such as the George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (CHNM)7, encouraged by the American Historical Association and undertaken by individuals and groups of scholars both and outside the academy.8 As CHNM’s Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig explained in their seminal 2005 how-to guide, digital technology allows historians to “do more, reach more people, store more data, give readers more varied sources; we can get more historical materials into classrooms, give students more access to formerly cloistered documents, hear from more perspectives.” In addition, digital media both extend and fundamentally change the way we read and understand information by rendering it manipulable and interactive, and allowing us to access it in nonlinear form.9
Permalink for this paragraph 2 On the other hand, and despite these purported benefits, scholars in humanities disciplines – and historians in particular – have been especially slow to embrace digital technology for the research, writing, and dissemination of their scholarship. The findings of recent surveys indicate that the vast majority of history faculty are neither engaging with digital tools for analysis nor are they digitally disseminating their in-progress or completed work.10 These same scholars use email, word processing software, online search engines and digital archives in the course of producing scholarship, but they do not avail themselves of the many technologies designed to assist in data analysis and text composition.11 Approximately twenty percent of historians claim to have published scholarship online, but more than half of those may have been digitized versions of articles published in print journals.12 That leaves only about ten percent of historians who have shared their scholarship in digital form on the open web, whether on personal blogs or institutional or project-specific websites, as digital documentaries, games or apps, as essays in web-born journals or in Wikipedia. Why so few? Clues to this lie both in the circumstances that shape the process and products of historians’ writing, and in the reasons why historians publish in the first place.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 For historians – as for all authors — writing is an individual and highly personal process, as well as a materially- and culturally-situated one.13 There is something understandable – even commendable – about scholars wanting to stay with what they know, appreciate, and do well. Until very recently, people who wanted to publish short pieces to be read by a broad readership on a regular basis became journalists, not historians. So although we might all benefit from having more historians blogging their scholarship, for example, it hardly comes as a surprise that we do not. Moreover, as applied linguist Ken Hyland emphasizes, “Academic writing is not just about conveying an ideational ‘content’, it is also about the representation of self.”14 In other words, we are what we write – and what we read – and historians on the whole appear disinclined to alter that however compelling the logic behind it.15 And yet, as the essays in this volume attest, the logic is indeed compelling, as is our responsibility as intellectuals, in Donald Hall’s words: “to question, reinterrogate, unsettle, and dissipate familiarities … and we — our selves – should hold no privileged position vis-à-vis that critical engagement.”16
Permalink for this paragraph 3 Beyond the personal, historians’ willingness to engage in digital history hinges, too, on (perceived) material, technological, and temporal constraints. By definition, digital history utilizes different tools, differently, than most historians are used to. It has its own vocabulary and requires different skills sets (emphasizing, for example, curation as opposed to detective work).17 Would-be digital historians who are used to working alone, with only a word processor, may be daunted or dismayed by the prospect of managing a multi-software or multi-contributor project. Many of us lack the basic literacy in digital genres and technologies and information architecture to be able to articulate our ideas, whilst others are hesitant to immerse themselves in the new technologies, lest they become obsolete before the historian’s work is even finished.18 Historians may not have access to the time, money or technical support necessary to realize some forms of digital scholarship.19 Or, we may be unaware that we do in fact have access to these, or that we may can do some forms of digital history – including joining extant projects – without them.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 The third major influence on historians’ engagement with digital history has been the culture of scholarship within the discipline itself.20 To date, historians’ culture and modus operandi have typically been the opposite of the speed and openness, the collaborative spirit and do-it-yourself mentality that characterize the Internet at its best. In their work, historians by and large seek to be comprehensive rather than (necessarily) innovative – and comprehensiveness takes time.21 “On the ‘slow side of sharing’,” we hoard and hone our ideas prior to publication rather than widely circulate working papers or pre-prints like those in other disciplines, and once submitted for peer review, our articles and monographs may take up to three years to appear in print.22 In the interim, we fear that the exposure of our messy path to supposed perfection will lead others either to scoop our ideas or else to discover that we are not as clever as our peer-reviewed published works would have them believe.23 Historians’ secrecy about their work may indeed support the harsh competitiveness which some feel has come to define the academy more broadly.24 To the contrary, in accordance with the do-it-yourself culture of the Internet, the sharing of thinking-in-progress seems to encourage more collaboration than competition amongst scholars (and others), while also modelling the “historical habits of mind” we seek to teach our students.25
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Why do we publish?
Pose that question to any humanities scholar, particularly an historian in today’s uncertain academic job market, and you’re likely to hear a confusing mix of answers that reveal the competing interests we face. Historians are an anxious breed. As we write our conference papers, journal articles, and book manuscripts, we worry about money, ownership, status, and tenure. Yet while obsessing over these individualistic factors, we often lose track of the broader scholarly values that motivate us to share our knowledge and engage with the ideas of others.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Publishing for financial gain: For most historians, we can quickly dispense with the money argument. If your primary goal was to get rich, then publishing scholarly monographs in the humanities is not the fastest way to get there. Our general understanding is that a typical academic press considers a book to be successful if it sells at least 1,000 print copies. Assuming a royalty of 5 percent based on books retailed at $30 each, this arrangement yields the author a modest sum of $1,500. But most historians probably have spent an equal or greater sum on out-of-pocket expenses in researching and producing a book such as this. In addition to what for many of us is uncompensated time, many historians commonly pay their own research travel, photocopying, copyright permissions, and indexing costs. Indeed, the financial payoff for a bestselling trade-press book, or popular textbook, is far greater. But those experiences are not the norm and most historians’ primary motivator is something other than money.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 In fact, our current models of scholarly publishing place a growing financial burden on university and college libraries. In practice, faculty members effectively give away our journal and book manuscripts to publishers for the privilege of seeing them in print. In turn, publishers sell faculty scholarship back to our academic libraries, and charge them a price for the right to lend out print copies or disseminate digital copies on proprietary databases. As a result, higher education pays twice for scholarship produced by its own faculty: first, in the form of salary or sabbatical support for individual professors, and second, in fees for the right to distribute the work. (The financial burden is more extreme in the grant-funded sciences, where commercial publishers charge substantially higher journal subscription fees to libraries, and publication fees to contributing authors.) The current business model benefits neither the average historian, nor the institutions of higher education that employ many of us.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 Publishing for professional status: Another argument is that academics publish to avoid perishing. Writing an important book matters greatly to the gatekeepers of academic success: the committees and deans that hire faculty and evaluate them for tenure. While an individual history book may yield only modest author’s royalties, it may indirectly determine whether a candidate receives a job offer with a stable long-term salary, or promotion to a higher-paying rank. But for most historians, what matters most is our reputation within the profession, which tends to be based largely on our publications, the aspect of our work that, when compared with teaching, is more widely visible to our peers. The problem arises when scholars insert their perception of a publisher’s status as a proxy for the quality of a particular book, without evaluating it directly. Many historians carry with us a vague pecking order of scholarly publishers, and the assumption that those near the top exercise more selective editorial filtering than those below. With so many books produced and so little time to read, we tend to substitute our vague notions of the publisher’s prestige in place of informed judgment about the quality of the text. Moreover, publishers have warned universities against basing faculty tenure decisions solely on their decision to accept or reject a manuscript. When academic publishers rely on book sales revenue to pay their editorial and production costs, their definition of a “good” book is inevitably tied up with a “marketable” one. Quality, status, and marketability are neither identical nor interchangeable.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Publishing to share ideas: The most principled reason for academics to publish is to share and engage with the ideas of others, as part of a larger process of enriching the body of knowledge. At its best, producing scholarship means stepping out of individual isolation and into a public forum, where we test out new ideas, build on foundations offered by others, and challenge ways of thinking that may conflict with our own point of view. By sharing ideas in our writing, and by reflecting on and responding to the writing of others, we contribute to the creation of intellectual communities. The more widely ideas are shared, the better. Neither personal gain nor professional status is the primary motivation here. Instead, we publish to become part of something larger than ourselves.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 While we aspire toward this noble goal in Writing History in the Digital Age, we also recognize the pressures for professional advancement faced particularly by newer scholars entering the field. At a conference workshop where we demonstrated our digital pilot project, we heard from many graduate students and junior faculty who were eager to share their historical writing online, but who also needed affirmation that it would “count” in the eyes of future hiring and tenure committees. Could we find an established peer-reviewed journal or press whose role would lend sufficient status to enable them to fully participate in our collective effort? At the same time, we wondered whether we could find a journal or press that embraced our ideal of sharing our scholarship on the open web. Might there be a middle ground where all of our needs could be met?
Permalink for this paragraph 0 One intriguing possibility was the University of Michigan Press. In 2009, the University restructured its Press under its Library, replacing its fiscal dependence on book revenues with a fixed budget and a new mission statement: “to use the best emerging digital technology to disseminate such information as freely and widely as possible while preserving the integrity of published scholarship.”26 The Press continues to maintain its editorial role and peer-review standards, but distributes scholarly books through a combination of print-on-demand and open digital access.
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Why not publish on the open web?
Two words that strike fear in the hearts of many historians are “blogs” and “wikis”. The problem is not simply that these web technologies may be new and unfamiliar, but rather that they challenge us to reconsider established norms about “what counts” as scholarly work in our colleges and universities. For instance, if the new history professor at the other end of the hall starts a blog, should that count as a publication? What if it’s a long, expository blog essay with scholarly footnotes? If there are readers’ comments on a blog, especially from other historians, should this count as peer review? Or must a publisher other than the author be involved in the process? If so, does that mean we should “count” an essay that a historian contributed to an online publication, such as Wikipedia? What if the Wikipedia entry was expanded upon or modified by other contributors? Would that make it count more, or less? And what on earth does it mean to “publish” scholarly work in this digital age? These questions make some historians nervous.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 In fact, it is neither blogs nor wikis, but rather another trend entirely that historians should be afraid of: the creeping price of scholarly monographs. As authors, our worst nightmare is to toil away years on a book that no one reads. Many of us are watching academic publishers issue hardcover-only editions and holding off on paperbacks in an effort to squeeze as much sales revenue as possible from libraries. Last year our jaws dropped when a major publisher listed a colleague’s hardcover historical monograph at $95. The author’s copyrighted text is locked inside a very expensive box, with no legal recourse to let it out. Some of our academic libraries will refuse to buy it. When books are priced this high, who can afford to read what we write? What happens to our noble goal of publishing to share and engage in the ideas of others?
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Understandably, many historians still favor printed books as a familiar and reliable mode for sharing knowledge. Books offer a stable technology that does not rely on Internet access or operating systems. We enjoy the feel of books in the palms of our hands, the ease of reading wherever we choose to sit, and the ability to display our acquired knowledge on our bookshelves. We can purchase them from local booksellers and online vendors, or borrow them from academic and public libraries (provided that these institutions continue to be supported by tuition and tax dollars). But one serious limitation of printed books is that they are built to provide only one-way scholarly communication of ideas, from author to audience. Information is disseminated to readers, who play no part in the knowledge-development process, unless they also happen to discuss it in a class or book group, send a letter to the author, write a book review, or incorporate it into their own scholarship. Certainly, readers can take the initiative to dialogue with the author or other readers, but printed books, by themselves, are not designed to promote a two-way exchange of ideas.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Despite the fanfare surrounding e-books, the current generation of this digital technology comes with its own issues. The e-book formats currently found most commonly in academic libraries allow users to flip through images of book pages on our browsers, search the text, and copy passages into our notes, but do not alter the one-way flow of scholarly communication from author to audience. Consumer-oriented e-books, such as the Amazon’s Kindle, now permit readers to pay for an upgraded service to create highlights and notes on the text, which may be publicly shared online. However, Amazon’s initial e-book licensing agreement was not library-friendly, and did not legally permit the lending of content.27 Very recently, in September 2011, the company appears to have shifted its policy by launching a beta program for selected public libraries to distribute e-books, but users are redirected from the public catalog to Amazon’s commercial website with sales pitches. Critics have questioned the practice of using taxpayer-funded public libraries to boost Amazon’s hardware sales (ranging from $80 to $200 per unit).28 Whether proprietary e-books are a cost-effective means to expand public interaction with historical scholarship remains doubtful.
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Our web-book design
When proposing this volume, we sought a digital format that matched our scholarly values of sharing and engaging ideas in public. Unlike most e-books (which emphasize one-way communication) or proprietary formats (with require subscription fees or purchasing a new device), our solution was to create a what we call a “web-book”: built with open-source tools, it allows readers to freely access and respond to the text online, using a standard web browser. (Hint: You’re reading a web-book right now. Try posting a comment to tell us what you think.) We believe that open-web scholarly publishing can merge the best of digital innovation and traditional practices. Among its more important qualities, it should:
Permalink for this paragraph 2 Look like a book. Our model uses a combination of open-source WordPress tools to deliver what historians seek: easily readable pages of text, divided into chapters and sections, with clear attribution to individual authors or co-authors, and Chicago-style footnotes. All of our software is freely available, and we were able to modify portions to fit our specific needs.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Protect author’s attribution rights while maximizing public access. Our text is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, an extension of standard copyright that allows readers to freely share the essay content, with a citation to the author. Furthermore, our WordPress technology welcomes readers’ comments in the margins while assuring authors that other readers cannot “rewrite” their original text (as wiki-style tools allow). As the book’s editors, we also serve as website administrators, with the power to moderate any comments deemed as inappropriate, according to our editorial policy.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Integrate narrative text and multimedia source materials. This quality strongly interests historians whose arguments rely upon evidence not easily captured in conventional print. Visual historians can display images and video, social science historians can upload datasets, and spatial historians can walk us through maps. With open-web publishing, authors can link to any source that is freely available on the Internet. By contrast, Amazon’s current best selling historical e-books with audio and/or video clips provide only a limited selection of media content, packaged inside the proprietary book file, not on the public web.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Speed up the scholarly dissemination process. New editions of our text can be instantly distributed on the web, while we maintain archival editions and continue to make them publicly accessible. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that more work needs to be done with improving the stability of permalinks when archiving digital works like this one.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 Be compatible with existing library search tools. For example, the Trinity College Library (Hartford, Connecticut) agreed to create a MARC record for this open-review edition of Writing History in the Digital Age, and upload it to its local online library catalogue, as well as WorldCat, to increase its likelihood of being found by others. (We’ll add the link as soon as it becomes available.)
Permalink for this paragraph 2 Be accessible through print-on-demand. Open-web scholarship needs to be available when are unplugged from the Internet, by necessity or by choice. At present, we acknowledge that printing the open-review edition of Writing History in the Digital Age is difficult, due to the current limitations of the CommentPress plugin. Future options may be to migrate to a forthcoming version of digress.it, another WordPress tool for text commentary, or the next version of Anthologize, a WordPress tool for archiving dynamic text and comments in archival formats. (The latter can produce a PDF, ePub, or TEI version of the text and images that may be uploaded to a print-on-demand service with paperback binding.)
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Promote peer review with two-way scholarly communication. Socially-networked texts allow substantive communication between writers and readers. As authors, we cannot judge whether our own writing successfully communicates complex ideas without receiving some type of feedback from our intended audience. When publishing a scholarly print or e-book, we generally have little idea how it is received unless a reader happens to contact us directly, or an academic journal prints a review, typically a year or two later. But online commenting, combined with web page-view data, tells us exactly which passages readers praised, panned or never bothered to read.
Permalink for this paragraph 2 Perhaps the scariest question for historians is: Do we really want to know what our readers think? Or how many readers we actually have? The risk of having our ideas openly criticized, on the very same digital pages that we labored over, is very real. But it also forces us to reflect on the central question — why do we publish? — and whether we genuinely desire to share and engage with the ideas of others in public, or prefer the traditional norms of writing in private and publishing in increasingly expensive and exclusive outlets.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Whether they prefer print, e-books, or web-books, all historians agree that the quality of the work is what truly matters. Yet we sometimes lack agreement on how scholarly work should be evaluated (particularly in the humanities), and at what stage(s) of the process it should happen. In the traditional publishing model, academic presses employ editors and external reviewers to filter their products prior to publication, to signal that books meet their selective standards and are deemed worth reading. Several digital publishing models reverse this equation by placing content on the Internet and relying on the wisdom of the readership to sort out what is — and is not — worth reading. Both exercise a form of peer review, but at different stages in the scholarly communication process. Media studies scholar Kathleen Fitzpatrick elaborates on this point:
In a self-multiplying scholarly commons, some kind of assessment of the material being published (or having been published) remains important, but not because of scarce resources; instead, what remains scarce are time and attention. For this reason, peer review needs to be put not in the service of gatekeeping, or determining what should be published for any scholar to see, but of filtering, or determining what of the vast amount of material that has been published is of interest or value to a particular scholar. As Clay Shirky has argued, “Filter-then-publish, whatever its advantages, rested on a scarcity of media that is a thing of the past. The expansion of social media means that the only working system is publish-then-filter” (Here Comes Everybody, 98). . . 29
Permalink for this paragraph 0 For many historians, our interest in the concept of “publish-then-filter” arose independently of the Internet. Arguably the most widely discussed issue of the Journal of American History in recent decades was a controversial roundtable issue in 1997, titled “What We See and Can’t See in the Past.” Editor David Thelen published an article on the history of lynching submitted by Joel Williamson, followed by six reviewer’s reports. After receiving all of the reports, Thelen persuaded everyone to attach their names to the original documents, “to demystify our own practice,” and openly published them in the journal alongside Williamson’s article. In his introduction, Thelen justified this nonconventional approach, arguing that, “we live in an age when historians are as interested in the doing of history as in the products of that doing.”30 The reviewers sharply disagreed on the strengths and weaknesses of Williamson’s historical analysis of race, and the numerous letters to the editor published in the subsequent issue of the journal revealed a deeper discussion about how historians judge the quality of each other’s scholarly writing.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 Elsewhere in the humanities, we have been inspired more recently by innovative combinations of web technology and open peer review that invigorate scholarly communication. Some of the most prominent examples are hybrids — a mixture of invited and public reviewers — that retain an editorial board’s sense of security in its appointed experts, while reaping the benefits of the crowd’s wisdom. In 2009, under the auspices of MediaCommonsPress, Kathleen Fitzpatrick released a full draft of her book manuscript, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, for open peer review in an agreement with her prospective publisher, NYU Press, which simultaneously sent it out for blind review.31 A year later, MediaCommonsPress hosted an open review edition of a leading literary journal, Shakespeare Quarterly, where contributors’ submissions received open review commentary from designated and self-selected reviewers.32 What is most striking about these hybrid models is their mixture of public space (for open commentary) and private space (for final editorial decisions).
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We propose Writing History in the Digital Age as one (but certainly not the only) model for rethinking publishing in ways that preserve our scholarly values. As you immerse yourself in the individual essays on history, technology, and our craft as authors, consider the argument embedded in this book’s born-digital format, open-review editorial process, and open-access distribution. It’s time to flip the question. Rather than ask, “Why not publish scholarship on the open web?”, the answer we need to know is, “Why are we still holding onto proprietary print and e-book publishing if there are better ways to achieve our goals?” As academic authors, our primary aim is to maximize the quality and distribution of ideas. Whether we are motivated more by individual status or by broader principles, the rising price of hardcover-only books and commercial databases should cause alarm, and lead us to seriously consider alternatives. Is there any reason to limit peer review to a small number of readers, when hybrid open-review online models reap the dual benefits of invited experts and the public at large? Does it still make sense to lock our texts into proprietary digital formats, when open-web publishing can protect authors’ rights and connect us with wider communities of readers?
Permalink for this paragraph 0 We do not claim that the transition to open-web scholarly publishing will be easy. One defense of traditional publishing is that the unseen labor of editors and peer reviewers requires sustained financial support. Breaking away from book revenues, as the University of Michigan Press has done with its open-access digital monographs, is a bold yet not fully tested model. Are we expecting too much when asking readers to participate in the online open review? For instance, although we restricted each essay to no more than 5,000 words, our current total count for the volume is approximately 120,000 words, while our book contract limits the final manuscript to 90,000 words. As book co-editors, we expect to cut several essays after this round and recommend reductions for others. How will we manage this sensitive selection process between our public forum and private communications with individual authors? These and related issues of sustainable support, such as improving our open-source technology as browsers evolve, make this a very public experiment, where failure is always a possibility.
Permalink for this paragraph 1 Yet we remain confident in the growing movement in higher education in favor of open-access scholarship, and the natural alliance between faculty and libraries. As we write this, Princeton University’s faculty unanimously adopted a resolution to make their published works freely available online, following a trend by Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other institutions.33 At a time in which traditional models of scholarly communication appear increasingly limiting, we hope Writing History in the Digital Age will inspire others to join in breaking down these intellectual and professional barriers, all in the service of excellent scholarship.
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About the editors:
Kristen Dombkowski Nawrotzki is Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Education (Pädagogische Hochschule) in Heidelberg, Germany and Senior Research Fellow in the Early Childhood Research Centre at Roehampton University in London, UK. She has published extensively on the history of early childhood education and related social policy in the United States and England.
Permalink for this paragraph 0 Jack Dougherty is an associate professor of educational studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, who is working with students and colleagues to create an open-access public history web-book titled, On The Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs.
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- The University of Michigan Press, 2011. http://press.umich.edu; and its imprint, digitalculturebooks, 2011. http://www.digitalculture.org. ↩
- Wikipedia contributors, “Eating Your Own Dog Food”, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eating_your_own_dog_food (accessed October 3, 2011). ↩
- Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Katherine Rowe, “Keywords for Open Peer Review,” Logos: The Journal of the World Book Community 21, no. 3-4 (2010): 133-141. http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/brill/logo/2010/00000021/F0020003/art00015. ↩
- “About The Licenses,” Creative Commons, 2011, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/. ↩
- sayke, Liquid Democracy in Context, or, an Infrastructuralist Manifesto, accessed October 5, 2011, http://seed.sourceforge.net/ld_k5_article_004.html. ↩
- See, for example, the work of the scholar-led NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship) organization, http://www.nines.org); the pioneering Stanford Humanities Lab, http://hotgates.stanford.edu/contacts.html; and HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Collaboratory, http://hastac.org/. ↩
- Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, http://chnm.gmu.edu/ ↩
- See, for example, Edward L. Ayers, Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War, http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/; and American Historical Association, Forum on “Intersections: History and New Media,” Perspectives Online 47, no. 5 (2009), http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2009/0905/. ↩
- Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History. A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Center for History and New Media, 2005), accessed August 10, 2011, http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/. ↩
- Robert B. Townsend, “How Is New Media Reshaping the Work of Historians?,” Perspectives Online 48, no, 8 (2010), http://www.historians.org/Perspectives/issues/2010/1011/1011pro2.cfm; Diane Harley, Sophia Krzys Acord, Sarah Earl-Novell, Shannon Lawrence, and C. Judson King, Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines (Berkeley, California: Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley, 2010); Rebecca Griffiths, Michael Dawson, and Matthew Rascoff, Scholarly Communications in the History Discipline (New York, NY: Ithaka Strategic Services for JStor, 2006. ↩
- Sean Takats, “Adoption of ‘New’ Media by Historians”, The Quintessence of Ham, October 28, 2010, accessed August 14, 2011, http://quintessenceofham.org/2010/10/28/adoption-of-new-media-by-historians/#identifier_1_279. ↩
- See specifically Townsend, “How Is New Media Reshaping the Work of Historians?”, Figure 5. ↩
- Christina Haas, Writing Technology: Studies on the Materiality of Literacy (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, 1996), 26. ↩
- Ken Hyland, “Authority and invisibility: authorial identity in academic writing,” Journal of Pragmatics 34, no. 8 (2002): 1091. ↩
- John Updike, “The End of Authorship,” The New York Times Sunday Book Review, June 25, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/books/review/25updike.html; Ken Hyland, Writing in the Academy: Reputation, Education and Knowledge (London: Institute of Education, University of London, 2007). ↩
- Donald Eugene Hall, The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2002), xviii. ↩
- Sean Takats, “Time Shifting and Historical Research,” The Quintessence of Ham, March 20, 2011, accessed August 18, 2011.
- Townsend, “How Is New Media Reshaping the Work of Historians?”. ↩
- E. Bell, “Barriers to Institutional Digital History,” Jefferson’s Newspaper: A blog about information, education, and the (digital) humanities, May 17, 2009, accessed September 19, 2011, http://jeffersonsnewspaper.org/2009/barriers-to-institutional-digital-history/. ↩
- Dan Cohen, Stephen Ramsay, and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Open Access and Scholarly Values: A Conversation by Dan Cohen, Stephen Ramsay, and Kathleen Fitzpatrick”, in Hacking the Academy, ed. Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt, Digital Humanities Series (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press digitalculturebooks imprint, 2011) http://www.digitalculture.org/hacking-the-academy/hacking-scholarship/#scholarship-cohen ↩
- Rebecca Griffiths, Michael Dawson, and Matthew Rascoff, Scholarly Communications in the History Discipline (New York, NY: Ithaka Strategic Services for JStor), 11. ↩
- Diane Harley, Sophia Krzys Acord, Sarah Earl-Novell, Shannon Lawrence, and C. Judson King, Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines (Berkeley, California: Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley, 2010), 392. ↩
- Ibid., 452. ↩
- Deborah Tannen, “Agonism in the Academy,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (31 March 2000), B7-B8. ↩
- Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001). ↩
- Jennifer Howard, “U. of Michigan Press Reorganizes as a Unit of the Library,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 23, 2009, http://chronicle.com/article/U-of-Michigan-Press/47128. ↩
- Barbara Fister, “Blog U.: Why There’s No Kindle ‘Freedom’ in Libraries,” Inside Higher Ed, September 24, 2010. http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library_babel_fish/why_there_s_no_kindle_freedom_in_libraries. ↩
- Brier Dudley, “Kindle library lending: good deal for everyone?,” The Seattle Times, September 26, 2011. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/technologybrierdudleysblog/2016323413_kindle_library_lending_questio.html ↩
- Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (MediaCommons Press, 2009), http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/mcpress/plannedobsolescence/one/the-reputation-economy ↩
- David Thelen, “What We See and Can’t See in the Past: An Introduction,” The Journal of American History 83, no. 4 (1997): 1217. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2952898. ↩
- Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence. ↩
- Jennifer Howard, “Leading Humanities Journal Debuts ‘Open’ Peer Review, and Likes It,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 26, 2010, http://chronicle.com/article/Leading-Humanities-Journal/123696. ↩
- Jennifer Howard, “Princeton U. Adopts Open-Access Policy,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Wired Campus, September 29, 2011. http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/princeton-u-adopts-open-access-policy/33450. ↩