Sharing Scholarship

“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?

5 replies on ““Old Warhorses””

While I do think that changes to the peer-review system would allow for new and different scholarship in the field (which would be a great thing in a vacuum), there are a lot of potential drawbacks to consider before loosening the requirements to be a reviewer. As long as the historian posting their work for review is aware of the potential negative consequences of doing so, I think what Guldi’s talking about makes sense. Maybe they could impose a time limit on reviews to get around the problem of never-ending peer-review? I’m just generally in favor of bucking against the traditional norm, but I concede that there’s a lot that should probably be figured out before making this the new standard.

I second this. I definitely think you make some good points about what could be the problem of too many cooks in the kitchen with digital spaces like this, Elizabeth. However, like I commented with Jarrod and Chamberlin, I do appreciate an abundance of feedback during my writing process. I guess I also assumed that only those who have similar research interest or experience would exert the energy to comment on my work. But maybe a way to ensure that there are not too many comments with no creditability would be useful.

I definitely agree with your comment about the benefit of having a multitude of feedback on your writing. This is something I didn’t actually think about, but it’s definitely true. I think that this goes back to my dilemma about Guldi’s arguments. I like the idea of more feedback, but like you said, there could be too many “cooks in the kitchen.” It is possible that only people who are experienced enough or invested enough in the topic will comment on the work, but I would have liked for Guldi to address these concerns in the article to give hope for problem solving on this problem!

I was also hesitant with fully embracing the online open review process that just seemed very similar to a wiki with the exception of not being able to make actual edits to the document. The other issue is obviously having a piece never completed. With new research emerging constantly, new ideas and schools of thought forming, it is impractical to expect an author of anything to continuously edit their work. A time-window (I believe a year was suggested in the article) seems sufficient and seems like a decent way to do this. After a year of edit and review, the argument should be compelling from an professional historian. If not, the site admin clicks delete and that’s it. Seems simple enough. I wouldn’t mind this form of editing and review is essentially free and takes place in real time. I believe the real challenges are not in preserving integrity of information, rather, the issue lies in tackling the orthodoxy in place which is nothing more than a high-barrier hierarchy hidden behind pay walls, privilege, and of course some honest intelligence and hard work. I believe sites and systems like this could become established, however, will historians actually want to utilize them if it doesn’t contribute to tenure or prestige?

The thing about opening the review process is that more open processes are more vulnerable to bad actors, and trolling. While a few years old now, the Boaty McBoatface incident is a clear example of how bad actors can disrupt more open discussion. * Now, opening up work in progress to more people, through something like an academic online forum, in the vein of say, Alternate History, or Sufficient Velocity, does have some merit for a free flowing stream of ideas and feedback. **


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