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Author: David J. Staley
Title: JAHC and Open-Access Publishing
Publication Info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
Fall 2009

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Source: JAHC and Open-Access Publishing
David J. Staley

vol. 12, no. 1, Fall 2009

JAHC and Open-Access Publishing

David J. Staley

Director of the Goldberg Center for Excellence in Teaching

Adjunct Associate Professor of History, The Ohio State University

From 2003-2008 David Staley was the Executive Director of the American Association for History and Computing

.01. Abstract

David Staley speaks of the birth of the journal, the decision to use an online format, and the place of open access journals in the field of history today.

.02. The Birth of the Journal

I recall that JAHC was born in a hotel during one of our AAHC conferences. Jeffrey Barlow approached me about serving as book review editor, and requested that my first contribution to the journal be in the form of a review essay on “some notable works in the field.” I used the opportunity Jeffrey provided me to fashion a regular column/review essay that I titled “Digital Historiography,” where I explored a number of historiographic issues that digital media presented to historians. I will always be grateful to Jeffrey for that opportunity.

Many of us in that hotel room were drawn to the JAHC enterprise because we understood the implications of networked computing for the future of the discipline. I remember publishing an article right around the time JAHC was launched. I wrote the article on my computer, and saved it in a digital file. I emailed the draft to the publisher, who made edits on the electronic copy, which was then emailed back to me to amend. I sent them back the corrected file, from which the publisher then prepared the proofs in electronic form for me to approve before the article was finally published. It was only at that last step that the article appear in tangible, paper form. Why take the paper step at all? we reasoned, given that the entire process had, until that moment, occurred in a strictly digital environment.

.03. Deciding Upon Online

Because it did not involve distributing paper copies, an online journal would be easily accessible to anyone with access to a computer and a modem, meaning that even those at small colleges, with small libraries and without large acquisition budgets, could nevertheless have access to our journal. I recall that much of the talk that evening centered on the production costs of producing an online journal; we were perhaps a little too giddy about the prospects, assuming that it would cost nothing to produce JAHC. We weren’t entirely correct here (any journal is a labor intensive effort, to say nothing of the digital architecture needed to house the journal) but our instinct was correct that JAHC would be significantly less expensive to produce than a paper journal, especially since the marginal costs of distribution would be next to nothing.

That JAHC would cost a reader nothing to access was a given. Jeffrey Barlow was particularly insistent that we would never charge a subscription fee for JAHC, and I am pleased to see that his guiding spirit remains in place today. JAHC really was ahead of its time in leading the “open access” movement among academics. Today, out of necessity, it is our colleagues in the sciences who have been pressing especially hard for a new model of scholarly publication, taking the process out of the hands of traditional publishers, who, in the sciences at least, have been charging enormous subscription fees to access scholarly articles and journals. That such exorbitant fees are being charged today for electronic access seems especially galling.

.04. The Open Access Movement

What disappoints me is that the historical profession continues to lag behind in this open access movement, and that there aren’t more examples of JAHC across the discipline of history. Many historians continue to harbor a distrust of electronic publishing, and a continued infatuation with paper publishing. I think there remains among academic historians a sense that electronic publishing is little more than vanity publishing, perhaps not understanding that the review process for electronic journals is exactly the same. I continue to hear tales of colleagues denied tenure and promotion because they do “too much electronic stuff.” I wonder how long the profession will continue to fetishize the printed journal as the standard of scholarly performance?

The profession as a whole cannot continue to privilege paper publications. Largely for economic reasons, scholarly publishers are increasingly moving to digital-only formats, meaning that tenure and promotion committees must alter their attitudes toward electronic publishing, even admitting a portfolio that consists of nothing but electronic publishing.

I believe in the peer-review system, and believe that, to ensure high-quality research and publication, we need to keep the intellectual barriers to publication high. But at the same time, we need to keep the logistic barriers to publication very low, and the barriers to access to scholarship even lower. JAHC established that standard 10 years ago, and I am proud that it continues to lead the open access movement in scholarly publishing.