Academic Content

H-Net Vice President of Networks's picture

A few days ago H-Net Council approved a new description of the H-Net Editor role. This new description had been drafted and mulled over by the Editorial Affairs Committee who approved it on June 23. Council approved it August 1. H-Net President Hollingsworth has directed staff to replace the old description where it appears on H-Net. For now, I’d like to share it here.

Network Editors manage, edit, and support H-Net networks. They are stewards of H-Net's most valuable assets and responsible for developing content on their networks. They are entrusted with procuring relevant, timely contributions that inform the field and have the potential to impact the scholarly conversation within their fields. They moderate discussions, edit posts, solicit and commission contributions, develop new features, manage subscriptions, work with H-Net to develop and implement editing policies and practices, and directly post messages to their networks. Networks preferably have teams of network editors to share the duties. Their workload can vary with the practices and division of labor for individual networks and can include moderating incoming posts from subscribers, creating and/or contributing to specialized projects and features, organizing the network's homepage, developing local editorial policies. Network editors must have strong field qualifications for the subject covered by the network; have reliable internet access; and pass training in H-Net's content management system. H-Net provides basic training and limited support

Some of the changes simply write out old "listserve" language. There are also some significant new points in this new description. I will speak to some of them in my next couple blog posts, beginning with editors’ responsibility for “developing content on their networks. They are entrusted with procuring relevant, timely contributions that inform the field and have the potential to impact the scholarly conversation within their fields.”

I’d like to consider what “content” is in the academic context, and what this requirement means for editors. The focus on producing content suggests we exist to provide and archive much more than announcements of upcoming events and CFP’s. For many fields, the H-Net network that serves them is the best and even only source of announcements, CFP’s, and centralized calendar of events. For such places, H-Net is performing a valuable service that needs to be maintained. But the Commons is built to do even more. I also want steer people away from a knee jerk reaction I have heard before to the term “content” as sounding too “internet-y” and somehow not intellectual or academic. There’s no reason “academic content” should suggest ad-laden click-magnet sensationalist stuff like “America’s Hottest Professors.” We can do better than that and many academic individuals and organizations on and off H-Net already do. Including content development in our editor description helps ensure H-Net keeps up with, and ideally gets ahead of, developments already happening in academia.

Academic content takes many forms, some of which are popping up more and frequently on H-Net, and I’d like to look at a few. This is not to say H-Net needs to do exactly what any of these other producers of academic content are doing. But I do aim to suggest some of what the Commons was built for, and to show that plenty of academic scholars with rigorous peer-reviewed publication records have figured out before us that the internet is best used for more than announcements. It’s an interactive, iterative space that is ideally suited for the collaborative production of knowledge on which academic research is based. This is part of the whole point of this thing called academic content. And it works: online discussion impacts academic knowledge, research, and teaching as much as traditional publishing venues, conference papers, and meetings. 

The Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association recently announced their new online, open-access peer reviewed journal, Response. Response publishes traditional journal articles, Roundtables of three more contributions on a theme (just like H-Diplo does), reviews of events and exhibits alongside book reviews, interview transcripts or podcasts with notable figures in the field, and scholarship based in new media—narrative photo series, video essays, videos of talks and lectures… An expansive, digital-age view of an academic journal, rich in content and all, I might add, in a Drupal platform exactly like H-Net’s.

In Media Res is a weekly curated discussion. Each week a new topic is featured. Each day, a new scholar contributes a short video clip (usually just snatched from YouTube) and a 300-500 word essay. Contributors respond to one another, and readers chime in on the discussion, too. They see themselves working in “collaborative, multi-modal forms of online scholarship,” with opportunities for researchers to critically engage with one another while bridging a divide between academic and non-academic audiences. Media Studies for the Masses.

Nicely blending traditional academic content with digital age delivery, Manifold, a new project by the University of Minnesota Press and the Digital Scholarship Lab at CUNY, will be publishing networked, iterative online open source materials to run alongside published monographs, extending and expanding the potential of the traditional academic monograph into the multi-modal, interactive space of the internet. It’s a hybrid form of publication that doesn't abandoned the academic publishing model, it brings it into the digital age (and sounds similar to H-AMSTDY's journal supplement.) 

First Person Scholar publishes 500-2000 word critical essays in Game Studies. Taking advantage of online publishing affordances, the site has a Board of Discussants: 20 Game Studies scholars, many at the top of the field, who make a commitment to respond to the essays. Critical feedback, scholarly communication, and collaborative production of knowledge at the pace of the digital age, rather than the stultifying pace (and general inaccessibility) of traditional academic publishing. In an interesting parallel, H-HistSex invites book authors to be "Discussants" by inviting their responses to H-HistSex's Book Reviews to be published with the review.

I’m not totally afraid of commercial sites. The Slate’s Vault has had some nifty stuff and their new Slate Academy, beginning with a nine-part podcast history of American slavery, is pretty cool stuff created by a couple academics and a journalist working together (shocking!).

I suspect many H-Netters are familiar with Common-Place: roundtables, reviews, articles, in what essentially amounts to an e-magazine. Content is written by scholars from all levels and occupations in historical study, with an editorial board of university professors headed by two senior faculty from University of Connecticut. Interesting to note: Common-place partners with an outside organization, the Chipstone Foundation, to curate one regular feature, "Object Lessons." The Foundation locates scholars to write articles on material culture for each issue. Editors have figured out they don't need to write everything themselves; partnering with outside organizations can be mutually beneficial and serve shared fields well.

Much academic content comes as resources and collections. Children and Youth in History offers teachers and students resources on the history of childhood, rivaling in breadth and scope the richness of H-Urban’s teaching center. How about Oxford University Press's Oxford Bibliographies--essentially an online encyclopedia, parts of which almost compare in scale to H-Buddhism’s crowdsourced bibliography. Landscapes of Slavery and Freedom and Virtual Georgia both use digital means to tell histories. Both are also student-led projects; we can easily partner with faculty to produce and host these on H-Net. And there are images banks, such as the 1,000,000 images the British Library recently digitized and made public. H-Net can work with archives and collections to digitize and host collections of images or documents. (Let’s not start at 1,000,000) H-Cervantes editors, for example, have long hosted the digital archive of the journal Cervantes —the journal of record for the field that would be lost if not for H-Net--and currently organizing the collection for the Commons.

All these sites demonstrate that online academic content gets us out of the academy to the general public. As many in academia talk about breaking down silos between disciplines, academic content online is an endeavor to break down perhaps the strongest silo of all: the Ivory Tower. Part of the reason for taking our work online and into open-access settings is to share all the wonderful things we learn in our research and the knowledge we produce in our writing. The next part is to widen the critical response our work receives that improves what we do, adding to the transactional meaning making that the academic process already is. If all we’re doing is posting announcements, we’re really missing an opportunity to improve our work, validate our role as public intellectuals, and for many of us our role as publicly-funded researchers. Open access academic content gets us and our research to audiences beyond the few who subscribe to the journals we publish in (and the even fewer who read them), and we need that audience.

These examples also demonstrate that editors are not responsible for writing every piece of content themselves. The new expectation to "develop content" does not compel editors to be sole authors. Editors on H-Net operate like editors of any other publication: they envision, solicit, compile, coordinate, archive, accept, reject, and ignite. Our task is about editorial vision, seeing the needs in our respective fields, and developing projects to meet those needs. It’s much more than pointing and clicking, so it takes more than one set of hands: get help! This kind of work is easier and better when done by a team (and H-Net does require networks to have at least two editors and four more Advisory Board members anyway). Seek out fellow editors, contributors, and moderators. Call on me for help, and all the editors across H-Net on Editorial Resources. And the H-Net staff isn’t just good looking—they’re really good at what they do! Use them! If you have a vision for a project they can and will help build it. Academic content calls on editors and academics to be academics first, not web wizards.

There are more and more and more and more and more and more (and more, although at SAGE "open access" requires the author to pay a fee...open access for those with the means) examples of academic content out there, and I suspect many reading this already know it and actually read and use some of them! Academic content helps build academic fields by increasing researchers’ opportunities to publish, communicate, and engage with each other and far beyond. That’s what we’re here to do.

Next blog: editors as stewards!

Along similar lines, here's a project that was announced on a few H-Net networks. It's a pretty rich website made by an academic to go along with his latest academic book. It seems he's figured out the old book publishing model lacks a few things and maybe can't tell the whole story. But what if the author doesn't know how to build websites? That's why content management systems like our are for. He used one called Scalar (like "scholar" but scaled up). Scalar was created by and for scholars to expand publishing and therefore research possibilities. The thing is, we can do every bit of what Scalar does on H-Net...and we have large ready made audiences in place to read it. I'm happy H-Net's editors are catching on, but I also suspect H-Net leadership (myself included) should be selling H-Net's potential to authors and even publishers.