Meeting Discussion: S-USIH Journal

With all due respect, I would like to submit a few thoughts on a possible journal, for whatever they’re worth. For myself at least, a large part of the S-USIH’s identity as a scholarly organization comes from its online origins and the visibility of the online blog. Therefore, I would think that if the S-USIH wants to go the route of producing a journal, it should take advantage of its positioning to introduce a truly open-access yet fully peer-reviewed academic journal.

Historians talk a lot about the future of digital scholarly publishing and I would venture to guess that many of us see the transition as inevitable. Why not take this opportunity to get ahead of the game (as it were) and work toward producing a model for other academic history journals to follow, especially one which eschews the European pay-to-play model. After all, the S-USIH journal will not have the burden of having to raise revenue to help support print journals like the large European academic publishers.
The main thing holding back the development of online journals is perception. That is to say, they won’t become truly viable until those in the field–both academics and administrators–view online peer-reviewed journals as equal to their print counterparts. The catch-22 is that that can’t happen until some journals or organizations take the leap to lead the way and historians follow by submitting their otherwise print-bound work to such journals. Such an endeavor would take a Society-wide commitment, but the S-USIH in a prime position to innovate and should take advantage of that.
Michael D. Hattem
PhD Student, Yale University
The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History
Dear Paul,

This is an excellent exploratory report. Thanks a million for doing this on top of your duties as president and professor.

I agree with Michael D. Hattem that we should think long and hard about prioritizing a digital, open-access, peer-reviewed journal. As noted in the report, that venue creates exciting interactive and audiovisual possibilities.  I’m not advocating yet that we should actually go this route. We can’t say that for sure until all the potential expenses and revenues, both material and intellectual, are assessed.

Despite all the pitfalls and potential complications, whether the choice is made to go paper or electronic, this is a very exciting discussion.

Sincerely,  Tim Lacy

My inclination is to agree with Michael on this.  We’ve been innovators with our blog and conference, we should try to be with our journal, too. As Michael points out, doing so would likely reducw costs.   And some sort of digital, peer-reviewed journal would more complement than compete with traditional journals like MIH.  It would put more of a burden on us to think creatively about what such an e-journal might look like (COMMON-PLACE, which is edited by my friend and colleague Cathy Kelly, is wonderful, but e-journals can take many forms). But we’re good at that sort of thing.

— Ben Alpers
Member, Publications Committee

Hi, all.

I agree on the merits of the online journal idea if the “peer-reviewed” part is taken very seriously. For all of the virtues of MIH and the JHI, there’s an enormous amount of good work being done at present that can’t find an outlet in those journals due to sheer numerical considerations—they only have so many pages per year, and then only a fraction of those pages for research-based articles on American topics. Thus, if it’s financially feasible, there seems to me room for an online publication that fills something like the niche of the old American Quarterly. Or perhaps it could be even broader than that. To date, we’ve done a decent job of bringing in, through the conferences and the blog, folks who don’t identify themselves as intellectual historians but study, for example, the histories of literature, political thought, or religion. I’d like to see both the Society and any proposed journal reach out further to those groups and also target those who study, say, the natural sciences, the social sciences, philosophy, the history of capitalism, and higher education. We’ve had some representation from the latter constituencies at the meetings, and we’re moving in the right direction on that score, but the lines of professional separation still loom rather large despite the common interest in aspects of American thought and culture. I’ve pulled together these kinds of scholars in workshops at Harvard and it produces very fruitful discussions. I suspect the same benefits would accrue if we targeted historically minded students of, say, theology or other such pursuits. The Society is perfectly positioned to establish itself as a central meeting ground for those who are already doing intellectual history but don’t quite realize it yet, and an online journal could further aid the cause if it’s done right.

Andy Jewett

Excellent discussion.  I am a proponent and promoter of thinking very creatively about a potential journal.  With that in mind, I had a fortuitous lunch with Jason Kelly of IUPUI’s historydepartment who has a very exciting proposal for a radical restructuring of academic publishing.  I think we should try to win a planning grant that would allow us to participate in discussion with people like Kelly and others who are doing interesting things in the world of on-line publications.  As he and I spoke about at lunch, whatever we do in this area will also change the way we understand the evaluation of faculty for P&T and prestige. I continue to be very encouraged by the specific support many people related to this society give to ideas along these lines.  Let this a jumpstart to another conversation.
Ray Haberski


I think these are excellent ideas — and this is a potentially exciting area.  I second the idea for some planning sessions and am intrigued to hear more about Jason Kelly’s plans for a way forward in academic publishing.  The key for me would be gaining the resources necessary to mount a stable journal — open-access or print.  An online digital platform would be great, but we would need the resources to host the site and maintain it.  Also, as Andrew Jewett emphasizes, we need an editorial structure (editors and editorial board) that can perform legitimate peer review.  I very much like the idea of creating an interdisciplinary platform, bringing together the intellectual history diaspora — all those who are doing similar work but in different disciplinary cultures.  They have been coming to S-USIH conferences — I have seen several excellent papers in the history of psychology.  The American Quarterly is a nice suggestion.  It does seem like there is a body of work out there that is simply larger than be published in the existing broadly defined intellectual history journals.

Paul Murphy


Dear Colleagues:

Thanks to Paul and the executive committee for all of their hard work, and for facilitating this conversation. Thanks also to those participating in this discussion. I am especially appreciative of Michael and Andrew’s suggestions.
Last year’s executive committee thought long and hard about a journal. Although we did not make any tangible progress on getting one off the ground, we did come to a few tentative conclusions. We thought that a traditional print journal with an academic press might be the best way to serve our primary purpose, which is to give people a reason beyond the conference to become members. Philosophically, I’m much more favorable to an open access journal, and thus like Michael’s suggestion that S-USIH get out in front on this. But my question is this:
Would such an approach preclude people from becoming regular dues paying members? I’m genuinely interested in people’s thoughts on this.
Andrew Hartman
I assume that you are referring to including membership with a print journal subscription, which I imagine is how many similar organizations get a large part of their membership. Unfortunately, if you’re serious about open-access that would be a “lost” membership-stream. I put that in quotes, however, because it wouldn’t really be lost since the S-USIH doesn’t have those kinds of members now. In the move to digital and/or open-access that will be a lost membership-stream for most similar organizations. Yet, at the same time, I would imagine that having an open-access online journal will reach far more people and get more far more page views (compared to whatever the print equivalent of page views would be). This would give the Society much broader exposure than a print journal, which I suspect would bring with it some kind of increase in membership (though, perhaps likely not as much as print subscriptions, but, then again, who really knows?). That gap could (and should) be narrowed also by innovating in membership benefits, with the website, i.e., the members section, and/or the smaller seminars someone mentioned in one of these threads. So, basically, an open-access model will not increase membership numbers like attaching it to a print subscription, but it would give the S-USIH much broader exposure which along with innovation in membership benefits could help make up some of the difference “lost.”
Also, I just want to agree with Andrew Jewett that if the S-USIH is to go with the open-access model, retaining the same level of peer review as print journals is an absolute must.
Matthew Hattem
Yes, there *has* to be peer review, or the journal is just a blog by another name. (Not that we don’t have a dang good blog — but still…)
Also, I’m going to float the same suggestion I offered in the last executive committee meeting (see Ray’s post linking to the minutes) — whatever we do, I think we should plan on starting modestly and building.  I think commenters are right that there’s a niche / need that we can fill — especially if we use the flexibility (and relative low cost!) of online publishing options.  (Paywall/no paywall is a separate but related conversation.)
But I hope we don’t envision this project as somehow competing with MIH and/or JHI, and I hope we would go about it in such a way that they wouldn’t see it in that light either.  I’d hope that the entire field would shout, “Hooray! Another outlet for all this good work that we can’t make room for.”
But I’d rather underpromise and overdeliver than vice versa, so I would tend to lean toward an electronic journal for the simple reason that it can start simply and grow without a massive outlay of capital every year.
Just my $.02.  However, I need to reiterate what I said in my PubComm report — the PubComm will support whatever the Society decides and do our part to see the plan carried out professionally and well.
-Lora Burnett


One of the features that has emerged in open-access online journals is the practice of badging.  I do not know this system well, but after my conversation with Jason Kelly the other day, it seems that our colleagues in the sciences have a fair way of creating a peer-reviewed and assessed method of registering the significance of publications.  Often the stumbling block here is the way with establish our professional credentials AND designate the rising stars in our fields.  The first part is a something that will take time and a great deal of effort to address, the second part is something that new media can handle well.

As for the potential effects on membership, I agree with Michael that we might be have a different model at work here.  For one, the conference by far brings in the bulk of our members and will probably continue to do so.  But if we produce a respected journal that is part of a larger, more dynamic academic publishing initiative then I think the discussion over membership will shift.  I can imagine an enormous membership, akin to the followers we have on facebook, if we change the way we integrate our journal and other publications into something much bigger.
Ray Haberski

History is not the only discipline struggling with the issue of how, what, and when to publish online.  I’m attaching an article from the Society of American Archaeology’s publication the Archaeological Records that examines some of the issue that have been discussed and looks at some of the different business models behind various types of journals.

My personal preference is for a print edition, mainly for curational reasons.  I think much of the scholarship and discussion produced on the website/blog are worthy of long term curation.  I hope that scholars 50 years from now will be able to rummage through the posts and comments.  However, I worry about “digital creep”.  Will the posts, comments, and discussions be readable in 5, 10, 15, 20, 100 years?  I have computer files that are not even a decade old that are unusable simply because the software to read or run them no longer exists or isn’t supported anymore.  I feel a print publication allows for deep time curation.  I’m a trained archaeologist and often deal with artifacts that are thousands of years old, so maybe it’s my disciplinary bias shining through.  But I do think it is a question of whom we are writing for, just ourselves, or for both ourselves and future historians?

See: A Future of Archeological Publishing

-Rhett Felix


Agreed on importance of long-term curation — I have written at least one jeremiad per quarter about academe’s foolish abandonment of the good old codex.  Indeed, before we launch a journal (or as a warmup to it, or whatever) I’d like to see us invest in producing hard copy of what  S-USIH has already done.

I’m still not sold on whether or not S-USIH needs a full-fledged journal — but if the need is there, then we might think about an online publishing format that allows for print on demand or something like that.  In any case, I would rather start small and grow/change publishing strategy to meet need/demand than start with a big capital outlay / administrative overhead (in terms of time commitment, institutional legwork, etc.) without testing the waters first.
However, I am a grad student and a short-timer on the executive board, so my opinion on this should carry the least weight of anyone’s.  I will abide by the will of the people!
-Lora Burnett
I think the long-term curatorial concerns are a bit misplaced. Having a blog on the internet is not the same thing as having files on a 5 1/4″ floppy disk. It is highly unlikely that the internet will change in such a way as to render all its previous materials useless. I guess WordPress could always suffer a massive server failure including all its multiple backup servers, but that is unlikely as well.
Also, in order to produce the kind of certainty of curation through print mentioned above would require a publication (not one or two hard copies stowed away). I doubt you could have a print publication with the entire contents of the blog. However, bouncing off Lora’s idea and Rhett’s concern, I wonder if there would be interest in compiling the best work from the blog so far. Posts could be nominated by members/readers and/or selected by page views/comments (though this is probably something for the Publications Committee thread). Sorry for going OT.
Matthew Hattem
Great discussion about an important issue, folks.  As a member who has recently been a lot less active than most of you, I’ll just add a member-level vote:  For what it’s worth, I would support the two key proposals of this thread:  Yes to peer review; Yes to pursuing online format.  I also appreciate Andrew’s concern regarding membership, dues and budget concerns having been privy to some of those conversations last year and earlier .  To this point I’d also support the third emerging idea (from Lora and Rhett) that some kind of “Best of” publication be issued periodically.  I don’t know if I’m getting that idea exactly right but it seems to me that we might have the opportunity to get the best of both worlds if we keep the journal online thus allowing open-access plus volume but every year (two years?) we publish a lovely hard copy collection of selected articles from the online journal and allow that anthology to be packaged as part of membership dues.

James Levy