While the current spectrum of professionally published, peer-reviewed, academic journals showcase high quality articles and reviews, their downfall, from the viewpoint of the graduate student, is the total number of pages they produce in one year. The average journal, published quarterly, may contain around five or six articles, plus some essays and book reviews, meaning that each journal publishes about 20-24 articles each year. While some fields, like my own in Russian history, contain several journals in which content could be published, many of these journals have a specific focus, like the Cold War period or a strong basis in works centered around literature. There just isn't enough (printed) space to accommodate all the potential work produced by very talented and promising graduate students.
|via Lauren Pressley|
But there is one place where plenty of space exists- the Internet. The continuing digital revolution, washing over our society and reconfiguring long established relationships between information and the individual, offers the promise of a collaborative framework in which graduate students could conceivably set up their own 'on-line journals', that, properly maintained, would not only solve the current lack of printed journal space but also provide budding historians with the opportunity to engage in a submission and peer-reviewed process that will strengthen their writing and argumentative skills. The key will be to emulate those practices in printed journals that certify the material within (peer-review) while also utilizing social-medial tools and platforms (like Scribd and Creative Commons licensing) to extend the circulatory information path of the content created. The result will be a more engaged community that actively creates and shares the information produced.
Inspiration for this post comes from diverse sources, but two pieces, one from the recent online Nature article entitled 'Peer Review: Trial by Twitter' and the other a report of the American Historical Association 2010 meeting, gave shape to my thoughts today.
In 'Peer Review', the phenomena of instant critiques, via twitter or other social media platforms, of published material is dissected. This practice heralds a new era of rapid circulation, exemplified in this quote from the Nature article:
Papers are increasingly being taken apart in blogs, on Twitter and on other social media within hours rather than years, and in public, rather than at small conferences or in private conversation.Instant communication technologies allow reviewers to quickly assimilate the information presented and then broadcast their views in forums outside those traditionally established for article critiques. The result is a double edged sword; flaws are more quickly found but the frenzied pace and volume of 'corrections' or opinions can overwhelm individuals or teams presenting research. Again, a quote from 'Peer Review':
To bring some order to this chaos, it looks as though a new set of cultural norms will be needed, along with an online infrastructure to support them. The idea of open, online peer review is hardly new. Since Internet usage began to swell in the 1990s, enthusiasts have been arguing that online commenting could and should replace the traditional process of pre-publication peer review that journals carry out to decide whether a paper is worth publishing.Hints at a solution are discussed later on in the article:
One solution may lie in new ways of capturing, organizing and measuring all these scattered inputs, so that they end up making a coherent contribution to science instead of just fading back into the blogosphere. Perhaps the most successful and interesting experiments of this type can be found at websites such as Faculty of 1000 (F1000) and thirdreviewer.com, and in online reference libraries such as Mendeley, CiteULike and Zotero, which allow users to bookmark and share links to online papers or other interesting sites.
F1000, which was launched in 2002 and evaluates papers from journals across biology, is among the best known of these websites. It now relies on a 'faculty' of more than 10,000 peer-nominated researchers and clinicians who select, evaluate and rate papers with a score of 6 ('recommended'), 8 ('must read') or 10 ('exceptional'). The individual scores are then combined using a formula to generate the paper's F1000 article factor. These scores, in turn, are making some appearances in tenure packages and grant applications. "It's the only one we've been using in any systematic way," says Liz Allen, who leads post-award evaluation at the Wellcome Trust in London. "It adds another dimension to the citation index."
|Citation of Old!|
Heather Prescott, Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, wrote a post on the 'Digital Humanities' situation at the recent American Historical Association 2010 annual conference. She concludes that, despite the growing role digital tools and sources play in our profession, Historians are woefully lacking in ability to utilize these tools or instruct students as to their proper use.
Dominique Daniel and Steven Wise both addressed issues of digital literacy and the critical role that librarians/information specialists play in teaching “Generation Y” how to use both digital and analog sources properly (amen to that!) The key point I got from both presentations: historians recognize a need for information literacy but are doing little to address it. Librarians, on the other hand, are doing all sorts of great things with media literacy but are not necessarily addressing the issues particular to the discipline of history (unless, like Wise, they are both librarians and history instructors). There needs to be more collaboration between historians and librarians around issues of media literacy — this goes beyond just showing students how to use databases and other e-resources and tools.That last line is the crucial point- we have to go beyond showing students how to use these digital tools and, instead, make their use one of the centerpieces in any course designed. However, beyond changing the way we educate undergraduates, there should also be a means to get current graduate students more active in the 'digital humanities'. One solution I will propose over the next few posts is the creation of graduate centered on-line journals, where the full spectrum of students, from beginning to almost complete, can sharpen their writing and editing skills. Articles could be submitted, edited, and then 'published' online, most likely in bianual editions. The short term goal would be to bring greater exposure of the fantastic work graduate students produce across this nation. The long term goal would be to bring a new generation of historians up in a fully digitized system with the knowledge and desire to utilize digital skills and tools in the furtherance of collaboration and knowledge production.
I'm not sure what the specific form this on-line journal would take- that's something I want to explore over the next few posts.