Sunday, 6 May 2012

A Comment on Academic Publishing

A few weeks ago I uploaded an edited version of my PhD thesis ‘Dragging Down Heaven: Jesus as Magician and Manipulator of Spirits in the Gospels’ to a new blog at http://wasjesusamagician.blogspot.co.uk

I had carefully considered whether to publish the thesis back in 2007 but had decided not to do so because I thought that the subject matter had a much wider appeal than the average academic publisher could reach and I imagined that extending the discussion out from behind the University gates had the potential to be very interesting indeed, particularly given the subject matter. From the responses received so far I am pleased that I made that decision as the website has reached further than I could ever have imagined. I have received messages from academics, clergy, occultists, school teachers, bloggers etc from a variety of continents and around 90% of these responses have included a message of thanks for getting my research ‘out there’. The general feeling appears to be that academics are too insular, that publications are too expensive and ‘us normal folk are left in the dark when it comes to current research’ (to quote one message). In addition, many readers have said that they would not pay to purchase a copy of a published book but they are more than happy to click a link out of curiosity and start reading…and then email/tweet the link to their friends, who in turn send to the link to their friends...

Subject matter aside, the website has provided a very interesting insight into how the public view the dissemination, or rather lack thereof as the case may be, of scholarly research. There is certainly a hunger out there for easy access to current academic research and academics are equally hungry to disperse their work as widely as possible, so maybe the internet should play a bigger part in bridging this gap?




4 comments:

  1. What's the status quo as regards what this does four our careers - I know that an academic career is not your personal priority, but it is mine, and if I didn't publish a monograph I don't know if I'd get a job.
    I also wonder about the idea that people will read phd's just idly, out of curiosity. I mean, they might with some, but others are heavier going and harder work, and won't reward casual reading. For that type of phd I wonder if (though I'm not sure) that a proper monograph will put the book in the right place for its audience.
    That said, I agree that wider dissemination has definite benefits. I'd like to see pop editions of monographs, or online abbridgements that are easily accessible to the non-specialist. I'm glad you put your work on line and I think these comments are food for thought.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments Anon. You're right - we are forced into traditional publishing if we want to further our careers and early career academics should certainly follow this path. But it is precisely these constraints and hoop jumping that put me off pursuing an academic career. Personally it is more important that I disseminate my research and provoke discussion as widely as possible than publish in a REF-able way but to a very limited readership. I completely agree that some subject matter is simply too weighty to be boiled down for public consumption and/or it may not appeal to a wider audience. So I guess it’s just a matter of sniffing out what works and what doesn’t...

      Delete
  2. Thanks for your thoughtful post, Helen. I agree with much of what you say -- I think it is our responsibility as scholars to find ways of disseminating and discussing our scholarship as broadly as possible. The web has made that much easier, but too many scholars are still too reticent to do this.

    I think there is a middle way, though, in that it should be possible both to publish strong academic monographs and material for the wider public and it is useful to think about ways of doing that. In your own case, I don't think that publishing extracts from your thesis in any way detracts from its viability as a published monograph.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Mark, I've been thinking about this over the weekend and yes, the key is to find a middle way that satisfies both audiences. Ideally I would like to see full scholarly monograph editions accompanied by online tasters of our research that are edited to be a little less dry for public consumption. The easy-sharing element of the internet would widen the circle of discussion beyond the average reach of a monograph, but I also recognise that monographs serve a very important academic function...plus I’m extremely fond of the printed word and would hate to think that we would eventually move lock-stock-and-barrel to online publishing! :)

      Delete