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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

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Miriam Jones

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

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

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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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Old concerns addressed anew: on academic reviewing then, now, and later

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 09/17/08 at 09:01 PM

As I mentioned yesterday, the new issue of American Literary History addresses the limitations of the modern academic book review.  To my mind, there are two fundamental problems with contemporary reviews.  The first is the form’s conceit:

[N]o one assumes any academic reviewer is without methodological bias.  There is no singular conception of quality to which an academic reviewer can pretend to measure a work against.  Despite this, most academic reviews are written as if there were[.]

What I’m about to propose won’t solve that problem, but it will begin to address the second one.  In his editorial note, Gordon Hutner makes a point that should sound very familiar to long-time readers:

Every scholarly book published in the humanities should be widely read, discussed and reviewed—should have it’s own lively blog comment box, not to put too fine a point on it. Because any scholarly book incapable of rousing a modest measure of sustained, considerate, intelligent chat from a few dozen souls who specialize in that area shouldn’t have been published as a book—i.e. after several years labor and an average production cost of $25,000. Turning the point around: any book worth that time and expense, that fails to be widely read, discussed and reviewed—that is not given it’s own blog comment box—has been dramatically failed by the academic culture in which it was so unfortunate as to be born.

That’s John, not Hutner, in The Valve‘s inaugural post.  Now here’s Hutner in ALH:

My idea was that too many books have been forgotten or reviewed badly, in the sense that reviewers might not have had the categories to appreciate their arguments, or that their achievements were misprized—or they had unjustifiably passed without pertinent comment at all.

His solution?

I asked . . . scholars to select books that they believed had been ill served. The authors’ only constraint was that ALH should not have already featured the book for review.  This volume provides a chance to catch up on titles that have proved exciting or that now excite further recognition. During ALH’s twentieth anniversary, I wanted the journal to register how the ongoing process of shaping our field might be ascertained through the way books have been reviewed over the last two decades. Such a set of reviews, taken together, might tell us more about the state of professing American literary studies. So I then asked three respected critic-scholars to weigh the record of our authors’ reassessments.

The intent’s laudable and the constraint understandable for a print journal—but The Valve is not a print journal.  Nor do we need to wait twenty minutes, much less twenty years, before we review monographs whose only impact has been the tap of their spines on the metal shelves of a university library.  We could have a weekly feature where contributors (and invited non-contributors) could discuss a book whose importance is poorly reflected in citation indexes. 

And so we will.  I’ve already put out a few feelers—I’d like authors to realize their work has been recognized and invited to respond—but I’d like to encourage other contributors (and non-contributors) to think about that book, you know, the one that was vital to their intellectual development, but whose lone citation seems to be in their unpublished dissertation.  Think of it as a labor of love with professional benefits.  If you have something in mind that you’d like to write up, drop me a line in the comments or by email. 

What I say for books applies to articles too—the unjustly interred deserve unearthing regardless of page-length—but I concentrated on book-length studies today because ALH did.  I want to discuss what the contributors to the ALH—including friends of The Valve like Michael Bérubé and Amanda Claybaugh—actually do in their respective articles, and tomorrow I will.  I don’t want the particularities of what ALH did to impact people’s impressions of what I want to do here. 


Something that might be even better for a blog format is a discussion of articles.

By Adam Kotsko on 09/23/08 at 02:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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