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Sharing Scholarship

On Academic Journalism, E-books and the Internet

Upon reading the articles, listing reasons on why or why not digital scholarship should be held to the same level as traditional scholarship, I was wondering what all of the fuss was about. The answer seems obvious, they are different paths that overlap and can complement each other, with one no lesser than the other.  

Trying new things is difficult, and what has worked in the past, by which I mean articles, book, journals and the like, will continue to function as they always have. New media entering the fray doesn’t change that. What is changing is how people come to expect information, and by the means of which they get it. 

Books are slow moving. It takes years to write one, months to publish one, and decades to change one. With the internet, things move much faster. The collaboration is easier, the feedback is almost immediate, and fact checking is a necessity, if only to keep the commenters happy. 

On the other hand, the internet’s reliability in terms of truthfulness can be rather suspect, as opposed to articles, which will have gone through an extensive peer review process. Anyone can put up anything, and make it look just as creditable. There is so much information put up, it is impossible to fact check everything.   

Digital scholarship is rather recent, and there are not real standards yet as to what counts as ‘scholarly work’ when compared to books. This allows for a great deal of freedom and innovation into what can be accepted. The only thing is the fight that it takes to ensure that the piece is held to a similar standard of an article or book. It would not be to the same standard, because it would be too slow to adapt to all the changes made in a digital media. 

Already, books are becoming digital, through electronic readers and the like, for the ease of access and the cost of printing make it more feasible, cheaper and wider spread. Opposed to traditional print mediums, which can drive up costs and make it hard for publishers and authors to break even, electronic texts have less risk for the same information, and more direct profits. If the technology is there, people will use it. Books can be boring, when compared to an interactive, fun website that can tell you the same information, at the rate the user wishes, as opposed to reading, or skimming, through a text to find what fact you want. 

Books will never die out completely, but the allure and appeal of the new ways of distributing information are clearly here to stay. The trouble is with finding a middle ground for both mediums to put their best foots forward.

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Ye Olde Orthodoxy

The readings for the week heavily challenge the hold that ‘formal’ academic journals have on academia and scholarship in general, especially within the humanities. The challenge has come with opposition but for what reason? I see a few angles relevant to conserving orthodox styles of academia and literature.

First, there is an obvious agency to preserve hierarchy and maintain a high-barrier of entry within academia. The printed and “reputable” journals serve as a tool to maintain such standards that fuel the university press income system briefly outlined in “Reinventing the Academic Journal.” While seemingly malevolent, the logic is understandable. The internet, and digital academics as a whole, is a challenge to this hierarchy which only serves to increase efforts to maintain the current orthodoxy in publishing and availability of seemingly credible information.

The other argument is a genuine concern for the quality of information. This has been a topic of debate multiple times within the class readings as well as in the discussions. Anyone can publish online. It is a complete toss-up as to whether information will be complete conjecture being branded as truth or actual credible research simply presented in an easily accessible digital medium. From this side of the argument, preserving the current system of shielding information behind pay-walls and credentials is a matter of necessity when it comes to maintaining a proper level of credibility, which is the sole characteristic that draws business to a university, or university press, initially.

With those arguments presented, progressive ideology relating to information access seems to be prevailing within academia. With guidelines being approved in recent years for digital dissertations at George Mason University, it is safe to assume that other institutions will continue along this trend. In that blog post, Mullen discusses a developing concept of those pursuing graduate school (especially doctoral degrees) for other reasons than becoming a college professor. A clear trend in academics is the steadily dwindling job markets for tenure-track positions. Applicants to doctoral programs in the humanities may swap to unorthodox applications of the formal training and knowledge as they find themselves (either willingly or not) pursuing careers in areas outside of academia. For those students that intend to not pursue an academic job, the traditional dissertation may not be well-suited to their needs.

A transition to digital dissertations (or incorporating hybrid ones) is perhaps too obvious of an example. Obviously, a dissertation is an example of “digital scholarship” as outlined in “Making Digital Scholarship Count.” In the book, Kelly makes the distinction between digital work and digital scholarship. While digital scholarship is likely receiving the bulk of the attention in the debate, digital work as a whole needs recognition and acknowledgement as this is the area that will likely have the most impact on society as a whole. Whether digital or print, it is unlikely that more than a small handful of people will ever read or view a person’s dissertation. The time necessary to read compact academic prose is simply not a worthwhile investment to all except the most intense enthusiasts. An online project, however, is easily available to anyone.

The online project serves multiple purposes. While it is easy to access, it also serves as an easy middle-ground between those with progressive and conservative mindsets concerning academic integrity and credibility. When done properly, online projects in the form of easy-to-navigate websites both further digitization while also providing an outlet to advertise a more formal piece of literature, such as a book for the individual or, more likely, a university press.

I see no reason to inhibit the growth of digital scholarship or work. George Mason makes a good case. Both traditional, hybrid, and digital dissertations should me made available on a case by case basis. With a rapidly evolving private and academic job market, catering academic training to the individual is going to become increasingly important. I say it is time to move forward, however, no systems need to be demolished. Let us learn to work within the ye olde orthodoxy of academic publishing, and within digital work and scholarship, to make a system that works for all.

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History Academics in the Digital World

In today’s digital world it is to be expected that history academics would become intertwined with it. This can really be seen in PhD programs where many history students are now creating digital dissertations. Many of these dissertations combine the traditional with digital formatting. This means that the students do traditional research and then add digital touches like pictures, maps, or charts. There are some draw backs to this new method mainly when it comes to the student’s advisers. The main roadblock they would run into is the amount of technological knowledge their adviser has. The push to move to digital dissertations spurred from George Mason University, where they wrote the basic guidelines for these types of projects. These guidelines break down what is needed for a totally digital dissertation as well as hybrid ones. With this type of method available it could really help get research out to the world. Instead of having to wait and publish a dissertation in a book or journal a PhD student could upload it online where it can be seen by many historians and they can also get almost instant feedback in their work. The advancements in digital technology have also helped advance academic journals. Many journals have switched to an online format where anyone can access them instead of having to wait for a printed version to hit shelves. A good example of an online academic journal would be the Journal of the American Revolution. In this journal you can access articles on specific events, people, and even reviews of the latest books. This is all done with the click of a mouse instead of having to subscribe to the journal which could cost money and wait for it to be mailed or having to travel to the nearest bookstore to purchase it. These advancements in digital technology are very beneficial to the study of history. With these new outlets information is available to a wider audience instead of only being accessible to a handful of historians and students. With the push for digital dissertation in all fields it can be seen that the further we go the more likely digital technology is to become the number one tool for academics  

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“Old Warhorses”

The readings for this week focus on the seemingly necessary evolution of the field of history to include digital scholarship and work as valid projects for professional historians to earn merit from. They also support the idea that scholarship must incorporate more digital tools and move toward new digital platforms in order to best serve a changing world.

Jo Guldi’s article entitled, “Reinventing the Academic Journal,” was of particular interest to me. Changes in how academic journals are used, presented, and published will have a significant impact on my research methods and ease of research process as a young historian in my student career and professional career. Guldi claims that we need to do away with “the old warhorses” of traditional peer reviewed journal articles and books as our main method of presenting academic history and evaluating the merit of historians.

Guldi also argues that journals should incorporate “interoperability” with search tools and other web tools while becoming more easily accessible to public audiences. Guldi states that this will help with ease of searching for researchers, as well as allow for more intense peer review of articles because they are accessible to a large audience of reviewers both professional and amateur.

While I agree that journals must adapt to changes in the way research is done in order to stay relevant in the field, and that increased ease of searching during the research process is helpful, I have reservations about the idea of this universal peer review suggested. Guldi claims that this access puts an article through much more rigorous peer evaluation than traditional methods of peer review for paper journals.

While this might be true, I worry that allowing such a wide base of reviewers can lead to commentary from those who do not know enough about the subject material clogging up the review process. It also seems like the review would never end. As Guldi suggests, this method could lead to a work being edited forever, and never being fully finished. To me, this seems a bit impractical for busy historians to deal with, and I wonder how much of a good thing (peer review) can be too much? When should we draw the line and say something is complete?

Another striking part of this article was when Guldi suggests that journals need to allow themselves to change into online curatorial sites for scholarship and historical work of different mediums, instead of just traditional peer reviewed written work. This is an intriguing concept, because it sounds great on paper, but makes me nervous to think about in practice. I already struggle to find secondary source material when researching because of the vast amount of material kept in the stricter databases like JSTOR and others that focus on traditional written mediums. The amount of documents is overwhelming, especially when trying to narrow down a research question. Adding videos, photos, lists, syllabi, lectures, abstracts, and blogs would only make this problem worse.

This is especially relevant when dealing with budding historians at the undergraduate and masters level, who are truly experiencing researching for the first time in the field. It might just put them off of the rewarding parts of researching and learning about a topic. As mentioned before, there may be too much of a good thing…I’m really not sure where I stand on this, because I can definitely see the positive aspect of having all types of resources in one database or site, and expanding ideas of what counts as scholarship, but I hesitate. What do you all think?

Yes, historical scholarship, including journals, must evolve to meet the research and learning needs of future historians in the digital age. However, I have to consider the fact that thousands of historians have put so much effort and time into traditional methods of researching and presenting their scholarship, that it seems a waste and unfair to disregard the “old warhorse” methods. I also wonder what potential issues could arise from the changes to journals suggested by Guldi, and if the benefits can outweigh or negate these concerns?

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The Problem of Journals

I specifically want to discuss, and to an extent push back against one of the articles for today, specifically, Reinventing the Academy Journal. The piece presents six primary goals. First, to ensure interoperability with the tools of digital scholarship. Second, as creators and curators of digital reputability. Third as curators of a broader selection of works. Fourth is actually an abandoning of their position as exclusive curators of works. Fifth is to make their process of peer review more inclusive. Finally, the sixth is to extend the timelines of peer review, and engage with history as an ongoing process.

Now, some of these I can accept as they are given. For example, the third selection is one of the best in the entire list. Having resources such as syllabi, presentations, and other educational materials being more accessible provides value to new professors, and professors teaching new classes, as it creates access to a shared pool of useful pieces. Now, some journals already do this. For example, The History Teacher, which, back in may of 2009 published an article by Judkin Browning on his yearly water balloon wargame. Of course, the journal article only focuses on a single piece of the class, rather than looking at its position as a part of the class as a whole. Equally, the interoperability of journals and the tools of digital history is simply making the tools available more functional.

However, where I believe that I must push back is on the idea that journals can become some measure of digital credibility. The first key issue is that digital spaces routinely, gleefully tear down institutional credibility. No institution can ensure that their entire body of work is without fault. Beyond that however, is the problem that Journals serve a valuable role in a slower form of history than digital spaces. Digital spaces are great for fast history, where there is both less distance between the analysis and the primary sources, and constant changes. Journals, and really books, provide a space where history becomes fixed. This provides continuity, and a marking of the historiography. Even when wrong, or disproved, or out of fashion as an interpretation, their role as fixed points makes them a useful ongoing piece of a broader historical practice. The impermanence of digital spaces means that a full shift over to an agile academy will leave a gap in the historical practice, something which must be avoided for the sake of future generations of historians.

To look to the future of the academic journal, I see them filling many of the same roles as they do today. Fewer reviews, and more shorter pieces of academic writing, but not trying to intrude into the digital sphere. The primary innovation that would increase their value is in being hybrid models, akin to the dissertations outlined by Lincoln Mullen. A short academic monograph paired with some pieces of digital scholarship.

Finally, there is the ongoing review. This is a piece where the academic presses are simply not the right context for the affair. The academic presses are a useful piece, but are, simply not the right context. Rather, this is a place where an academically backed forum, or other collaborative tool, would suit the needs of the historical community far better, with the Journal being more of a final stamp of approval for completed projects.

Jo Guldi’s proposals all appear to be fully in good faith, and some of them are ones that I am fully on board with. However the key flaw is that not all of them serve the same purpose as the traditional academic presses. Rather, they need new forms of academic cooperation and new academic institutions need to be made to engage with the next generation of digital history.