Sunday, March 29, 2009

From the Chronicle: Are senior scholars abandoning journal publication?

From the Chronicle, "Humanities Journals Confront Identity Crisis":
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. . . .

Several journal editors said they had observed this trend, and had different theories about it. Maybe it's a natural winnowing, as disciplines evolve and careers move forward. Humanities fields like history and literary studies have become more specialized over the past couple of decades, making more-general journals like PMLA, the journal of the Modern Language Association, perhaps less tempting as venues. Journals go in and out of fashion. Eminent scholars get busier. . . .

The vogue for edited collections may also be distracting scholars. In 2005, James Eli Adams, an associate professor of English at Cornell University, published an article in the Journal of Victorian Culture called "The Function of Journals at the Present Time," in which he argued that the "explosion" of edited collections has tended "to siphon off a great deal of article-length work from senior scholars."
The article goes on to quote Craig Howes as saying that "a book [of articles] is valued more," although as the author of the article, Jennifer Howard, points out, articles in journals are read by more people because of database access.

Any thoughts about this? The last I'd heard, journal publication was a kind of gold standard, with edited collections considered to be maybe 14K to the 18K of journal publication; also, I had heard that edited collections were even harder to place than monographs, due to publishing constraints. What have you heard?


Ink said...

It's thrilling, in my humble opinion, to see more edited collections welcomed in the marketplace--I've always wondered why they were harder to place with publishers, as they are so very useful to teachers and scholars alike. Many times, I have wished for one that does not yet fact, that was the catalyst for the edited collections I've worked on.

I had heard that book chapters were generally considered more "weighty" than journal articles (though it probably depend on which journal and which publisher). Since they're both peer-reviewed, I'm not sure why one would be preferred over the other, so I'm very interested in hearing what other folks have to say! Great topic!

heu mihi said...

I'd always heard--like you, undine--that collection articles were of less value towards tenure than journal articles. I had/have the impression that getting an article in a book could be more the result of a connection with the editor than of the work's merit, so journals are more peer-reviewed, in a way.

But, if that's true, then it could still make sense that senior scholars publish less in journals and more in collections--because, of course, they already have tenure and needn't worry so much about establishing themselves as "legitimate" scholars.

That's my half-baked, uninformed theory, at any rate.

Mel said...

At my institution, journal articles definitely count more than book articles for t&p -- because they are thought to have more stringent peer review processes, and because the social scientists who are most of our administrators understand what a journal is. Books, not so much.

But I think the key word in the quotes you gave (haven't gone to read the full piece yet) is "unsolicited." Most of the truly senior people I know don't do that much that isn't solicited -- whether by a journal editor or a book editor. But I'm in a smallish subfield, too, which might make a difference.

undine said...

Ink, I like edited collections, too. For one thing, if your library doesn't have the book, it's easier to order it by interlibrary loan than to order a bunch of articles piecemeal.

Heu mihi, I think your idea is right: because there are connections involved, theoretically at least (though I see a lot of calls for papers for edited collections), people think the peer review process isn't rigorous. Of course, this doesn't answer all the "special issue" and other seemingly "clubby" journals *cough*PMLA*cough* that are out there. Actually, I think PMLA has gotten better about accepting actual submissions once in a while instead of soliciting them from Big Names. I hadn't thought of this as part of the tenure issue, but that makes sense.

Mel, that part about social scientists and their understanding of things of value makes sense, too. I get the feeling (a wholly uninformed feeling, I might add) that in the social sciences, a "book" means either a textbook or some kind of weighty state-of-the-field or diagnostic manual. Journal articles really are the gold standard there.

(I thought for a minute I wasn't going to point out the relative costs of a $5,000 yearly subscription for a journal in physics versus $35 for a journal in English, but it's too good to pass up.)

Ink said...

That's a good point about some collections being "friendy." I've seen so many calls for papers for them (and that's how we did ours, too, with cfps) that I'd forgotten some are invite-only things.

May I just say ROTLF on this? "Of course, this doesn't answer all the "special issue" and other seemingly "clubby" journals *cough*PMLA*cough* that are out there." Indeed!!

Apparently the creative writing journals and awards can also tend toward such clubbiness...I don't know if you ever saw that website called Foetry, but it overtly traced connections among poets and publishers. (It's been taken down since, with only a few archival materials left online, but back in the day, it was naming names like crazy.)

Ink said...

I did find the Foetry mission statement in case anyone's interested.

The Bittersweet Girl said...

I am in the process of putting together an edited collection and here's what I've learned: 1) presses are still wary of them, 2) the only way to get senior scholars is to solicit them -- they don't answer CFP, of course, and 3) one needs senior scholars to give a collection credibility so, yeah, I did a fair amount of solicitation (sounds sexier than it was).

Not only have I had the impression that journal articles have more cache than book chapters, I think they have more cache than editing a book.

undine said...

Ink, I had seen something about Foetry some years back when someone I know was angry about a contest he was involved in being named. I didn't know that they'd taken it down as a site!

Bittersweet Girl, I wish you'd write about good ways to solicit senior scholars; it does sound like a process of art or maybe science.