Whither Publishing?

One of the issues that came up in our workshop discussion last Thursday was how and if new digital projects (or online communications in general) might challenge existing conventions for peer review. This is a subject that comes up frequently among digital historians (and digital humanists generally), and in fact it was in the news today.

First, the American Historical Association released a statement on Open Access calling for more conversation among historians about the implications of putting work online, in front of subscription-only paywalls. And on Profhacker (a good blog to follow), Adeline Koh introduced Anvil Academic, an experimental new initiative to publish “multi-graph” digital works instead of just “monographs.”

Sometimes I think that discussions about new models for academic publishing are unfortunately conflated with discussions about new models for peer review, when the two things can be kept separate. But there are also digital humanists who think that open access and open peer review should go hand in hand. These scholars are experimenting with new forms of review and peer review, as with Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s CommentPress, which allows readers to leave comments directly on her work (i.e., “peer review”) before it is finalized.

Another model is the one being pioneered by PressForward at the Center for History and New Media. PressForward publications like the Journal of Digital Humanities use a mixture of social media analysis and editorial selection to draw attention to online scholarship. Global Perspectives on Digital History, for example, has algorithms that monitor RSS feeds and tweets to identify material online that will be relevant to readers, but its human editors also select some items to highlight as well. (Full disclosure: My earlier post for this course, Why Study Digital History?, was flagged as an Editor’s Choice.)

Most of these alternative models of publication and peer review are concentrated right now in the field of digital humanities and digital history itself, so it’s too soon to tell whether they will spread to other, traditionally defined areas within history or the humanities. On the one hand, as we heard over dinner last Thursday, the American Historical Review has introduced an award for the best digital article, and its current president William Cronon has been writing a series of articles on The Public Practice of History in and for a Digital Age. But today’s announcement from the AHA also signals some hesitance among the profession at large about some aspects of the digital age. What are your thoughts about all this?

UPDATE: Dan Cohen has some interesting thoughts today about the AHA statement.

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