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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Crossing the Jordan

Posted by Daniel Green on 04/19/05 at 12:23 PM

Jerome McGann argues in the latest issue of New Literary History that “scholars are producing larger and larger amounts of scholarship and passing it to a delivery system with diminishing capacities to sustain its publication.” Further:

But that is to speak only of book publication. We should be aware that a parallel problem, every bit as acute, exists for periodical publication, where a similar dysfunction can be observed. In each of these cases the university library has become almost the only reliable purchaser of scholarly books and periodicals; and every year, as we know, library funds for such materials get cut further.

McGann thinks the solution to this problem is obvious:

. . .online scholarly publication is the natural and inevitable response to this general problem of scholarly and educational communication. How to bring about the transition to online publication is the $64,000 question. . .The Jordan will not be crossed until scholars and educators are prepared not simply to access archived materials online--which is increasingly done--but to publish and to peer-review online--to carry out the major part of our productive educational work in digital forms.

If McGann is correct--and I think he is, despite the resistance of, as McGann puts it, the “known scholar,” who “can still, usually, get his or her work published in the usual paper-based ways"--how will this change the conventions of literary scholarship? Will the monograph and journal article simply be transferred to cyberspatial publication, scholarly apparatus fully intact, or will the differing demands of digital publication cause academic criticism to trim its sails somewhat, perhaps in a salutary way? Might the greater access online pubication makes possible (at least potentially) in the long run produce “academic” writing that those outside the academy might also want to read? What might be the role of blogs in hastening this transition? Clearly enough The Valve (as well as, say, Crooked Timber and Cliopatria) is itself a sign that a form of scholarly discourse is possible online. How far can this be taken?

Our own Miriam Burstein remarked in a post last year at Cliopatria that “academic blogs are conducive to conversation--dialogue about this point or that--but, really, are they good for developing extensive and in-depth arguments on significant topics?” But perhaps rather than blogs adapting to “extensive and in-depth arguments,” it will have to be the other way around? Our notions of what such an argument ought to be like (how in-depth is “in-depth”?) may have to change. Besides, if the current versions of this kind of scholarly argument can’t be published anyway, what’s the choice?


I refer interested readers to Lindsay Waters’ Bonfire of the Humanities. LW (and I, to an extent) tends to think that the problem is actually how much we’re trying to publish, rather than our means to publish it.

By rob on 04/19/05 at 03:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m wary of overproduction arguments that assume the badness of what is being produced is evident to any interested party.

Either the top of the status hierarchy becomes the early adopter, or it is forced to by developments from below. I think this has all been well established at this point. The smart money’s on b.

By Jonathan on 04/19/05 at 04:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I agree that Jonathon’s option b—high-prestige producers are the last to adapt—is most likely.

For Daniel Green’s question—will scholarly activity merely shift its location, or will our concept of scholarship + argument itself change with the medium—my answer is a resounding both/and. Blogs as they currently work are not a good forum for scholarly argument, but they are a great public forum for dicussing the consequences or meaning of scholarly work. Old conventions of print can be amazingly resilient, holding on for centuries, so I think the scholarly article and the scholarly book-length study are going to continue to exist in pixels. But there will also be a lot of other ways to present work, like you see in _Kairos_ (here). I tend to get pretty annoyed when an online article, like this one here, for instance, has no print-friendly alternative form. But like any media, there are things you can do with hypertext/hypermedia that will not translate to print, and there are going to be more and more options to present our arguments taking advantage of such capabilities.

By on 04/20/05 at 02:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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