Publishing the Dissertation

The Chronicle:

But what if publishing dissertation excerpts in a journal actually reduces the viability of a young scholar’s book manuscript? Digital technology is changing the world of information from day to day, and it’s altering the relationship between journals and books—and perhaps more important, the stability of that relationship. Journals are now essentially free to most of their readers, who can access university library databases and read them at home. Books, on the other hand, circulate much less easily, at least until university libraries start loaning out e-books.

Do the new digital dynamics change the rules for graduate students (and junior faculty members) seeking to publish their first book? Some scholarly-press editors think so.

Don’t overexpose yourself. Editors may disagree about precisely how much to publish from your manuscript, but they all agree there is a ceiling on the number of articles you should excerpt from a book in progress—and it’s ordinarily no more than two.
Be very, very careful about publishing an article that encapsulates the argument of your book. If Louis Menand is right that many scholarly books are “just journal articles on steroids,” then writers would also do well to avoid the inverse formulation: Don’t put your book on a crash diet to turn it into an article. As Mitchner puts it, “if the core argument is in your article, then no one will want to read your book.” That doesn’t mean that you should keep your argument a secret, but it does mean that you should not offer up a blueprint of the book to come.
Don’t make your dissertation available online. Book editors seem unanimous on that point for obvious reasons. Many university libraries routinely add dissertations to their electronic holdings. If yours does, then opt out. If your thesis is already online, then have it taken down. Information may want to be free, as the earliest hacker generation first avowed, but if it’s free, then you can’t expect a publisher to pay for it, even in a later version.
Make sure that your book and dissertation do not share the same title. If you have a great title picked out for your dissertation, save it for your book.

Work-Life Balance


So, don’t “expect” work-life balance, but please do take whatever steps you can to achieve it. Work together with others when you can, and support policies that are flexible and inclusive about work-life balance–but don’t ever expect anyone to give it to you.

Value of the Five Page Paper


Don’t get me wrong–I’m a firm believer in the value of the liberal arts over the long term and have no interest in teaching history as a purely job preparation program. But those who want to draw a line in the sand in the defense of the liberal arts (Job preparation has no, NO place in our curriculum!) make that case with zero data to support their arguments.

DH is about sharing

Mark Sample:

The promise of the digital is not in the way it allows us to ask new questions because of digital tools or because of new methodologies made possible by those tools. The promise is in the way the digital reshapes the representation, sharing, and discussion of knowledge. We are no longer bound by the physical demands of printed books and paper journals, no longer constrained by production costs and distribution friction, no longer hampered by a top-down and unsustainable business model. And we should no longer be content to make our work public achingly slowly along ingrained routes, authors and readers alike delayed by innumerable gateways limiting knowledge production and sharing.

Teaching Professor Blog

The Teaching Professor Blog:

Faculty Focus is honored to welcome The Teaching Professor Blog to the site. The blog is written by Dr. Maryellen Weimer, professor emeritus at Penn State Berks and one of the nation’s most highly regarded authorities on effective college teaching. Many of you know Maryellen as the editor of The Teaching Professor newsletter and from her book Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practices, which is considered the go-to guide for educators looking to adopt a learner-centered approach in their classrooms.

The Teaching Professor Blog features a new weekly post from Maryellen on such topics as: the scholarship of teaching and learning, classroom policies, active learning, assessment, generational differences, and student performance.

The Importance of Versioning

A few months ago, I checked up on a digital history project to which I was introduced in my introductory digital history course, Richmond’s Voting America project. It is a great project and a wonderful teaching resource, but I was really interested to see that it had been updated. In addition to some cosmetic changes, since the last time I had visited the project had added the presidential data for 2008 and more analysis of their maps. I had originally explored the website to review it for part of the DH course I was taking. In the review (in December 2009) I noted that I was disappointed the project had not incorporated the 2008 data and it was not clear that the project was going to incorporate this data. My review, which suggested the Voting America project had become outdated after the 2008 election, was now outdated itself.

In the grand scheme of things, my review is not very important. However, it does demonstrate that digital history and the digital humanities must begin to establish standards for publishing, especially versioning. Why should a journal bother to review a digital project, if the review will simply be moot in a year or two? On the other hand, why should digital publishing be beholden to the conventions of print publishing?

Returning to Voting America, the promise/perils of digital publishing are clear. As a project that can add new data every two or four years it has the potential to become a truly great and lasting work of scholarship. At the same time, the temptation to purge analysis that might have been subsequently proved wrong or simply outdated, such as speculation on an upcoming election, is greater than ever.

While the ability to update scholarship to with new data and theories without reprinting the entire work is an important aspect of digital work, scholars must not throw the baby out with the bath water. Mistakes and misinterpretations are what build historiography and subsequent generations of scholars and students ought to have access to these building blocks of the field. Additionally, using and citing digital projects becomes difficult if analysis or other text utilized can simply disappear without any record.

The formalization of publishing of digital work will certainly help maintain versions of digital scholarship, as digital work will be presumably frozen at one stage of the projects development. However, scholars cannot sit back and wait for someone else to establish standards of publishing. Even after digital standards of publishing are more or less established, it would be a shame if scholars waited until publication to share their work. Instead, scholars should take control of preserving their work and provide users with some sort of access to prior versions. By providing access to older versions of text, visualizations, or other narrative and analysis, academics can ensure their digital work stays a useful part of scholarship while still developing, tweaking, and building their project.

TA vs Nobel Prize Winner


Nobel Prize Winner vs TA With a Clicker? Who Wins the Teaching Award?

If you guessed the Nobel Prize winning physicist, you guessed wrong. In a fantastic new study, it turned out the way students in a 250-person lecture class really learned the nitty gritty of the physics was not when the famous scientist lectured at them but when the TA engaged them with a clicker.

This is music to my student-designed, peer-assigned, peer-assessed, interactive ears! Here’s the url to the article that describes the study:…

All the research shows that the best way to learn is to teach, and the best way to teach learning and how to learn is by having students actively engaged in what they are doing. Lecturing every day to a class is probably the least effective form of conveying information, knowledge, and critical thinking skills that we know. That’s true whether it is a Shakespeare class or a physics class. Even when students are entertained by a great lecturer, they don’t take away much of what they hear and they don’t have much of any skill at applying it elsewhere. A well designed test helps (we know good testing–not item response but real-time, integrated, thoughtful testing–helps to categorize, coalesce, and reinforce learning) but, in general, the hierarchical form of the lecture relieves the hearer of having to do much more than be entertained . . . and that means only a small amount spills over into actual, idea-development, knowledge-acquisition, applicable-beyond-the-lecture-hall engaged learning.

Tips for beginning blogging

Ok, so I apparently my success (perhaps perceived success is more accurate) has gone to my head. I have only been blogging for a few months, but I have learned a few things along the way and I have been busy (see #4)

#1 Blog because you want to blog
The odds of starting a wildly popular blog are low, so to avoid disappointment I recommend only blogging if you have some personal motivation. The major reason I blog is to help improve my writing and thinking for my research. I also find any other (hopefully) positive things on the Internet about me will one day be helpful, though a public twitter account can provide similar benefits. While any feedback I get is always enjoyable, I can still achieve my internal goals without anyone reading what I write.

#2 Publicize, Post, and Tweet
Even though I just said I do not need anyone to read my blog, I still want people to read what I write. The main thing about blogging is no one will read your blog if they cannot find it. While search engines may bring a few people to your blog posts, the vast majority of people will only read your blog, if you tell show them the link. While this can feel like you are trying to guilt your family and friends into reading your blog (I have no problem with this), I have been surprised how widely some of my blog posts have been spread through simply tweeting my posts.

#3 Do good work, but don’t obsess
My thoughts on what I actually write on my blog are rather simple. I want something written well enough that I would not be embarrassed to have my name attached to it later in life (My apologies future Brian). When I write posts I make sure to proofread, but blogging is not the main focus in my life. In terms of my writing, I would say I pay more attention to my writing on my blog than when sending an email, but less than when writing a paper for class. I aim for coherent and mature writing, but also try to have some fun. Otherwise, blogging would become a chore.

#4 Blog often
To make sure I stuck with blogging I set up a goal of one short blog post a week. Shorter, but relatively frequent fit my goals as a blogger, but I have found simply having some sort of schedule has really made sure I actually keep putting up blog posts. If I simply said I would blog whenever I had an idea, I would have stopped blogging pretty quickly. Most of my blog topics have only come about because I set a goal to post once a week. While sometimes having a flexible due date has made me resort to simply making lists for lack of other ideas (see this post), many of my better blog posts were made only because I sat down and said I need to write today. Certainly, your individual goals should shape your schedule, but having some sort of deadline will ultimately help you stick to blogging.

#5 Have a theme, but keep it broad
Having a focus will help attract an audience. If they know what to expect from your posts, they might be inclined return. However, if you make your focus too specific, you might get sick of it and stop writing. I try to keep my blog about academia and academic topics, but I initially had thoughts about just a digital history or digital humanities blog. From a few months experience, I do not think I would have kept up the regularity of my posts if I had made it that narrow. Like picking a schedule, though, a theme should be tailored to your individual goals (If I wanted to do a narrower topic, I would probably only write posts monthly or every couple of weeks, but that’s me).

#6 Don’t be afraid to ruffle feathers
The vast majority of the comments left on my blog are from one blog post. I am not convinced everyone who commented or tweeted me actually read my blog post, but nevertheless the publicity brought in more readers (well at least twitter followers).

Publishing Tips

The Chronicle:

Almost to a person, editors told me they were happy to meet with graduate students one-on-one at these events. They said the best way to set up an appointment in advance was to send a research abstract along with an introduction mentioning your department head, especially if the chair had published with the press.

Do a little homework before writing to editors, they advised. Their buzzword for that assignment was “fit.” Does your research project fit with the kinds of books the press publishes? There’s not much reason to bug an editor about my dissertation (a study of federal environmental policy in the American West) if a press’s catalog is full of monographs about ethnicity and gender.

So, what happens after you’ve winnowed down presses to a few good fits and made an appointment with an editor? What materials should you bring to a conference?

Every editor I spoke with did not want to haul home a ream of your writing, so leave the manuscripts behind. Instead, bring a concise proposal.

The Corrupt Network

Last week, I turned in my project for my digital history seminar. What I hope is evident from my design, I used this course to play with an idea of investigating “Facebook friends” in the past. “Facebook friends” is a modern term that can describe relationships ranging from life long friendships and one time acquaintances. Though Facebook and the term “Facebook friends” are modern things, social networks are nothing new. Examining social networks of the past provides context for events, like the political scandal on which my thesis is based.

My digital project is meant to visualize some of the relationships, which I have been writing about for my thesis so that I can better see the relationships. I have found textual descriptions of these social connections to be very long winded and often difficult to read, but visual descriptions can quickly and often more accurately present social relationships.

Though perhaps not as developed as much as I would have liked, the opportunity to expand my research remains. This digital project, just like any print project resulting from a research seminar needs additional work before becoming publishable.