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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Humanities journals have mixed feelings about digital

Jennifer Howard, Humanities Journals Confront Identity Crisis, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 27, 2009.  Excerpt:

Senior scholars, the A-list of academic publishing, seem to submit fewer unsolicited manuscripts to traditional humanities journals than they used to. "The journal has become, with very few exceptions, the place where junior and midlevel scholars are placing their work," according to Bonnie Wheeler, president of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals....

At the Conference of Historical Journals at the American Historical Association's annual meeting in January, Ms. Wheeler, an associate professor of English at Southern Methodist University and editor of the journal Arthuriana,...said journals are caught between the changing habits of readers, who increasingly just want individual pieces of content, and growing pressure to consider their standing in new rankings like the European Reference Index for the Humanities, which critics charge may create a caste system of journals (The Chronicle, October 10, 2008)....

A journal started today...is likely to be online-only and open access. And more and more readers now discover bits and pieces of any journal's content an article here, a book review there through electronic databases and aggregators like JStor, Project Muse, and Ebsco.

Editors of well-established humanities journals have mixed feelings about the changes. They are not Luddites. They appreciate how digital access has expanded the audience for much of the work they publish. They see the possibilities that the Web presents for publishing and scholarship. Editors have also learned that the databases that deliver content to more readers can be a robust source of operating revenue because they work on a subscription model which helps explain why many editors (or their publishers) have not yet embraced open access.

More readers, more dollars: That makes editors happy. But they worry about how to carry the idea of a journal as an organized whole over into the digital world. "The journal itself becomes invisible to the end-user," Ms. Wheeler told her audience. Even as access to its content increases, "the identity of the journal is often lost." ...

On its Web site, the Council of Editors of Learned Journals has set up a blog devoted to how scholarly journals can adapt to a Web 2.0 future. Run by Jo Guldi, a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in digital history at the University of Chicago, the site has begun laying out "tentative principles for rethinking journals by way of sparking conversation." It remains to be seen how ready editors are to have that conversation....

PS:  Note that the CELJ blog endorsed OA in the second principle it articulated for the future of scholarly journals.