Undead Publishing

I agree with Kathleen Fitzpatrick claim, in Planned Obsolescence, that academic publishing is in trouble.  She makes a convincing argument that the bad economy is forcing publishers to push for electronic works.  However, the academy still values the printed monograph to complete one’s dissertation or gain tenure.  What does this mean for academic publishing now and in the future?

There are both positive and negative effects of the gradual shift towards digital works.  It is interesting that Fitzpatrick found that when she posted her draft online she received a lot more reviewers than a regular closed peer review process.  However, she figured out that they usually did not read the whole book and the majority did not comment.  On the other hand, the smaller number of peer reviewers in the regular process read the whole book and could give feedback about the work as a whole.  However, she also shows that open review maybe better because the reviewer has to take the credit or the blame for their critique.  As opposed to a close review process it is much easier for the reviewer to commit academic fraud because they are anonymous.

Writing History in the Digital Age edited by Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki shows another advantage of digital history that it increases the audience to previously underserved minority groups.  This may improve the scholarship that is being produced if these groups are being included.  This born digital book also shows how digital content can tie the sources with the work more closely together.

Writing History in the Digital Age makes a larger point that digital history changes history scholarship.  In the past, both the content and medium portrayed printed books as final complete works.  The books had a definite all encompassing thesis argument and they were printed on paper, which could not be changed. Digital History starts to get away from having a definite argument to go to a more fluid ever changing text. As Fitzpatrick said in her section “The Death of the Author” that even though it is exaggerated the author still has to give up some authority to the reader.  This form of scholarship also shows the underbelly of history.  It shows that scholarship is always imperfect based on the limited sources that one can find and it is never complete.

If publishing is going towards eBooks does the way people read them effect how authors right them? Should historians should create more popular shorter historical works for an Internet audience.  If e-publishing allows almost anybody to publish their work what factors should be used for peer review, selecting journal articles, and for awarding prizes?

A good way of thinking about all these issues is asking, what is the goal?  No matter what form publishing takes I think conveying unique, well-researched, factual ideas to others is always going to be the main focus.   One should not be overawed by new technology but they should think of what technology, old or new, best serves that goal.   Just because we have a tool to publish almost an infinite amount it does not mean we should.  As Fitzpatrick showed, even online journals with open access strive to give authority to the reviewers by making their names public and in some cases using the old blind peer review to weed out at least some of the less quality article proposals.


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