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Does Open Access Diminish Publishing Opportunities for Grad Students?
July 23, 2013 8:20 PM   Subscribe

The American Historical Association just released a statement that "strongly encourages graduate programs and university libraries to adopt a policy that allows the embargoing of completed history PhD dissertations in digital form for as many as six years." The statement is aimed at publishers who are disinclined to consider books based on dissertations that have been made freely available in open access databases. Some responses cite a 2011 survey, "Do Open Access Electronic Theses and Dissertations Diminish Publishing Opportunities in the Social Sciences and Humanities?," that found most publishers self-reported they would indeed consider publishing such dissertations, but also suggested university libraries are refusing to buy books based on dissertations that have previously been available online. "The Road From Dissertation to Book Has a New Pothole: the Internet," a 2011 article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, quotes editors who are wary of publishing such books, and discusses the process by which students can restrict access to their work at companies like ProQuest, "the electronic publisher with which the vast majority of U.S. universities contract to house digital copies of dissertations."

Trevor Owens postulates a "Bizarro World AHA" which would suggest "it is fundamentally problematic that the tenure and promotion of historians is based directly on the commercial viability of academic books."

Adam Crymble agrees that "it makes no sense to leave career progression of historians in the hands of acquisition editors at famous scholarly presses" but thanks the AHA "for standing up for and empowering new scholars," calling the decision "a well-intentioned gesture designed to protect and empower those at the most vulnerable point in their career from a perceived threat. How could anyone criticize them for that?"
posted by mediareport (40 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
History has been and remains a book-based discipline, and the requirement that dissertations be published online poses a tangible threat to the interests and careers of junior scholars in particular. Many universities award tenure only to those junior faculty who have published a monograph within six years of receiving the PhD. With the online publication of dissertations, historians will find it increasingly difficult to persuade publishers to make the considerable capital investments necessary to the production of scholarly monographs.
This seems to me to be the problem AHA ought to be tackling, instead of tilting at Open Access. The scholarly press model is dying, and the academic humanities promotion model is going to have to be revised to deal with that death eventually. Better to move before than react after.
posted by gingerest at 8:30 PM on July 23, 2013 [14 favorites]


I saw that first link a couple of days ago and thought "the internet is once again a paradigm-breaker". Of course, then there's the whole problem of tenure-track jobs in the humanities in the first place.
posted by immlass at 8:35 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is all a thinly veiled scheme to trick university presses into publishing a book no one really wants to own, just so the author can say they've published. After 5 years people will have a choice of a free digital copy or a dead tree version. Are publishers really going to fall for this? I think not, but in the meantime it's going to ruin open access to scholarly works.

The cat is out of the bag. Pandora's Box has been opened. Deal with it.
posted by sbutler at 8:38 PM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


So what you're saying is the beans have been spilled? The ship has sailed? The jig is in the upward position? The fat lady has sung?
posted by Behemoth at 8:53 PM on July 23, 2013 [17 favorites]


Embargo on!
posted by adipocere at 8:54 PM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps tenure or hiring committees could read and evaluate people's research, rather than relying on meaningless print reproduction as a signifier of quality and prestige.
posted by thelonius at 8:56 PM on July 23, 2013 [52 favorites]


Yes.
posted by mmmbacon at 9:00 PM on July 23, 2013


Man, what a joke.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 9:01 PM on July 23, 2013


And what if it takes you a year or two of post-docs to get a tenure-track job? Then your embargo is useless. (I know, make it a ten year embargo!)

This is so obviously Tenure & Promotion's fault, and not at all the fault of the presses or the libraries. Just come up with new standards for tenure. The whole reason they hand out PhDs is because you've made a significant and original scholarly contribution: it's not a contribution if the only people who ever read it are on your committee.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:11 PM on July 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


Does Open Access Diminish Publishing Opportunities for Grad Students?

That's like asking if the Pirate Bay cuts into songwriting royalties. The answer is yes.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:33 PM on July 23, 2013


This reminds me of the Declaration on Research Assessment, which is targeting the use of journal impact factors in hiring, funding, and tenure decisions in the life sciences, in that in both cases, faculty evaluations have essentially been outsourced to third party editors. Would it really kill scholars to read, understand, and evaluate the work of their peers?
posted by pombe at 9:41 PM on July 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Atlantic on the proposal: American Historical Association: Universities Ought to Embargo Dissertations From the Internet for 6 Years.

"The thing is, it's not so clear that this is in fact the case. A recent survey of academic journal editors found that only a very small percent (2.9) would explicitly not consider for publication something that was already available online. The vast majority said they were either always open to "electronic theses and dissertations" (ETDs) or would evaluate them on a case-by-case basis (a practice some might refer to as editing). An earlier study found that "only 1.8% of graduate alumni reported publisher rejections of their ETD-derived manuscripts.""
posted by wenat at 9:47 PM on July 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


For whatever it's worth, they had me embargo my master's thesis so it wouldn't pre-empt my publications. It was a science thesis, though, and I expect to get the second publication into review in a couple of months. The first part of it is already published (and it's open access, too).
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:51 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although in retrospect I probably shouldn't blatantly self-link in a comment.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:53 PM on July 23, 2013


Fuck this. As an academic, i get paid by the government, and so my work is public. it does not belong to academic publishers, and i look forward to the day when creative commons and open access stakes them like the vampires they are.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:54 PM on July 23, 2013 [52 favorites]


You sound like a fun guy.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 9:54 PM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The standards of a dissertation and an actual book that's readable and enjoyable by real people (even scholars) aren't always the same. I've read the diss versions of many scholarly books, and if the publisher's worth their salt, the books are trimmed, tightened, and generally fixed. Worth ILLing or getting the library to buy the actual book--even if it's just for more sane fonts and a functional index.
posted by LucretiusJones at 9:57 PM on July 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm in the midst of writing a dissertation and honestly it's not anything like a book I'd publish. The chapter structure, RQs, transcripts of interviews? It's a thing for other academics and it's my tiny contribution to my area of research to earn my doctorate.

I read about 8 dissertations before starting mine and it was tremendously helpful. I was taught that this was standing on the shoulders of giants and we're all indebted to the researchers who came before us.

If I ever finish it, y'all are welcome to read it and see it on-line.
posted by 26.2 at 10:26 PM on July 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


A dissertation isn't a book. It's a different genre of thing that one revises into a book. Revising my own diss. into Book One required a new introduction, a new conclusion, re-chaptering, one entirely new chapter, lots and lots of cuts, updated sources, and a full rewrite from beginning to end. (Oh, and fixing some silly typos.) It took about six years.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:50 PM on July 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


This is exactly why people never get book deals based on blogs.
posted by empath at 11:59 PM on July 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yes, a piece of standard wisdom I've often heard is that your dissertation is the first draft of the book. Many aren't really fit for broader distribution in the dissertation form--especially if they're rushed to completion to meet a deadline imposed by a job or a postdoc opportunity.
posted by col_pogo at 12:34 AM on July 24, 2013


I don't think that the AHA is actively trying to make it harder for people to learn things, but the answer to Crymble's question is "By pointing out that they are proposing a short-term solution that might make it easier for some newly minted historians to jump through the traditional hoops (while inevitably making things harder for literally everyone who is interested in the research of those historians) instead of using their prestige to point out that the traditional hoops are of questionable value in a contemporary context and argue that the time has come for tenure committees to take down the hoops and adopt better ways of assessing candidates."

I mean, I don't know if the AHA is just myopic, or if they have some weird political issues that prevent them from speaking the obvious (afraid to antagonize publishers?), but yeah, on balance their proposal is bad and they should feel bad. It's also strategically foolish, unless you believe that history as a discipline is best served by circling the wagons and telling everyone who isn't in the circle to go watch TV or something, stop trying to learn about history, it's for eggheads only.
posted by No-sword at 12:46 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


wenat: A recent survey of academic journal editors found that only a very small percent (2.9) would explicitly not consider for publication something that was already available online...

That's the study in the 2nd link, which it should probably be emphasized again was based on self-reporting from a self-selected minority of journal and book publishers; the overall response rate to the survey was 17%. Not saying the self-reporting methodology invalidates the general finding that most publishers say electronic availability doesn't disqualify a dissertation or thesis from later publication, just noting that it isn't quite the definitive piece of evidence some seem to be implying it is. It's at least partially countered by some of the publishers quoted in the third link.

Ironmouth: Does Open Access Diminish Publishing Opportunities for Grad Students?

That's like asking if the Pirate Bay cuts into songwriting royalties. The answer is yes.


Except when open access allows more folks to find a cool piece of research that then catches publishers' eyes and makes them *more* likely to publish the work after seeing the clear evidence of wider interest in the material. There are a couple of examples of publishers who think that way in the Chronicle article, including a dissertation on mountaintop removal coal mining that was getting a lot of hits in an open access database, which the publisher took as a good sign (the book apparently did very well). It's more complex than a simple "yes" or "no."
posted by mediareport at 1:07 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile...
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:35 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The standards of a dissertation and an actual book that's readable and enjoyable by real people (even scholars) aren't always the same. I've read the diss versions of many scholarly books, and if the publisher's worth their salt, the books are trimmed, tightened, and generally fixed. Worth ILLing or getting the library to buy the actual book--even if it's just for more sane fonts and a functional index.

Maybe we should only allow theses to be electronically available in comic sans with clip-art every other page. That way the choice would be between a professionally typeset and edited book or something that looks like Christine from accounts receivable put up a sign that there's donuts in the breakroom.
posted by atrazine at 4:29 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps tenure or hiring committees could read and evaluate people's research, rather than relying on meaningless print reproduction as a signifier of quality and prestige.

I suspect the problem isn't at that level. It is more likely that the hiring committees within the history department have to make a case to uninformed administrators or non-historian academics within the same 'college' or 'school' (how many schools have historians in admin roles?) who do not have to knowledge, tools, skills or time to evaluate candidates and instead need to see sort of observable and easily understandable metric that can be used to compare candidates.
posted by srboisvert at 5:34 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't other departments be in exactly the same situation, then? Of course, those other subjects are not the AHA's concern. Or is there something about dissertation publishing that is uniquely affecting history?
posted by thelonius at 6:28 AM on July 24, 2013


Well, another metric of how good your scholarship is might be how often it's cited in other peoples' work, right? I've seen abstracts for dissertations and theses that I would've loved to reference in my own writing but that I couldn't because no full-text version was available. The six years that you're taking to write your book is six years that other people could be finding and citing your material.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:30 AM on July 24, 2013


Paper-based disciplines are transitioning much more nicely than book-based disciplines are. Journals have the primary function of carrying the stamp of editors' and reviewers' approval. Even if all papers were freely available online, journals would still exist to direct attention to the important ones. I predict that more disciplines will become journal-based.
posted by painquale at 6:31 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


So in English or Philosophy, say, they don't care as much about books, as long as you are getting journal articles accepted in the right places? I saw that they appealed to the book-based nature of their subject in the statement, but I thought that was just some kind of rhetoric to justify this decision.
posted by thelonius at 6:34 AM on July 24, 2013


Or is there something about dissertation publishing that is uniquely affecting history?

No, not at all. It's pervasive. I think I digitally published mine (in French, Screen Studies) in 2006 under the Australian Something Digital Theses Something Project. I'm pretty sure nobody's read it yet. Or ever will.

It's terrifying how much I have sequestered this fact from the rest of my life, apart from occasionally filling in the title fields in some forms as "Dr", rather than "Mr", because I might gain some slight advantage. I can assure my devoted public here that any gain is strictly cosmetic.
posted by Wolof at 6:55 AM on July 24, 2013


We still have dissertations that are under embargo after five decades because the authors won't release them. It's frustrating that they're essentially telling librarians and researchers that it's better for the field for us to assume the high costs of buying a pdf from UMI ($37 a piece), paying for an expensive ProQuest subscription, or ILLing an expensive copy from another school. We don't discriminate on whether a thesis is available online, unless it was poorly edited or didn't differ substantially from the original. Poor books are poor books.

I predict that more disciplines will become journal-based.

To be honest, I hope not. There are a lot of books and monographs in my field that could not be condensed down into journal articles and which are the result of years of careful study and exploration and rewriting. Not everything can or should take ten years to publish, nor does every topic really warrant a full monograph, but some do.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:04 AM on July 24, 2013


Sorry, bit of a skewed reading from me there. I'm not really up on the hiring requirements of US history departments. I really just wanted to say that I support any and all theses going online where anyone can read them. The taxpayer paid for me to do mine. The info is public, as far as I am concerned.
posted by Wolof at 7:07 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


This was a problem in my grad program, as those in charge of access, etc., didn't understand that creative theses, which the writer hopes to one day publish either as a collection/novel or as individual pieces, were in any ways different from academic theses. Publishers of fiction and poetry really don't want you giving your work away for free (and why should you? Hard enough to make a living at it!). I think we were only allowed to embargo them for six years. Which means mine should be made public soon, I guess.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:10 AM on July 24, 2013




You sound like a fun guy.

For those confused, this is appears to be a mild pun on Mitrovarr's linked mushroom-centric research, not an apropos-of-nothing jibe. Bad timing in a cluster of comments, carry on.

posted by cortex at 7:23 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The biggest obstacle to the immediate electronic publishing of theses and dissertations in the humanities is copyright. Use of in-copyright material ranging from images to simple quotations was never much of an issue as long as dissertations sat in the bowels of the library of the institution that accepted them: they were maybe also protected (although IANAL) by their designation as 'unpublished'. It used to be that to publish a thesis with an academic press was to get it out there, necessitating that you got clearance. Now the situation is reversed: publishing a scholarly monograph almost looks as if you have something to hide. However, my institution's e-repository will not accept deposits, including theses, that are not copyright-cleared. It would be to the real detriment to the thesis - a space for professional development, even experiment - if graduate students were constrained in citation, and therefore in discussion.

The imperfect solution would be for academia to negotiate an exemption from copyright fees for all student work, probably through consortial payments as is done for photocopying for course readers and such.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 7:42 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


This whole argument is ridiculous fighting over sraps. The average History PhD-turned-book has a market of what, a few thousand purchases? Captive librarians who are forced to pay inflated prices because it's the only way to get a copy if the research is not open? I assume the PhD author receives essentially nothing, what with the vow of poverty that comes with a humanities PhD. Any argument about protecting commerce or economics is nonsense. There's just not enough to protect.

On the flip side, imagine a world where all this research was publically accessible, and readable, and searchable. And the output of thousands of dedicated, smart people who sacrified 5–10 years of their lives to become experts in some tiny subject matter were suddenly to be available worldwide for free. Doesn't that seem more valuable than Springer-Verlag making a few thousand bucks?

I guess the old men are still running the AHA.
posted by Nelson at 8:08 AM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


The average History PhD-turned-book has a market of what, a few thousand purchases?

A few hundred, more like. It used to be thought that a print run of a thousand was the minimum economically-viable, even at the library prices that academic publishers charge for monographs, but improvements to printing technology (and outsourcing production) has really driven the costs down. The economic obsolescence of print has been greatly exaggerated - not least for libraries, who have a good idea how much it will cost to preserve a printed item for a century or so, but who just don't know what the equivalent costs are for institutional e-repositories (note that ArXiv and similar are not free at the point of publication, only at the point of use). The print-based economy of academic credentialling is going to take a lot of time and effort to unpick.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 8:59 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


So in English or Philosophy, say, they don't care as much about books, as long as you are getting journal articles accepted in the right places?

In philosophy, yes, that's right. I think English is still a book-driven field.

I think the format of the dissertation is partly to blame here. It's an anomaly in a professional career. You spend ages learning how to write exactly one, then immediately start cannibalizing it to make publishable papers or a book, and never write another. Many of the top philosophy graduate programs recognize this, and allow you to submit a collection of papers in lieu of a dissertation. Students are often encouraged to do this, as it's professionally more useful. This has the downside of making it a little harder to sell yourself on the job market, because many hiring committees still stand by the nobility of the dissertation, and will frown upon candidates who haven't done one.

Philosophy is somewhat unique in this respect, however. I can think of very few philosophy dissertations that have made waves and that are often cited. In linguistics, in comparison, your dissertation often ends up being the most important work of your professional career. It's very different.
posted by painquale at 10:54 AM on July 24, 2013


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