17.218 critical reflections on publishing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty ) (willard@mccarty.me.uk)
Date: Thu Sep 04 2003 - 05:06:08 EDT

  • Next message: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty ): "17.220 the lifetime burning in every moment"

                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 218.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Thu, 04 Sep 2003 09:30:59 +0100
             From: corre@uwm.edu
             Subject: re 17.208 web publishing

    The wise King Solomon advised us to consider the ways of the ants and
    be wise, so it is appropriate that the travails of the formicologists
    in respect of book and web publishing should make us consider the
    wider issue of scholarly publication on the World Wide Web. I for
    one now publish the results of my researches exclusively on the Web,
    and make no attempt to publish in hard copy, unless I accede to the
    express request of a publisher to write some particular item. My reason
    for this is twofold. First, the materials get out much quicker, and are
    more widely received. Second, while it would be unfair to generalise,
    I feel that publishers frequently treat authors quite
    shabbily. Farmers seem to develop some rapport with the animals which
    provide them with their livelihoods, but many publishers are quite
    unfeeling with regard to authors. I can count half a dozen occasions
    when publishers have held a manuscript for an excessively long time,
    or completely lost it, and my impression is that other authors can
    tell similar horror stories. Lately publishers have developed the
    habit of going bankrupt, which has caused great grief on the part of
    young scholars relying on them to help along their tenure, and
    annoyance to others who have waited in vain to see their work in

       It is hardly surprising that we have not yet caught up with the
    changes brought about by the Web, for they are indeed great, and new
    technology constantly changes their nature. Publishing houses are
    entrenched institutions, which resist change, especially those that
    threaten their profits. Britannica was carried kicking and screaming
    into the online world. The main argument that is made against online
    publishing is that it undergoes no scholarly review. I question this,
    because I have seen so many books come out of well-regarded presses
    which have numerous errors, typographical and substantive. My
    impression is that since the cost of printing has become so high, many
    presses save money by dispensing with appropriate editing; and this is
    particularly true of university presses, since rarely do they publish
    bestsellers. The result is many books of questionable value, despite
    their supposedly being monitored. In premodern times writers of books
    in Hebrew would submit their manuscripts to an acknowledged authority,
    and request an approbation which would be published at the beginning
    of the book, and was often composed in a florid style. I copied this
    practice in my website on Lingua Franca by asking the late Professor
    Cyrus Cordon to write an approbation; but I do not feel that such a
    thing is really necessary. The motto should always be caveat emptor --
    let the buyer beware. Just because something exists in printers' ink
    on paper, or is on the Web, it does not mean that it is of value. The
    user must pass his own judgment.

    Advances in technology are constantly improving the Web. The
    remarkable Acrobat software makes possible publication of works in
    scripts other than the Roman script without requiring the user to have
    any special software, other than the free Acrobat Reader which is
    usually bundled with most browsers these days in any case. Moreover,
    texts can be marked up and annotated in a way that is easy for the
    writer and the reader. I am using this technology for publishing
    annotated texts in Judeo-Arabic on my website, which would probably be
    prohibitively expensive to print and publish by traditional
    methods. Preparing a text for the Web is now quite simple, and
    compares favourably with the labour that must be expended to prepare a
    printed text. The scholar can learn simple HTML, since he probably
    does not need the complex bells and whistles which grace commercial

    There are of course disadvantages to online publishing. In an article
    that I wrote for a printed book, I cited an article that I had
    published online. The editor told me that although he felt that the
    online article was quite relevant, the publishers had instructed him
    not to include any references to websites in the
    bibliographies. Similarly, I suggested to the near eastern editor of
    JAOS that he might like to have my Lingua Franca website reviewed in
    his journal. He put this to the editorial board, and they decided not
    to review websites. There are probably turf issues in decisions like
    this, but it is quite true that websites can be evanescent, like the
    valuable site on creolistics which formerly existed on the website of
    Stockholm University, and disappeared without notice. I found
    myself wondering if six months after my death an employee of
    Information Services at my university will find my name on the grim
    reapers's list, and with a few keystrokes blow away all my hard
    work. I raised this matter with the appropriate committee at my
    university, but they have been unable to come to any conclusion as to
    how and when material should be deleted if the author graduates,
    resigns or dies.

    I have no pat answer to these questions, which are, I know, being
    widely debated. But it seems to me that we must keep these issues
    before us, in the hope that before too long we shall find some
    satisfactory solutions.

                              Alan D. Corre
                      Emeritus Professor of Hebrew Studies
                      University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Thu Sep 04 2003 - 05:11:13 EDT