American Historical Association Says Scholars Should Lock Up Their Dissertations For Up To Six Years

from the tenure-committees-and-publishers-are-the-real-artifacts dept

For years, scientific research funded with tax dollars has been consigned to a sterile life locked up behind publishers' paywalls. The argument is that paywall fees fund scholarship, and without these fees, no one would be properly incentivized to... well, lock up published research behind paywalls. (Roughly paraphrased from journal publishers' defense of their business model.)

That's the scientific end of the spectrum: publicly-funded research locked away from the public eye in order to benefit the slim minority that can afford access. Sadly, historical dissertations aren't meant to be shared with the public either, at least not according to the American Historical Society, which recently released this statement in support of embargoing online copies of PhD dissertations.

The American Historical Association 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.
Six years seems like an arbitrarily long time to lock up dissertations. The AHA points out that many universities are shifting towards a "paperless" library of dissertations and encouraging completed works to be published online where they can be accessed by anybody. That sounds more ideal than a six-year embargo. What's the AHA's rationale?
[A]n increasing number of university presses are reluctant to offer a publishing contract to newly minted PhDs whose dissertations have been freely available via online sources. Presumably, online readers will become familiar with an author’s particular argument, methodology, and archival sources, and will feel no need to buy the book once it is available.
This may be true. Of course, it also may be true that readers, online or not, will feel no need to buy the book one way or the other. The other difference, which the AHA addresses, is that the book and the dissertation are often significantly dissimilar, as the dissertation is refined over a number of years before being considered book-ready. This would seem to indicate that an online dissertation would not displace a significant number of book sales. But the AHA feels otherwise:
Thus, although there is so close a relationship between the dissertation and the book that presses often consider them competitors, the book is the measure of scholarly competence used by tenure committees.
This seems to argue two things at once, and this bizarre argument isn't entirely of the AHA's making. Publishers consider the two (book/dissertation) to be competitors despite the "five or six years" of revision and preparation. Tenure committees view only the published work (read: book) as the true end product.

So, there are two forces at work here, and both are holding back the dissemination of information. Publishers are reluctant to offer publication to scholars whose works (even in "draft" form) are available for free online. Tenure committees insist that only books are the "true" measure of scholarly competence. This handily places all of the power in publishers' hands.

The AHA's statement doesn't help diffuse this concentration of power.
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.
That first sentence isn't strictly true -- although it is accurate. History remains a book-based discipline only because tenure committees won't move on from their "if it's not a published book, it doesn't count" metric. And that's the real problem. It's the tenure committees who are stuck in the past, and their reluctance to revise their standards to meet current realities is allowing publishers to control the circulation of published dissertations.

Forward-thinking universities are moving to online catalogs and encouraging scholars to upload their dissertations and make them openly available. These efforts are undercut by the stasis of their tenure committees -- the entity most in need of change. In AHA's defense, recommending authors embargo their work makes sense, but only because the tenure process insists on scholars delivering something in book form in order to be considered.

Unfortunately, it is in these scholars' best interests to play by the rules if they wish pursue tenure, and the AHA's statement diplomatically lays out the facts and recommends the best course of action considering the screwed up processes involved. But the AHA might better serve its members in the future by pushing for tenure committees to update their review process, rather than allowing them to continue demanding the future adhere to the standards of the past.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Jul 26th, 2013 @ 7:43pm

    "The American Historical Association 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."

    Lock up your daughters as well, I'm around...

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2013 @ 8:28pm

    Old historian shouts at cloud

    Given how dismally few tenure track jobs there are for historians in the US, the AHA is pretty firmly into old-man-shouts-at-cloud territory here.

    Save the antiquated publishing model to preserve the formalized steps for a career path that no longer exists!

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2013 @ 9:09pm

    American Historical Association. What can you expect? Clinging on to the past is embedded in their name!

    Btw. A well written piece, good work!

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2013 @ 9:16pm

    "The American Historical Association 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."


    Wow - what a bunch of ignorant dumbasses.
    Hopefully their target audience tells them to go pound sand

     

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  5.  
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    Greevar (profile), Jul 26th, 2013 @ 9:37pm

    "So, there are two forces at work here, and both are holding back the dissemination of information. Publishers are reluctant to offer publication to scholars whose works (even in "draft" form) are available for free online. Tenure committees insist that only books are the "true" measure of scholarly competence. This handily places all of the power in publishers' hands."

    They do this because they think having absolute control over a work equates to greater profits. And this false assumption is the source of their current dilemma.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2013 @ 11:35pm

    American Historical Association Says Scholars Should Lock Up Their Dissertations For Up To Six Years


    I say go ahead make yourself less relevant to the general population.

     

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  7.  
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    The Real Michael, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 4:25am

    Put everything under lock & key, even things which are funded by the public, because greed trumps everything else.

    If someone found a way to block out sunlight and charge a fee for access, they would. In fact, I'm rather surprised that the internet doesn't yet have a pay-per-click surcharge.

    Gotta make themselves MO MONEY.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 5:19am

    Re:

    Daylight robbery - close enough

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Window_tax

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 5:35am

    Fuckin' old men. Goddamn greedy fuckin' old men. Why don't you retire from life and go live in Florida and shake your fists at the TV? Why don't you just fuckin' disappear yourself from civil society? It's all over. The rape of academia and progress at your shaking, purple-veined hands hands is all over. So get lost.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 6:07am

    Re: Re:

    I can't say I'm surprised, especially considering where this took place (England). Intrusive government has been a way of life over in that neck of the woods for centuries.

     

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  11.  
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    Prashanth (profile), Jul 27th, 2013 @ 7:28am

    Working in photonics

    I do undergraduate research in photonics. A postdoc in our research group recently presented work including and extending from his PhD thesis which he completed last year. The thesis is freely available online, and that has inspired me to continue doing work in photonics and to also ask him more questions/work with him more closely due to the similarities between what both of us are doing. So no, American Historical Association, I can most definitely say this is a TERRIBLE idea.

     

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  12.  
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    Cloudsplitter, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 9:20am

    This is an interesting augment they make, but an utterly false one. Given the number of tenure positions in the country, and the number of people pursuing PHD's, it is an utterly fales dichotomy to say withhold publication from the public, in order to satisfy a crumbling system of job security, which no longer exist, and to prop up publishers falling income, which is impossible to sustain in a digital world. 99.899% Plus of all PHD candidates will never see a full tenured professorship in their field. Also given the changing face of college level education, and its cost to benefit ratio, in a increasingly digital world, the model of brick and mortar professorship from the 20th century and earlier, may completely cease to exist, for all but a very select few, in a very short time frame. On the publishing side, the gate keeper model is rapidly going the way of the dodo, in a digital age of self publishing and free access. The model is rapidly changing, finding ones place and income in the new paradigm is the question. If the academic press does not expand its publishing model, it will die. A look to the new and evolving music model might be worth a look.

     

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  13.  
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    Cynthia Meyers (profile), Jul 27th, 2013 @ 9:35am

    I was appalled at the AHA's "solution" that seems to accept, uncritically, ridiculous assumptions on the part of both publishers and tenure committees.
    My diss has been available online and here are the results: people in the field read it and invited me to participate in panels and conferences and cited it in their published research. It is even cited in Wikipedia articles. This is the purpose of research, to share your findings! As I revised it into a (different) book manuscript, my growing reputation as an expert in this area helped me get a book contract. I consider the online diss to have promoted and helped my academic career, not harmed it.
    Publishers should consider online dissertations as a form of free marketing--stimulating interest in advance of its more developed publication as a book. Tenure committees should give credit to other metrics for scholarly impact than print publications. University presses would benefit from publishing more monographs as E-books, but tenure committees need to accept this for "credit" toward tenure.

     

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  14.  
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    Bjorn Rudolfsson, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 11:01am

    Sounds like the scolars should lock up AHA instead...

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 11:03am

    Profiteering in place of the common good. This is the essence of so-called "intellectual property."

     

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  16.  
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    Greevar (profile), Jul 27th, 2013 @ 12:02pm

    Re:

    What are you talking about? That's the essence of capitalism. It's far more profitable to own things than it is to serve the common good.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 5:35pm

    Re: Cynthia Meyers, above

    Well said. And congratulations.

    By way of information: I was offered a contract from a small niche academic press to publish a lightly-revised version of my dissertation. It would have appeared only in hardback, and would have cost more than $100 per book. Expected sales, a few hundred copies -- mostly to large university library systems.

    I declined the contract. And between them, the two freely available electronic versions of my dissertation have been downloaded more than 4500 times.

    Academics care about influence, about being noticed, and about contributing to their field. Embargoing a dissertation will make a young academic less visible, and make the dissertation nearly impossible for others to cite. Cynthia's approach is a much better model.

    (Incidentally, the biggest financial winner might be UMI, not the academic presses.)

     

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  18.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jul 27th, 2013 @ 6:44pm

    Re: Re:

    'An Act for granting to His Majesty severall Rates or Duties upon Houses for making good the Deficiency of the clipped Money'

    Well would you look at that, it's one of the grandfathers of the 'you must be a pirate' taxes.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Ray, Jul 27th, 2013 @ 10:29pm

    Lots of witty comments but I don't see anyone mentioning how historical documents can be used to expose the organized crime syndicates that still exist today. Six years is enough time to get someone on the red list, bumped off and their work disappeared.

    Profit is a powerful incentive but me thinks it can go much further than that. History is a form of investigative journalism for really old news.

     

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  20.  
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    Zem, Jul 28th, 2013 @ 4:59am

    American Historical Association Cop Out

    Those bunch of do gooders.. if they had adopted my proposal, clay tablets, we could have saved history.

    How the hell are we meant to write about great events if people stop making the same mistakes.

     

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  21.  
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    Guardian, Jul 28th, 2013 @ 7:34am

    6 years only why not 80

    get all knowledge out of the public make em as retarded dumb as possible

    lets see how an uneducated lot reacts to anything
    lets see hwo it lives shorter and thus pays less taxes over its lifespans

    lets make humanity as stupid as we can experiment

    GO USA
    meanwhile the rest of the world will move on and past you at lightspeed now....you will be africanized in no time...

     

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  22.  
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    toyotabedzrock (profile), Jul 29th, 2013 @ 1:09am

    Homework

    Isn't this more akin to a report for school? I'm not sure it would be appropriate for it to be published. And it is not public money it is the students who are not yet graduated.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 29th, 2013 @ 7:30am

    I'm a bit late, but did you see the response by Kevin Smith over at Duke University? http://blogs.library.duke.edu/scholcomm/2013/07/24/etds-publishing-policy-based-on-fear/

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 29th, 2013 @ 6:49pm

    Re: Homework

    >Isn't this more akin to a report for school?

    Take a look at a couple and see what you think:
    http://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/1632
    https://etd.ohiolink.edu/ap:10:0::NO:10 :P10_ACCESSION_NUM:bgsu1193529137

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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