Open Peer Review for the Humanities

HWPP and “Digital Humanities and British Studies”

Thursday, August 18th, 2011 by

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The History Working Papers Project (HWPP)  emerged from a panel at the 2010 North American Conference in British Studies.  The panel, “Digital Humanities and British Studies”, brought together a number of scholars and archivists whose work is both informed by and develops the methods and tools of digital humanities:

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Chairs Tim Hitchcock and Jason M. Kelly

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Tim Hitchcock, University of Hertfordshire

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Jason M. Kelly, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

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Jane Winters, Institute of Historical Research

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Jenny Bullock, Adam Matthew Publications

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Jim Kuhn, The Folger Shakespeare Library

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Laura Mandell, Miami University of Ohio

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Ian Archer, University of Oxford

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David Thomas, National Archives, London

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Dan Cohen, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University

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Celestina Savonius-Wroth, Indiana University, Bloomington

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The panelists each gave three-minute papers followed by three rounds of 30-second questions and 30-second responses.  This was followed by an hour of conversation with the audience about the direction of the digital humanities and its impact on British Studies.  In addition to a number of other interesting conversation threads, the audience and panelists discussed the benefits and limitations of crowd-sourcing pre- and post-publication review.  in fact, interest was so great that it seemed reasonable to pursue a pilot project in digital peer review.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The first phase of this project will build a working pre-publication review system with the North American Conference on British Studies.  The model will allow NACBS panels to pre-submit their conference papers to an online site, which will immediately publish them as working papers.  Each working paper will receive a stable url, and fellow conference members and the public at large will be encouraged to comment, criticize, and help revise the papers.  By the time that the papers are presented at the NACBS, the authors will have received criticism from their peers and have been able to revise them accordingly.  For their part, the audience will have been able to read the pre-circulated papers, allowing the panel discussion to be more effective.  Ideally, the chair of each panel will encourage papers to be shorter — perhaps 7 minutes — so that there is more time for discussion and debate.  Papers will remain online after the conference so that authors, audience members, and peers can continue the discussion and revisions.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The justifications for a pre-publication review system are numerous.  The digital age allows historians to rethink their approach to both conferences and publications.  Conferences were established in the late nineteenth century in large part so that scholars could have a “drafting session” with their peers.  The expectation was that conference attendees would contribute to the revising and editing process before authors submitted their papers to journals.  In effect, the History Working Papers Project extends this model for the 21st century.  The HWPP allows conferences to last longer, be more dynamic, and engage with more people.  It gives the conference and its panels new forms of publicity and ways to engage with the field, other disciplines, and the public.  Authors, audience, and editors alike benefit in that the HWPP creates a marketplace of scholarship, especially in the post-conference phase.  Authors will be able to revise their papers, continue to receive feedback, and share their ideas with multiple editors at the same time.  The papers’ audiences will be able to see what others are developing in their specialties and have the ability to engage, shape, and develop scholarship.  Editors will be able to see how the field responds to the papers, suggest revisions, and encourage authors to submit papers to their journals.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 In all, the HWPP does something that historians already do, but in a new way — a way that has the potential to be beneficial to all those who are involved.