I’m on research leave this semester, thanks to a generous department of colleagues who work together for everyone’s benefit. Once every 7 years I get to work one overload teaching semester in exchange for one development semester where I don’t teach. That development semester is this semester. The work is going as well as can be expected with a husband and toddler. So far, I’ve worked out outlines of two new book projects, given two conference presentations, an invited talk, participated in continuing campus obligations, worked on an old article needing revisions, and have an article sitting that depends on other scholars’ collaboration. All of it is moving along well and I should have some workable drafts of most of the work, as well as at least one article out for review and a book proposal out for review. My goal is to have drafts so that I can keep the process of writing going even while I get back to the classroom.
One article is a bit difficult to place. I won’t go too far into the topic, but it is of interest (I hope) to a few diverse groups of historians. My big dilemma the last few months has been where to send the article when it’s ready. I could send it to Top Journal #1, but because they are so popular with scholars they are backlogged for years. Thus, they have an unstated policy of accepting only articles that do not need revisions. Yikes. I could spend the next year sorting my article so that it is PERFECT for this journal, only to have it rejected in the end. So—no. I could send it to Top 2nd Tier Journal in My Specific Field, because it is a great journal. But, among a few other issues, it’s small and few people will see the article. I’ve decided on Top Journal #2, because it’s a journal for a general history of science audience and it seems doable based on the amount of time I have left to focus on this draft (3 weeks, tops). But this dilemma got me thinking—why am I spending so much time (probably about 25 total hours) deciding which journal to send this paper to? I have a blog. The draft I will finally propose to Top Journal #2 will have been read by at least 2 colleagues, and revised based on their thoughts. Why shouldn’t I just post the article on my blog? More people, arguably, will see it there.
I think this is a problem a lot of scholars at various levels are experiencing, although I haven’t made time for a concerted search for their thoughts on it. John Stewart (@jstew511), at the University of Oklahoma, encourages his students to revise wikipedia for their class projects because the audience for their work—as undergrads—will potentially be hundreds of thousands of people, instead of 1 (the instructor). Ashley McCray recently published an amazing and influential article about what Thanksgiving really means to Native peoples in the US, and how we all need to check ourselves on the regular about white privilege. She did this online and not in an academic journal. She says she did it this way because it’s where people will read it. And they did—it got over 10K shares and 100K views in less than a day.
*EDIT: Here is one blog post, sent to me on Twitter by Andrew Careaga (@andrewcareaga), the Executive Director of University Communications at Missouri S&T (my uni). It’s from 2010 and is expressing the same sentiment, just on the university PR side of things. It doesn’t seem like thing have improved in the last 5 years. But, see? I posted the link for this blog and within an hour I got 4 responses, one of which was this!
This semester, I’ve written more words for this blog and for another blog I post on (HARN) than I have for anything that will go into paper publishing. Granted, blogs and peer-reviewed articles are not the same kind of scholarship. The blogs I write are not peer-edited, sometimes they aren’t even self-edited if I’m short on time (oops). The article I’m talking about here is something I’ve had at least 10 drafts on so far, and will likely have 5-6 more. My blog is a place I work through ideas and count on your feedback. Articles are polished, but I still count on feedback. I can’t put my blog in a tenure dossier and expect it to be taken seriously as a scholarly contribution—can I? I know I can use articles and books for my tenure case, so that’s where the work goes. Sometimes I find my blog more exciting (which may be why I’ve written more for it than anything else this semester). My ideas can take a free form and a discussion can start and be sustained online. I know there are people who argue that online presence should begin to be counted for tenure—Twitter, Blogs, participation on Academia.edu and the like. I don’t know what I think about that just yet, especially given that there are some who look down upon Open Access publications simply because the author usually pays for the publication of the paper. Most of those OA journals are indeed peer-reviewed, they just don’t make the reader pay for access. Free access to scholarship is crucial to academics moving forward. Peer review MUST be a part of tenureable work, but where can the up-to-the minute scholarship fit in?
What do you think?