Looking at Scholarly Communications in the History Discipline by Rebecca Griffiths, Michael Dawson, and Matthew Rascoff, The Ivory Tower and the Open Web: Introduction by Dan Cohen, and Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians by Jennifer Rutner and Roger C. Schonfeld gives one a fairly strong timeline to follow depicting how historians have slowly began to interact with digital practices. They also demonstrate the practices in the field of historical scholarship that is holding back this transition.
Scholarly Communications in the History Discipline was published in 2003 and was commissioned by JSTOR to discovery the main ways in which historians research and share their findings. The report, maybe unsurprisingly, found that books – mainly understood as monographs – were the dominant form of published scholarly communication because they have been deemed the critical component for attaining tenure. In contrast, journal articles and other sources such as conference proceedings, multi-author volumes, and abstracting services serve as the main secondary sources for research. The article discusses the perceived “crisis” of the monograph industry as well as the blossoming of the scholarly journal. The end of the article turns to look that electronic resources, and argues that as a field, history is significantly behind the sciences and social sciences in transitioning from print to electronic format and argues that this is for two main reasons. First, they implicate the publishing industry: a transition to electronic journals would decrease print subscriptions and lead to decreased revenue, and so these industries are slow to chase that change. Secondly, Griffiths, Dawson and Rascoff note that a fully integrated electronic resource (bypassing just digitized text) would require researchers to learn a wholly new way of interacting with and consuming history, which they are reluctant to do. The article largely does not overtly suggest that historians should turn to digital scholarship but includes it as a possible avenue of communication. However, but indicating that history is lagging behind the sciences in this area, implies that history should make some efforts in catching up.
Dan Cohens introduction to The Ivory Tower and the Open Web, posted in 2011, has no such reticence; the very point of his book is to encourage historians to become active on the web. He argues that early stereotypes of blogs as recreational and information-based instead of educational and serious has negatively impacted their standing with academic communities. While he celebrates the openness of the web, he argues that scholars see this as a dangerous free-for-all. Like Scholarly Communications, Cohen too tracks the way historians communicate, and notes that while most academic journals have moved online, they have simply mimicked their print editions by uploading pdf versions of their published articles. He argues that historians remain focused on publishing books and “show an aversion to recent digital tools and methods.” For Cohen, the openness of the web holds untold possibilities for free communications outside the restriction of current communication structures and provides a way to more easily share work and to point to what is “good and valuable.” While, like Scholarly Communications, Cohen notes a significant shortfall in online communications, unlike the earlier report he definitively argues that historians should address this as an issue in need of correction.
Finally, Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians provides another point along the timeline of transition. Published in 2013, the report finds that “day-to-day research practices are digitally enabled, a transformation that has had in some cases substantial implications.” Rutner and Schonfeld find that throughout the research process, from searching for possible archives online to snapping digital pictures of sources in archives to organizing notes, scholars are integrating digital practices. The authors argue that interaction with digital scholarship takes many different forms, through different research practices, communication tools, publishing strategies and more, and that many scholars using digital methods are self-taught. They point to GIS and text mining as emerging technological methodologies and collaboration in digital projects as changing how historians engage with scholarship. Like Cohen, they also investigate how historians use online communications like blogs and find a much more positive outlook. Although they acknowledge that blogs are not viewed as a substitute to formal publications like books or journal articles, they are seen as a significant form of scholarly communications among some historians. They point to the ways in which blogging is seen as a way to engage more people, find a community of like-minded scholars, or develop new ideas and methodologies. Like both of the previous articles, they also point to the tenure process as a significant sticking point in the transition to digital communication. They suggest that the sense of not earning “credit” when using non-traditional forms of scholarship is a significant barrier to more historians exploring and adopting new methods and communication strategies.
Just through these three articles, published in a seven-year time span, we can see the significant growth of the use of blogs and online communication as well as the persistent problems (for example, the way that the tenure process is based on book publications) that hold this process back. What do you guys think? Should the tenure process include review of online blogs, or should they stick with traditional monographs and articles? Cohen argues that “good is good” and the very best blogs will rise to the top, but with a digital landscape that is both so huge and so cluttered should more professors and graduate students publish blogs? Sound off below (on this blog that we’ve joined to communicate in scholarly ways).