Sharing Scholarship

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.

2 replies on “The Problem of Journals”

Discussing the journals, I agree that both digital and print forms of history have their place. Typically, online sources are continuously evolving. As you said, a journal is practically a “stamp of approval” for something that is completed. Online projects, and even proposed online journals (such as what we read this week concerning an online editorial process) are highly subject to change. Journals feel as if they stamp something within the historical community to either be argued against or agreed with. They also serve to give the author a clear stance on a topic. Online comments that lead to edits can easily allow historians to change ideas or stances purely based on public perceptions to increase their chances of getting “published.” That certainly is a major flaw with fully digitizing journals and the editorial/review process. Good post, I too agree that both forms have their suitable places.

My initial response is to agree with both of you. That definitely follows our traditional academic system. However, in the spirit of embracing change, I do not if digital and print forms of history should have “their own place.” One thought that terrifies me is if I miraculously write a book one day and I send my years of hard work off to a peer review partner only to have the product ripped apart. I cannot imagine completing all of that work for it to be discredited or even discounted within the historical community. Therefore, the malleability of online projects and journals seems especially appealing to me. Perhaps that is just my need for constant validation coming through.

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