Opening and Expanding Forms of Scholarly Communication

In this reading response, four sources will be outlined that show how scholarly communication has both become more open and expanded. The prevalence of new technologies has pushed academics to reconsider their own methods and practices to allow these technologies into their fields in order to improve their disciplines.

Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy

Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s book focuses on the future of academic publishing. She pushes the reader to reconsider academia’s future more broadly in more communally oriented ways. She focuses not just on technological changes but also on the social, intellectual, and institutional changes. These changes to the various aspects of academia have wide implications and must be considered in how they both decrease costs and increase access but also in how they change the methodology of academics in researching, writing, and reviewing.

The books resulted from the experiences of Fitzpatrick in the scholarly communication field as she co-founded Media Commons, a digital scholarly network. It covers several aspects which will be further outlined in this blog post.

The chapter on peer review looks at its tradition, history, and future. It focuses on a few important features and bugs such as anonymity, credentialing, reputation, and others. She argues that the central pole of academia, the peer review system, is broken and must be fixed.

In the next chapter, Fitzpatrick attempts to revive peer-review by pushing change from “a system focused on the production and dissemination of individual products to imagining it as a system focused more broadly on facilitating the processes of scholarly work” (11). She covered the rise and death of authorship and the move from individual to collaborative, originality to remix, intellectual property to the gift economy, and from text to something more.

In the later chapters, which covered texts, preservation, and the university, Fitzpatrick explores other necessary changes to academia that are important to the future. These changes include publishers thinking differently about their business model and editorial practices, among other considerations.

Fitzpatrick, throughout the book, argued that “we in the humanities, and in the academy more broadly, face what is less a material obsolescence than an institutional one; we are entrenched in systems that no longer serve our needs” (13). The book helps to not only show the problems with academia, specifically in publishing, but also guides the reader to theoretical and practical solutions. I have seen many of the themes and changes Fitzpatrick covered and believe that her prescient analysis has helped mold our present while still providing wisdom for the future.

The Ivory Tower and the Open Web: Burritos, Browsers, and Books

This article by Dan Cohen, the Vice Provost, Dean, and a Professor at Northeastern University looks at how openness remains valuable for academic endeavors on the web. Cohen opened the article by citing Nate Silver’s blog, “The Burrito Bracket,” which assessed inexpensive Mexican restaurants in Chicago’s Wicker Park.

The blog by Silver utilized Google’s free blogger web application to take his assessment of these restaurants to bring it online. He posted weekly about different restaurants and scored them across twelve categories. He then created other ways of interaction between the restaurants through head-to-head battles and “March Madness” style brackets. As Cohen noted “like many of the savviest users of the web, Silver started small and improved the site as he went along.” He used Flickr to archive photos of the restaurants to complement his textual descriptions and scores. He added geolocation so that the restaurants could be mapped out. The blog became increasingly popular online, with the help of Yelp, and was enhanced by online interaction.

Then, Cohen explained how, in 2008, Silver turned from burritos to politics. In a similar way to his development of “The Burrito Bracket,” Silver started “” (a nod to the total electors in the U.S. electoral college) and began small, growing iteratively. The small project, which grew with time to include maps and charts, started to take off and its audience began to grow exponentially soon surpassing daily newspapers in visitors. Cohen explained that Silver’s audience were “looking for data-driven, deeply researched analysis rather than conventional reporting.” Silver’s innovative blog began a discussion on this new form of information which saw some supporting the evolution while others emphasizing its limitations.

Eventually, the FiveThirtyEight blog would merge with the New York Times which showed Silver and his blog’s ascension in modern media. Cohen noted how this meteoric rise presents several lessons for academia including the “do-it-yourself nature,” “iterate toward perfection,” the principle of “good is good,” “continual, post-publication, recursive review,” and the power of “openness” in enabling and rewarding “unexpected uses and genres.”

Cohen then discusses the debate between the use of the web in academia. He outlines literature on the topic and then places his book within its context: “this book is about how the digital-first culture of the web might become more widespread and acceptable to the professoriate and their students.” He further outlines aspects and chapters of the book such as blogging, genre and the open web, the fundamental requirements of such a system, and the value of openness. Cohen believes that in order to move beyond the restrictive nature of the past, openness is imperative to “fully functional shadow academic systems for scholarly research and communication.” Cohen’s analysis of Silver’s blogs along with his outlining of previous literature and his own book helped to show how the online medium can greatly benefit and expand academic literature.

Scholarly Communications in History Discipline

This Ithaka report was commissioned by JSTOR and created in August 2006 by Rebecca Griffiths, Michael Dawson, and Matthew Rascoff. The report builds on previous investigations by the economics field by presenting findings of a study on the history disciplines’s use of scholarly communications. Specifically, it looks at the processes and resources utilized in historian’s research. The methodology of the study was to depend on interviews with senior/junior faculty and graduate students from a variety of institutions. The authors note that the responses of the interviewees centered around three themes.

The first theme was that books still remain the dominant form of history’s scholarly communications. The authors maintain that in order to obtain tenure to focus on research, the person must publish one or two books.  Journal articles and book reviews (monographs) present a strong secondary source used for research and distinguish them by explaining that former to be less valuable for career advancement but more accessible than the latter. 

The second theme of the report was that, in relation to other fields, the transition from print to electronic remains slow. Current or past issues of leading journals are often not online and this is especially true outside the United State. They further note that there are few open access or online only journals, minimal pre-print sharing, minimal online book reviews, minimal digitized primary source material, and electronic books are not valued the same as print books. However, the report does explain how finding aids for archives are increasingly accessible online. Online mediums, both effective and scalable, for creating historical scholarship have yet to emerge, the report states. Finally, the slow development of the online medium for history brings difficulties for the “next generation of historians, as undergraduates of today arrive with a mindset that anything not available electronically does not exist.

The third and final theme covered the importance of comprehensiveness in the history discipline. They help to distinguish between history and other fields by citing an example from an economist that dissuades his students from reviewing past literature on a topic as it can potentially discourage and hinder their creativity. On the other hand, historians value and emphasize historiography: the context of the argument, its place within the scholarly dialogue, and the provenance of its primary source materials. Thus, the discovery process of historians is wider ranging and often focuses on lesser-known sources.

This report helps to show how historians utilize scholarly communication. The fact the report came out almost 17 years ago does make me wonder how much things have changed. As the online medium becomes more accessible and more prevalent, such as in the previous decade, I believe that the field of history has also evolved in this way. In my own experience, I have found that institutions are evolving to the online medium despite many important resources lacking from it.

Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians

Another report from Ithaka, which came out in late-2012,  this project also used interviews to base their research on. The authors, Jennifer Rutner and Roger C. Schonfeld, interviewed historians, librarians, archivists, and support service providers. It looked at the changing research methods/practices of the history field in the United States and found that the underlying research methods remained similar even after the introduction of new technologies. Despite this, the daily research practices have fundamentally changed. The authors found opportunities for improved support/training and presented recommendations to the following areas:

Archives: improving access through upgraded finding aids, digitization and discovery tool integration. The authors hope that this will help to expand opportunities for archivists in helping historians interpret collections, building connections, and instruction of the use of archives.

Libraries: improvements to the supply of collections, addressing changing format preferences, maximizing access of collections through collaboration, and incorporating the entirety of materials through discovery environments. The authors further note the need for research support in sub-disciplines and the discovery and support of primary source material.

Citation/research note management systems providers: to push these systems to help historians in their need narratively organize sources and gain intellectual control over them.

History departments: add to the education of PhD students by training the development of dissertation proposals, adopting/using research practice and methods, and the use of non-textual sources and new forms of scholarly expression.

Scholarly societies: push for initiatives that regularly teach historians’ changing research practices and the engagement with other parts of the history discipline.

Funders: opportunities where funding can address historians’ professional development and building bridges between research support providers and historians.

In all, this article helps to show how the field of history has changed in research methodology and practices. It also shows the limitations of the various aspects of the field while giving practical recommendations to ameliorate these concerns raised by the interview.

One Reply to “Opening and Expanding Forms of Scholarly Communication”

  1. I really enjoyed Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence because I am interested in a career in academic publishing. I think you did a great job of restating Fitzpatrick’s arguments and knowledge listed in her work. I especially liked the concept behind MediaCommons and how it allows anyone to post scholarly work and receive feedback from a net of other scholars and professionals.

    I think the main differences in the academic publishing world in print versus online between when Scholarly Communications in History Discipline was published and now, is that now JSTOR and other websites allow students access to thousands of academic books. Unfortunately, to utilize JSTOR you need a subscription and if a researcher is not a current student or faculty member then they may not have access to the works posted on those sites.

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