Sharing Scholarship

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.

3 replies on “Ye Olde Orthodoxy”

My favorite part of your post was when you discussed dissertations and online projects. Because whether digital or print, I have wondered the likelihood of someone’s dissertation being viewed or read. The audience for dissertations and long essays doesn’t appear large, and the audience seems like it would shrink to almost no one- especially for niche topics. While this is a shame, I don’t see the majority of people having the time or interest to read them. And in addition to this, the reading comprehension level can seem daunting as well. I can think of many times I’ve read an academic piece and felt overwhelmed with large or unusual wording and seemingly run-on sentences.

However, I think that online projects could assist and compliment these issues. Websites are usually (should be) designed for intuitive navigation, so visitors can come find what they’re looking for. Also, I’ve observed that when someone puts something out on the web for everyone to see, they try to simplify/summarize it to appeal to a wider audience. Doing that would certainly be a reason of more engagement, compared to a long and dense scholarship- if more engagement were to occur.

I agree that lack of credibility and evidence to back claims is an issue with publishing online, but in maintaining hierarchy and the status quo, does this not keep diversity out of academia? We need diverse minds to bring new ideas into the field, otherwise we will end up publishing the same, or similar ideas, over and over again. Also, what is the point of researching and writing papers if not to share the findings to change the way we live our lives? Pay walls, while ensuring that the journal can keep publishing, keep some from learning the information presented in the journals, keeping them uninformed, allowing the cycle of exclusion to continue. Digital dissertations allow a wider and more diverse audience to learn from the findings presented by the author.

I think that digital dissertations are quite an interesting concept. If this becomes a more popular concept, I wonder if there will be animosity among those who do traditional dissertations versus those who complete it digitally. It is pertinent that academia changes with the types of students that we have so that our scholarship will continue to become better, different and interacting.

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