The Society for Classical Studies and Digital Publication

Every year at this time I have a look at the statements of candidates for leadership offices in the Society for Classical Studies (known until recently as the American Philological Association) to see what kind of positions they take on matters relating to digital humanities and digital publication. Two years ago the Digital Classics Association had just been approved as a Type II Affiliated group, and there were plans for a new multi-million dollar portal of classics digital outreach. Last year the latter initiative was rightly being abandoned, and the discussion was more about the role of our professional association in the world of academic publishing. While some wanted to defend the status and importance of the print monograph, others hoped the APA would help guide web users to quality resources on the internet. In last year’s post I made the point that to focus on the delivery method (paid print vs. open electronic) is to miss a key potential role of the professional association: to foster networks of peer review for scholarship, no matter how it appears.

This year’s candidate statements share a sense of anxiety about the future of the field and the status of the humanities in the academy. Several make the excellent point that more can be done to foster Latin in secondary schools, “literally our lifeline,” as presidential candidate Peter Burian says. As for digital publication, presidential candidate Roger Bagnall is reticent, which is odd given his key role in the development of online scholarly publication of papyri. But Peter Burian emphasizes the key issue, it seems to me, peer review:

The APA has a strong track record, and it could be used to help our profession (and others) move toward full recognition of on-line publication and various kinds of digital scholarship. Works of scholarship that are crucial for specialists are becoming increasingly difficult to get into print, and there are many kinds of scholarship for which print is not the best, or even a satisfactory, medium. A strong, well-understood peer-review process governed by our internationally recognized professional association could make the difference in how such works are weighed by tenure and promotion committees.

Publications and Research is the committee where the changes in scholarly publishing are of course at the center. Here there are two candidates, Emily Greenwood and Nita Krevens. Greenwood urges the association “to explore new avenues for open digital publication in Classics and to support and promote excellent existing sites.” Krevens’ comments are altogether more edgy. She says that electronic publication is “still the elephant in the room.” Krevens continues:

On the one hand, the natural ‘gate-keeping’ function of limited print space is disappearing; this means that scholarly associations like ours are becoming the source of new guidelines for peer review and publication.  On the other hand, commercial publishers of academic journals are fighting desperately to preserve their turf as learned society e-publishing emerges as a partial solution to strained library acquisition budgets (witness the battle between Elsevier and the mathematicians).  Academic presses are currently caught in the middle of these conflicting imperatives.  In addition to setting field-wide standards for electronic journals AND monographs, I believe the APA/SCS can play an important role advocating for the electronic archiving and dissemination of smaller scholarly journals in our field, which are currently not easily available online.  These days, if you are not in JSTOR, you are invisible.

I think it is optimistic to say that scholarly associations are becoming the source of peer review guidelines. In any case it’s not so much guidelines that are needed as mechanisms for actual peer review. Only rigorous editing and review of digital publications will generate the prestige that will motivate more good scholars to improve the quality of open resources. As Sander Goldberg put it recently in BMCR it is up to us to insist on the combining of the “accuracy and clarity of [traditional print publication] with the flexibility and accessibility of the [web].” Goldberg also makes the point that many of the most fundamental and traditional activities of classical scholarship, such as the close analysis of syntax, and other tools for close reading, are actually better suited to the web than to print. In some ways the more specialized and technical the issues, the more data that can be put before the reader, the more desirable is a digital presentation.

The SCS as an archiver and provider of access to lesser-known journals not in JSTOR is an idea I find very appealing, and hopefully one that the publishers of such journals would also embrace.


4 thoughts on “The Society for Classical Studies and Digital Publication

  1. It’s hard to take the commitment of the SCS to open publication seriously when they continue to perpetuate scams such as their paid job bank.

    The other key issue that is frequently ignored is that of the attitudes of hiring committees. Sure, it sounds great in theory to write up your book as a nice website accessible to all, but even if you could get a reputable organization to support that, it won’t catch the attention of a search committee like a monograph published with Oxford or Cambridge would. Indeed, it often seems as online publications don’t even get as much public attention as something published through a major university press, though I imagine that is an illusion.

  2. Thanks, Andrew. I agree that the current situation is especially bad for younger scholars and people on the job market. One wants to be progressive and forward looking, but then you can get penalized for that disastrously at every turn. Search committees are looking for quality, and are often happy to fall back on the old markers of that and not have to make the effort of figuring out what a digital project really is. Saying “things are changing gradually” is cold comfort. SCS and other professional organizations can start putting infrastructure in place for a new situation, but it will be many years in the making. In the post I forgot to mention another important new development, the $572k Mellon Foundation Grant for the Digital Latin Library project

  3. I’m not sure that NK is advocating for “The SCS as an archiver and provider of access to lesser-known journals”, but instead for the SCS to “advocat[e] for the electronic archiving and dissemination of smaller scholarly journals in our field”. That’s something a lot less active (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). I think she’s right, and am glad to see that the level of awareness in her statement seems to be a lot higher than in others, where, for example, you can read about “sites”, as if that was equivalent to “digital”.

    PS My own hobbyhorse is set for a ride, with a slate almost completely full of people from large universities.

    • Thanks for this, John. In some ways small colleges have the more to contribute and the more to gain from digital humanities, even than the R1s. This is something that William Pannapacker has been saying for a while. With our greater focus on pedagogy and closer interaction with undergraduates we can create resources that meet the needs of learners sometimes more immediately than, say, a very large database or highly specialized scholarly site would. Plus we need more in the way of digital delivery of content for seldom taught courses, as the Synoikisis group realized. There is a preponderance of bigger institutions and R1 research agendas at the SCS, but they seem evermore attuned to the larger environment, which is encouraging.

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