open source publishing and the tenure book

I’ve been working an NEH proposal for my next project the past few weeks, and thinking more about the obligations for open access to scholarship. The NEH, as with other federal government funding agencies, wants to see the broadest and most open possible dissemination of the work it funds– which is, I think, and good source of pressure to move humanities scholars in the direction of open access. As the recent faculty senate vote at the Univ. of Maryland demonstrates, humanities faculty are much more fearful of this than our brethren across the hall in the sciences– for reasons of varying degrees of legitimacy. If open access journals caught on, what would happen to the more traditional and prestigious venues of publication? Would they be pressured to reduce the barriers to access- say, move back to JSTOR and do away with the 5 year wall, at the very least? Would this require journals to rethink their economic models? As in the case of book publishing, the lion’s share of the work– writing and reviewing of the articles– is done at no cost to the journals. What would budget sizes be if print copies were abolished, and all of it moved online? I honestly don’t know.

Fear of the effects on career advancement, including tenurabiltiy, continues to form the back drop for resistance in the humanities for open access publishing– how do we determine the relative prestige of venues in a new system?

Journal articles aren’t my current concern. I’m really thinking about how to make access to my research and work more open, while cognizant of the the current realities of tenure review. The single-author monograph is still king in history, and our tenure requirements are plain– no book, no go. Furthermore, the book has to be peer-reviewed at a university/academic press. There are good reasons for these requirements, but they don’t exactly encourage openness. While working within these constraints, however, there are some interesting possibilities for other forms of open access publication. I think for me this will be constructing web-based publication of sources and methodology. My next project will likely be on sex, crime, and empire in the late 18th century. While I want this to result in a book, I also want to develop a series of collections of digital images of documents, transcriptions of those documents, and discussions of context, methodology, and supporting documents. I’ve been playing around with Omeka to execute the vision, but it might just as easily be done on a wordpress or wiki platform. Regardless, what I want to do is at least make the research open, even if the narrativization of that research remains tied to a different model. If it works, the web presence would likely support the book. Until open publishing matures and tenure review and advancement committees in humanities departments come to terms with the changing landscape of publication, this type of model may be a workable solution to move towards open access.


Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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Posted in Digital History, Research and Writing
One comment on “open source publishing and the tenure book
  1. Colin says:

    It’s (barely) tangentially related, but there was an interesting case last semester of a Columbia Business prof following the “Radiohead model” and asking students to pay what they thought his book was worth. If you’re interested, you can check out the (brief) write-up, but it does get into interesting ideas on the high costs of texts, monopolies of publishers, etc.

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