Tag Archives: publication

Stand back, all! Something takes shape within the swirling mist!

Part of the cover of the album Ptoof! by the Deviants

The significant portion of the wraparound poster that formed the cover of the first album by The Deviants, Ptoof! (Underground Impresarios 1968). I didn’t think of this post just so as to use this image, but I could have… And of course, for those that know, it’s a memorial of sorts to yet another dead rocker, the inimitable and scurrilous Mick Farren, who preceded Lemmy (and now David Bowie, it’s like some musical plague out there) to the great rock’n’roll swindle roundup by dying on stage a couple of years ago already. That’s gone fast…

So now, after that interlude, back to the second half of that post about journals and publishing, the part to which I originally wanted to get. Geoffrey Tobin put his finger on the heart of the matter, as have so many, when he pointed out in a comment to the previous one that scholars don’t usually get paid for publishing. We do the research as part of our salaries, usually, or from whatever grant pays our salaries while we don’t do our jobs so as to get some research done; we have to publish the outcomes of it for professional recognition and advancement; we are what you’d call a captive market. At the other end, the publishers have to stay in business and ideally make a profit, and so they have the interest in capturing revenue that we don’t. But the messy bit is the middle ground, and most especially peer review, which has to be done by academics, but traditionally at least is neither recompensed or of much professional use to us. It’s good for institutional or departmental prestige if we can say that we act as referees for presses people have heard of, I imagine, but our employers would probably rather at least that we do it on our own time (in as much as academics can calculate such boundaries) or that we didn’t do it at all, so as to deliver the maximum for our institution. Nonetheless, academic publishing couldn’t go on in its current model without peer review, and we all want to get published so like to help publishers when they ask, and so it struggles on. The same kind of things can be said about actually editing journals or book series and so forth; it’s vital work, but it’s not usually for our employers so it largely goes unrewarded.

Well, in Australia at least people have started making a noise about this, demanding review work be recognised in their national research assessment, as reported by Alice Meadows on the Wiley blog (them again) here. That would be one way, and a good one I think, though it will still surprise me if it’s adopted, and still more so here in England (unless it’s review work for England-based journals; but almost all journal publishers are multinationals now…). But there has also lately emerged another way that might actually be a way forward. I think it has come out of automated journal submission systems like ScholarOne or Open Journal Systems, but we now have two organisations who are trying to actually turn academic labour like this into a marketable service. The first is ORCID, which is a service offering something like a DOI for researchers, rather than research, so that links to projects and manuscript submissions and so on can all be aggregated. They say:

“ORCID is an open, non-profit, community-driven effort to create and maintain a registry of unique researcher identifiers and a transparent method of linking research activities and outputs to these identifiers. ORCID is unique in its ability to reach across disciplines, research sectors and national boundaries. It is a hub that connects researchers and research through the embedding of ORCID identifiers in key workflows, such as research profile maintenance, manuscript submissions, grant applications, and patent applications.”

Well, I’m pretty sure our names worked for this already, but ORCID is interested in tracking things that our institutions have generally not been, and it is also tracking the work we do in the industry at large, not just our institutions.

And then, more interestingly in some ways, there is also Rubriq, a portal that manages peer review of manuscripts by maintaining as large a database of potential reviewers as possible, thus exceeding the personal networks that usually limit the effective ‘blindness’ of peer review in the humanities, and actually paying those reviewers for prompt review, even if not very much. This has caused some controversy, but apparently it does get the reviews in on time. It’s not an economically viable payment, really, for the work involved, less than we’d get for contract teaching, but it does at least signify that the work is worth something. Rubriq, in turn, then charges the journals it serves for access to their reviewing service.

Now this is an inversion of the usual revenue flow in academic publishing, which is of course all to the publishers. Instead, here while the publishers are still the point where money enters the system, there is a trickle-down to the academy. It’s tiny, of course, if ideologically significant, but together with ORCID it offers the possibility of an outside assessment of our service work, usually unrecognised, in terms of quality and value that we might present to our employers, or through them to our funders, in England of course usually somehow the state. Of course the cynical maxim, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product,” applies to both these models. ORCID may be a non-profit but its operating revenues are still earned by the participation of recognition-hungry academics who don’t themselves expect to get paid, and it’s those academics who give ORCID anything to offer. Rubriq likewise only has something to offer if it genuinely has lots of people on board from all over the place, and they are getting paid but without them Rubriq has no product.

But still, maybe this works? If we wind up working on a commission basis for new third-parties who enable peer review (which would become better and faster), whom the publishers pay in turn, and then subscribers continue to pay the publishers, that seems to me potentially to break the current squeeze in which the only way we can meet expectations is to do more that we don’t have time for for free. Our service work could be quantified, valued even, and counted into our assessments. It would be, after all, a form of outside consultancy. Meanwhile the publishers, whose costs would now be higher, would maybe make less per unit but might well have more units and could compete for quality in new ways. It still wouldn’t balance but it would balance better. Only thing is, I’m still not sure how we pay for open access

A way publishers might make Open Access work (but probably wouldn’t)

It is an established trope of this blog that academic publishing is in trouble because of the Internet, and much like the music industry has yet to come up with a really viable alternative to a doomed defensive protectionism. This was already true before the Open Access movement started gaining velocity and a logo and so on, but that has greatly complicated things because, like so many radical movements, its ideological position seems to involve everyone doing more for free, and you can’t run large-scale quality control and distribution on no money, it needs full-time staff. About this time last year, however, some new pieces of the puzzle fell into place that seemed then to represent a possible way forward, and I stubbed a post to speculate about it. It turns out, on writing it up, that really this is two posts, one about how publication is paid for and one about how the work academics put into publishing is compensated. You’d think these were the same issue but it is, of course, the state that we’re in that it’s not. So here’s the first post, about making open access journals (and by extension other forms of open-access publication) work.

I should say straight away, by the way, that as usual with posts about Open Access this is really only a concern for a UK audience for the moment. Those interested in such issues elsewhere may still want to know what hoops the peculiar UK situation is making us jump through, however. My thinking process this time started with a blog post by Natasha White of the publishers Wiley, addressing the particular economic flaw of gold-standard open access in which a grant or an institution (hopefully) pays for an article to be published, and then has to pay again to buy the journal in which that article actually appears, because not everything else in it will be open-access. This is far from the biggest problem with gold OA, which is in any case basically irrelevant to the humanities due to its costs and our funding, but every little step towards a new model for the Academy at large could help, right? Ms White hits the kernel of the issue here:

A number of publishers, including Wiley, have introduced policies to adjust subscription prices for any shift from subscription-funded articles to pay-to-publish open access articles. Journals publishing more open access articles will see price decreases because the publication costs for those articles have already been met. Since non-UK authors don’t have the same type and level of funding to pay open access fees, the majority continue to choose to publish under the subscription model, keeping this the predominant publishing model. This means subscription prices haven’t decreased significantly and UK institutions continue to pay for journal subscriptions to obtain international research. So the UK is seeing an increase in publishing costs as they pay for both open access and subscription fees.

In short, as long as a journal is not entirely gold-standard OA (which would involve barring contributors who can’t do that, i. e. most of the world and, once again, also of the humanities), there will be a subscription price to pay for that journal, which even those publishing under gold OA must pay. Now, however, Jisc have come up with the idea of OA contributions also buying an institution credits, with which they can offset their journal subscriptions with a given publisher according to how much of its publication costs they have already paid. It seems fair as an idea, and represents a creditable willingness on the part of the publishers to make less money for a principle. Of course, an awful lot depends on the exact pricing, not least because nothing seems to require that the compensation actually equal the cost of the subscription and there’s a whole host of issues about who gets the compensation: the author’s university’s library, the grant-making body that paid for the research… So let’s have a play with some hypothetical numbers.

The publisher’s interest seems to be the crucial one here, so I did a bit of back of the envelope maths. Springer helpfully put their journal prices online, unlike most publishers, and the median price for 2014 was €715. The journal in the list charging closest to that was Pituitary, and that year they had a €2,200 open access article processing charge and published 87 articles that year. These are maybe not typical figures (especially for the humanities!), but they are at least middling ones that a real commercial publisher is or was actually using. So, simple arithmetic: if every one of those 87 articles had been published gold OA, it would have brought Springer in €191,400, which is to say, just under 268 subscriptions. I have no idea how many places do in fact subscribe to Pituitary, but there were about 22,000 universities in the world in 2013, so you’d think that Springer could certainly hope for more than 268 of them buying in.

Going full-on gold OA could thus cost Springer a substantial sum of money in that model. Article processing charges also have to be paid on articles that get rejected, however, and I don’t know what the rejection rate is. This suddenly makes a lot of difference, and if we are setting up a model in which publishers encourage us to give them money for being considered for publication, and then only the successful get compensation, it looks rather more sinister, doesn’t it? Imagine a humanities version of this, a fictional Exclusive Journal of Medieval Studies, publishing 16 articles a year fully open access, gold all the way, and charged for that at the same rate as Pituitary, but rejecting nineteen for each one it published. This is obviously not typical for the humanities, but as we’ve already said, the humanities ecosystem can probably support very few such organisms, if any, so the extreme is where we have to start. That high level of rejection would be to the journal’s advantage in terms of reputation, but it would also be greatly to the publisher’s financial benefit, because as long as they accepted their 16 articles annually the rejected submissions would be almost pure revenue. 19 times 16 is 304; 304 Pituitary-sized APCs is €668,800, which is 935 Pituitary-sized subscriptions. Suddenly it looks a lot better than capping your revenue at €191,400, doesn’t it? This might nearly make up for the shift of publishing model, and if it didn’t, prices could presumably be changed so that it would. And the more people who wanted to get into this highly exclusive journal but failed, the better those sums would look for the publisher.

So, now consider a halfway house in which this invented journal is still publishing half its articles on a conventional subscription model and the other half on gold OA. Let’s also say that Wiley’s prediction is accurate and that their subscription price remains the same in this world, but they compensate the gold OA authors or their institutions with a pay-out equivalent to the subscription. (Multiple authors obviously makes this model a lot more complex but let’s leave that for now and assume all authors are lone scholars.) Now, the publisher’s revenue comes only from subscriptions or the charges for the OA articles that it rejects. Think about what that means for its would-be authors and the open access agenda for just a moment… To me it seems that while the publisher would have every incentive to encourage open access submissions, that incentive would also pressure them to accept as few as possible.

This would mean, of course, encouraging an awful lot of lower-quality submissions somehow while still only publishing good ones. It’s hard to see such a policy working for long—why would you bother submitting unless you were pretty sure your work was excellent?—but even if it did, good authors might come to prefer to publish somewhere less notoriously keen to gather in APCs without return, because they would probably justly fear what the effect of that on the editorial agenda would be, and then the journal would only have less good work to publish and its reputation would drop. So there is probably a long-term cost to taking this path. But all this is to assume a lot of awareness among authors, which surveys about open access in the UK and the reactions to Elsevier actually enforcing the agreements its authors had signed suggest we don’t have! Nonetheless, even this dally with made-up figures should show that it really does matter what the figures actually are, and so the news that Jisc has basically negotiated a separate (and presumably private) agreement with every one of the publishers who’s so far playing may not be as good as it initially sounds…

The other thing it implies, of course, is a huge pool of reviewers willing to read a lot of bad work, which is probably the real reason this scenario couldn’t arise. But then, technology is also offering ways around that problem, and that’s where the second part of this post was originally meant to go. But this is already long enough, and so that can wait for a couple of days. Meanwhile your thoughts or corrections would as ever be very welcome!

Name in Print XVI

[This was originally posted on 22nd November 2014, when its news was hot off the press, but I’ve now reached that point in my legendary backlog, so I unstick this post to allow it to join the flow in the place it should originally have occupied. Besides, I bet you haven’t all bought the book yet…]

The teaching reading is still swamping me, I’m afraid, what with having so little spare time in which to find the hours for it, but, raising my head briefly, what do I find but that the third of my 2014 outputs has now emerged, taking the form of a paper in this rather handsome-looking volume.

Cover of Rory Naismith, Martin Allen & Elina Screen (edd.), Early Medieval Monetary History: studies in memory of Mark Blackburn

Cover of Rory Naismith, Martin Allen & Elina Screen (edd.), Early Medieval Monetary History: studies in memory of Mark Blackburn

When Mark Blackburn told us at the Fitzwilliam in 2009 that his long-running battle with lymphoma was now in its final stages, many plans emerged from the initial shock and sadness. One of them was this, a volume of essays which we knew, even then, short of a miracle he would not live to see but with which the editors, Rory Naismith, Martin Allen and Elina Screen, along with many others all wanted, nonetheless, to express somehow our personal debts and the great debt of the field of early medieval monetary and economic history to Mark’s vast energy, encouragement and scholarship. Now it exists, and while one obviously wishes he could have seen it, it more than fulfils its task: there are essays here by people in the UK, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and France and by people at all stages of their academic careers inside and outside the Academy (because that last is allowed in numismatics), twenty-five essays in all, covering Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Viking, Scandinavian, Carolingian, Byzantine and Spanish coinages, and there’s also me.


No, for once I am not just being self-deprecating in my announcement of a publication, I’ve just totted the contents up and I really am the only person in this volume not writing about coins, except in their absence, which is of course my numismatic speciality: instead my paper is about the supposed use of livestock as a currency equivalent in Northern Iberia in the early Middle Ages. I will admit that coins do get mentioned, but only to emphasise their absence. Still, this was a subject I came across during working on Medieval European Coinage 6 for Mark, I ranted about it in his office to his amusement and I think it would have amused him further to see it in print. I’m really pleased to be in this volume. I’ve only got two things forthcoming now, I need to pile more stuff into the queue! Happily there is an article in final revision on my active pile right now

Statistics, for the record: one draft only with two rounds of revisions, that draft submitted November 2012 for a final emergence in print October 2014, just short of two years. This is about average and it was a complex book to assemble considering how various the contributors’ employments and backgrounds are: I’ve changed jobs twice during its preparation and I’m not the only one either!

Full cite: Jonathan Jarrett, “Bovo Soldare: a sacred cow of Spanish economic history re-evaluated” in Rory Naismith, Martin Allen & Elina Screen (edd.), Early Medieval Monetary History: studies in memory of Mark Blackburn (Farnham 2014), pp. 187-204.

I seem to be writing another book

Not right now, I admit; right now I am doggedly trying to clear any research time at all between the marking, lecture preparation, training and rewriting a long-running module of my predecessor’s to cope with the kind of limits of digitisation I was writing about here the other day, and when I get that time there’s a review, an article and a final version of a conference paper that need sending off first, but nonetheless, since November last year I have been contracted to produce my next monograph and it’s about time I mentioned it here. It will (probably) be called Managing Change: Borrell II of Barcelona (945-993) and his times and I’m due to send the final manuscript to Palgrave MacMillan at the end of June 2016. I thought I should say something about why I think it’s worth writing, how I got it to contract stage and what will be in it, so here goes.

Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona (945-993) and Urgell (947-993), as pictured in the Rotlle genealògic del Monestir de Poblet, c. 1400

Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona (945-993) and Urgell (947-993), as pictured in the Rotlle genealògic del Monestir de Poblet, c. 1400 (from Wikimedia Commons)

At one level this book is getting written because of professional necessity, but at another one it’s because its seeds have been kicking round my head for years, the unwritten extension of one of the chapters of my doctoral thesis.1 You all know I have many thoughts about Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona (and also Girona, Osona and Urgell). At the latter stages of my write-up process I was as far down my rabbit hole as to occasionally imagine a small avatar of him in my head shouting ineffectually at me to get on with it. I’ve been wanting to get this written ever since then but other things have kept seeming like more immediately useful ideas. Then, a few months after I’d started making a decent attempt to bring the blog up to date by blogging every morning, as I have described before:

“then Christmas happened and in that time someone heard me saying that if I was going to get another job after this one I probably needed to heed one academic’s advice and get myself a second book. That someone pointed out that I had been going on about the one I’d write for ages, and would probably be both happier and more successful if I actually got on with it, and they were right, of course, but really the only time I could free up for that was the time I was using for blogging.”

So with that grimly accepted there arose the question of what to write. I envisaged, and still envisage, this book as a semi-biographical study, because there is basically almost nothing written specifically about Borrell even in Catalan, so it seemed important to get the basics down, but then there would be thematic chapters picking up on the various aspects of his rule I think make interesting points of comparison.2 It seemed clear that I should start with the biographical part, to get that in order and also to demonstrate to a reader that there was a story here that could be told, but that meant getting the evidence into a state of arrangement I’d never yet managed. I have a database with all Borrell’s charters atomised in it, but there’s more that could be done, and once I’d done it I was surprised how much narrative evidence also had to be slotted in, either from Richer of Reims or from Arabic sources and all very bitty but still more than I’d realised and quite informative, to which one could add Gerbert’s letters and so on. I arranged all these into a conspectus of datable or near-datable nuggets of information, and by the end of it there were 218 different incidents of Borrell’s career on record, much more than we have for most tenth- or eleventh-century persons even at élite level.

Archivo de la Corona d'Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39

Archivo de la Corona d’Aragón, Cancilleria, Pergamins Seniofredo 39 (reduced-quality version), with Borrell’s alleged signature lower centre

Moreover, the very effort of getting them in order made coincidences and significances apparent that I’d never noticed before; two or three things happening in Manresa suddenly at the same time, an absence of appearance in Osona until much later than I’d realised, a gap in the evidence for Girona that I’d already noticed and tentatively blamed on Count-Bishop Miró Bonfill of Besalú and Girona actually being more endemic, and so on. I think the most obvious of these was that Borrell got married in the immediate aftermath of his brother, Miró III Count-Marquis of Barcelona (they shared) dying in 966, even though he was probably thirty-five already by then (and there’s no sign that Miró was married either). I’m still puzzling over that lack of attention to the succession, but in any case, it’s clear that plans then changed. So that sort of thing emerged from the close attention to chronology and made this feel a lot like research.

But the biography can be written, so I wrote it, and then after also spending some time making a list of all Borrell’s relatives documentable alive during his lifetime because keeping them straight in my head was proving impossible—and there’s sixty-four of them, which is also a fairly unusual source-base I think, though I doubt he knew even half of them himself—I also had stubs of three other chapters, one of which, on the conceptualisation of comital power, I dressed up for presentation and tentatively sent off to Palgrave with the biographical chapter, the conspectus and a proper actual proposal. I find it hard to say why I decided so quickly on Palgrave: they make nice-looking books, they shift copies and I want this book to make some sales, their academic standards are high enough to be credible, they don’t have the ugly copyright agreements of some companies, but one could say the same of other publishers. So far it has been a good choice, though; they acknowledged, sent out for review very quickly and the reviewer’s comments were, well… it would be fair to say that the reviewer saw in my proposal the potential for a whole other book, one which I’d like to write but it would take me years. I may yet, but I managed to convince Palgrave that with enough deliberate comparison built in, this book would do as a necessary stepping stone to the great new synthetic history of power and government in tenth-century Europe.3

I actually do think, though, that if such a book is to be written—and I think we need one, I do think the tenth century is a crucial period of formation in the mess of post-Roman Europe, in which the dust from the Carolingians’ attempt to renew Rome one last time settles in definitive ways that are hugely diverse because of the chaotic state of post-imperial disunification, and that if we can understand the tenth century better we will understand everything that follows from it better as a result—Borrell’s reign is an excellent place to start. Consider: he lived at the very end of the Carolingian rule of which he was the notional servant, and which he initially tried his best to ignore without actually disclaiming it.4 Big things were afoot; the Carolingians were finishing, the Ottonians were running into trouble, the Caliphate of al-Andalus was entering its dangerous red giant phase whose early end no-one could have foreseen, elsewhere in Europe the Vikings were back; everywhere or almost everywhere structures of government, finance, and even religion were in flux and proving unequal to the strains of the times. He was, indeed, caught up in and possibly held back the governmental privatisation process that we sometimes call the ‘feudal transformation’. All these things worked out different in Catalonia because of what Borrell did, the not-so-great man (because I don’t necessarily see him as a success) atop the big waves of historical change trying as best he could to make sure he and his family and (to a lesser degree, but a real one) his people came out of the curve more or less as they’d started or better. And we have more than two hundred documents of him busy at these things. Of course, as I admit up front in the book, that is to say that we know what he was doing on some of less than one half percent of the days he was alive, but that’s still surprisingly much for the tenth century. Something can be done here, and I’m now contracted to do it.

Political map of Europe circa 1000

Not a perfect map—is there such a thing?—but it makes the point: things with names we still have are on this map but they are not yet what and where we expect them

So at the moment, this is the way the chapter plan looks.

  1. Preface and Introduction
  2. Why the book needs to be written, the lack of a decent study of him and the outdated mistakes about his rule that still circulate, the above justification and how I’m proceeding

  3. Biography
  4. A chronological narrative of his life and career marking its big changes

  5. Ancestry, Rivals and Descendants
  6. His family and the ways in which they impinged on his life

  7. The Opening World
  8. His contacts abroad in an era when Catalonia was freshly expanding them5

  9. Money and the Economy
  10. Covering the fisc and the currency reform for which I’ve argued6

  11. Managing Manpower
  12. Reprising my doctoral work here slightly, the ways in which Borrell deployed patronage and upon whom

  13. Piety and Patronage
  14. A prince over the Church or a pawn of his bishops? A little from column A, a little from column B…

  15. Administration and Reform
  16. Principally with respect to the law and judges, since that’s what we can see, but also land management

  17. Theories of Rule
  18. How the counts and others who held power here thought of that and how it was expressed

  19. Conclusion
  20. I think I’ll have a better idea what this will be once I’ve written the rest!

I’m happy to talk about it more in comments, and equally happy in a strange kind of way to be nagged to get on with it; I’d like to be sure there’s an audience, after all. It will get done either way, though, and some day you’ll be able to buy it. Whether it’ll still look like this then, only the next year or so will tell, however!

1. Jonathan Jarrett, ‘Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia’, unpublished doctoral thesis (University of London 2005), pp. 221-253, rev. as J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 141-166.

2. The basic reference is still Prosper de Bofarull, Los Condes de Barcelona vindicados, y cronología y genealogía de los Reyes de España considerados como soberianos independientes de su Marca (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), 2 vols, I, online here, last modified 23 July 2008 as of 14 January 2015, pp. 64-81; to it, as far as I know, the only specific studies of Borrell that can be added are Miquel Coll i Alentorn, “Dos comtes de Barcelona germans, Miró i Borrell” in Marie Grau & Olivier Poisson (edd.), Études Roussillonnaises offertes à Pierre Ponsich : Mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire et d’histoire de l’art du Roussillon et de la Cerdagne (Perpignan 1987), pp. 145-162; Cebrià Baraut, “La data i el lloc de la mort del comte Borrell II de Barcelona-Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 10 (Montserrat 1990), pp. 469-472; and Michel Zimmermann, “Hugues Capet et Borrell: Á propos de l’«indépendance» de la Catalogne” in Xavier Barral i Altet, Dominique Iogna-Prat, Anscari M. Mundó, Josep María Salrach & Zimmermann (edd.), Catalunya i França Meridional al’Entorn de l’Any Mil: la Catalogne et la France méridionale autour de l’an mil. Colloque International D. N. R. S. [sic]/Generalitat de Catalunya «Hugues Capet 987-1987. La France de l’An Mil», Barcelona 2 – 5 juliol 1987, Actes de Congresos 2 (Barcelona 1991), pp. 59-64, which is not a whole lot of pages despite the length of the footnote.

3. I don’t know who this reviewer was but I have an idea. If they know who they were, and happen to be reading, once this is out I want to talk to you about the next one sir or madam…

4. See J. Jarrett, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimization on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1.2 (Turnhout 2012 for 2011), pp. 1-22.

5. Here still basically following Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Com Catalunya s’obrí al món mil anys enrera, Episodis de l’història 3 (Barcelona 1960, repr. 1987).

6. See J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London 2010 for 2009), pp. 217-243.

Publishers, copyright and the prevention of research-led teaching: a thought experiment

Being a year behind with the blog means, naturally, that things linked to the academic year come round again as I get as far as blogging about them, and in this instance the spur is making reading digitally available for students, which has propelled me into ranting again about how daft the way we publish is. I have one particular point in mind, so I will try and keep the post on target, but I’m not promising that other things that make me cross won’t turn up in footnotes. So, this is a post about how we make our research available to students for teaching purposes.

When I started teaching in 2003 the digital thing was quite new. I was the first user in that department of some new software they had of the sort that would come to be called a Virtual Learning Environment, a clunky slow thing called Sentient Discover that still worked better than Blackboard five years later (though as I’m now working with it again, I have to admit that Blackboard has come a long way since I first met it). At that point, though, there was neither file-space nor hardware available within such an environment to digitise materials from hard copy; Oxford simply aimed to provide sufficient hard copies, and so digitising actual readings is something I only really started to do at Birmingham. This post started off as a thought when I came to be doing it again the next year, to supply students on a big survey course with access to materials that a hundred-plus people would need in the same week.1

Copyright symbol

Obviously there are copyright implications about scanning stuff and sticking it online, even behind a firewall. It struck me while thinking this post out that academics’ somewhat offhand relationship to copyright is in some ways only to be expected; we almost never get paid from sales of what we write, we usually don’t in fact own copyright in it, that being either granted to a publisher and, if we’re lucky, licensed back to us, or else held by our employers.2 Consequently copyright, intended to protect the livelihood of authors, is actually of no direct monetary benefit to us, whereas it is very often in the way of our reading or accessing other information which we need to work. This is of course why there is an Open Access movement and Creative Commons licensing and various other alternatives set up by those who believe information should be free, but the fact of the matter is that lots of it ain’t. And so copyright applies to these materials, and the law in the UK is pretty clear: assuming that it’s not an exception (published outside the EU or out of copyright) you can photocopy up to five per cent of a volume or one single article or chapter, whichever is the larger, once only, for your own use (and you may not circulate that or pass it on to someone else), and you can scan the same amount of something and place it in a private digital repository as long as the managers of that repository are tallying it and making appropriate royalty payments to the Copyright Licensing Agency. I believe the rules in the USA are similar, but I’m not a lawyer and even this much may be wrong. Anyway, we now reach the thought experiment.

Often, in interviews, I have been asked how my research enhances my teaching, how I incorporate my research into my teaching, and so on, and research-led teaching is a phrase that has become almost hackneyed in the UK in the last decade or so. I have got a lot better at answering this kind of question over the years but it was always a problem for me, because I work on Spain, which is not very interesting to the average UK student, and most of my source materials are in non-Classical Latin and not available in translation. So it struck me early on that one excellent answer to that question would be, “I use this volume of translated documents that I myself have published for exactly this purpose!” And suddenly last year I realised that because of the way we publish, that is in fact not an excellent answer at all.

Consider. Let’s say that I convince some press that charters are, in fact, where medieval studies is at, and that if they publish a volume of charters translated by me it will be hoovered up by university teachers everywhere who want to use something that isn’t chronicles or literature and therefore by default the readings of the élite. So I translate the documents, they are published, my university duly buys a copy or few, and I want to set it for a course. Let us say that that course recruits fifteen students, and that I am not either willing or allowed to require that the students buy a copy each, no matter how much good it would do my royalties money (if we assume that the press I managed to persuade was such a one as pays them). I still have to make required readings available digitally, however. How much of this, my own work, can I therefore set to my students? Why, no more than five per cent, of course!

So, by publishing that material, I actually lock most of it away from the use for which I intended it. There are only two ways round this that I can see. One is to publish with a press that will publish it as an e-book and license that in terms that allow lots of people to access it at once. These are not in fact common license terms, precisely because they are constructed so as to minimise the number of books you need to buy; it shouldn’t surprise us when companies like Routledge sell e-books with licenses that mean that only one person in a university can use them at once, they are in the business of selling books!3 The other, of course, and by far the simplest and the most use to the world at large, is just to put the stuff on the open web, but this is a path with no reward in terms of professional recognition, for reasons both sound and stupid; it wouldn’t have to pass peer review, on the one hand, so is hard to rate, and on the other some people still don’t think databases count as real publication. Such a volume is something I actually want to publish, but it absolutely does my head in that somehow things have got to the point where if I picked the wrong press, actually publishing it is about the worst thing I could do in terms of making that material accessible to students…

1. FIRST RANT. Last year I was, of course, curating coins, so this teaching I did as contract staff for the Department of History. I don’t want to single Birmingham out here, because as far as I know their system for paying temporary teaching staff, often postgraduates, is usual, which is to say that it’s the system I’ve been paid with everywhere else I’ve done it or, in fact, better. The pay is by the hour, paid for contact time and an additional hour of preparation time for every classroom hour. That prep time, of course, is meant also to cover all the other work of teaching, which is to say marking, delivering feedback, answering e-mails and attending meetings with other staff, so in effect it all disappears. There is also a structural assumption that you know enough to teach a subject which is often explicitly not enacted. By this I mean that if you are new to a topic and have also got to do the reading, or even just refresh yourself about something you last read ten years ago, that hour is very quickly gone, with no other class prep done at all, but obviously it is expected that you will in fact learn enough to teach that hour anyway. So, maybe you’re more efficient than me, but I find that even now a classroom hour on a course that’s new to me takes me between two and three hours to prepare, and then there’s all the admin., so really one is getting paid at something like a third or a quarter of the rate per hours worked that one is in fact offered, all of which brings it very close to and even below minimum wage. Of course, universities largely couldn’t afford to deliver seminar teaching any other way, which is a system problem for which I don’t blame their staff, though I do blame staff who don’t recognise these economics. But therefore, when you are course leader for such a course, with five or six people being paid like that teaching for you, don’t expect them to do your photocopying or digitisation for you as well. You’re the one being paid a full-time wage: do what you’re paid for. I intend to stand by these words now that I am in fact the one being paid, of course, but it really does annoy me when people leading such courses don’t consider what their TAs actually get paid for.

2. The second rant would be about people who don’t realise they’ve signed away these rights and then protest about how unfair it is when the people to whom they’ve signed them stop them making free with what are no longer their own writings. Read your contracts.

3. I instance Routledge because these were indeed the terms under which they had licensed Dorothy Whitelock (ed./transl.), English Historical Documents volume I: c. 500-1042, 2nd edn. (London 1979), to Oxford when I taught there.

Name in Print XV

[This post originally went up in September 2014, when it was stuck to the front page, and now that I have reached that point in my backlog it’s time to unstick it and let it go free into the flow. You may also like to be reminded that I wrote something that might interest you… or you may not, in which case stay tuned for new content about global history some time fairly soon.]

Cover of Antonella Ambrosio, Sébastien Barret & Georg Vogeler (edd.), Digital Diplomatics 2011: the computer as a tool for the diplomatist?

Cover of Antonella Ambrosio, Sébastien Barret & Georg Vogeler (edd.), Digital Diplomatics 2011: the computer as a tool for the diplomatist?

Second of the 2014 outputs now! In 2011, as you may remember, I went to a conference in Naples about digital study of charter material. It’s been a long time coming but the proceedings of that conference are now published, in the Beihefte of the Archiv für Diplomatik, and my paper is in there, the last in the volume indeed. It’s called “Poor Tools to Think With: the human space in digital diplomatics” and it’s about database techniques that try not to over-determine structure. Let me put that another way by exemplifying with a paragraph. Taking a data search from the Casserres material as an example, I write:

“I think that, where I have been prepared to deduce here, the deductions are all reasonable, but of course they are not certain. This is not a failing of the database, however; it is an accurate result. There is not enough information to make those judgements, and the data returned from the query accurately reflects that. This design is set up to require the human user to make the final decision, or not. This subset is small enough that I can, even without a computer, establish accurately that we cannot tell which of these [homonymous people] are the same on a logical basis, and I ought not, therefore, to entertain data schemas that would make me do so. We do not, in fact, have to make technical solutions for these problems, because the historian can do as much with the information presented this way as he or she can with it anchored to look-up tables and so on.”

This is coming out of the problem of building a structured database whose purpose is to allow one to identify people without having to identify them to build the database. If this sounds like a problem you too have faced, or expect to, I may have something to say to you! It’s probably as close to a publication of ‘my’ database method as there will be, and on a first read-through possibly actually free of typos, which I have never before managed. I humbly put it before you all.

Grim statistics: this was written in September 2011, revised and submitted in November 2011 and revised after editor’s comments in March 2012 and then again in April 2013. Proofs arrived in December 2013 and it’s taken 9 months to come to press, not what I expect from the Archiv which, last time I dealt with it, went through the whole submission process in that time. From first submission to press would thus be 2 years 11 months, rather below even my long average. But, fortunately indeed for a technical paper, my methods are so low-tech that they remain useful I think…

Full citation: J. Jarrett, “Poor tools to think with. The human space in digital diplomatics” in Antonella Ambrosio, Sébastien Barret & Georg Vogeler (edd.), Digital Diplomatics 2011: the computer as a tool for the diplomatist?, Archiv für Diplomatik Beihefte 14 (Köln 2014), pp. 291-302.

Name in Lights X

[This post originally went up in September 2014 when its information was fresh and new, and was ‘stuck’ to the front page for ages. Now I’ve got through the backlog to the point where this would properly have been posted, it’s time to let it go into the stream to join its fellows, with more soon to follow. And in the meantime, if you had managed to miss this piece of my writing, I don’t suppose it can hurt to bring it before you again…]

Cover of Josep María Salrach's Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l'any mil (Vic 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013)

The 2014 outputs have begun to appear at last! Though thankfully this is already not the last of them, it is the first, a review by me of Josep María Salrach’s new book as you see above for The Medieval Review; it is online here. The final version of this went off at the end of June, it was up some time earlier this month, not too bad; sometimes online publishing actually does live up to its promise for quick delivery. The book, by the way, is rather good, but if you want to know why I think so, well, read the review, it’s open-access… Some of the points I make there in a sentence or so will turn up here as worked-up blog posts in due course. Stay tuned also, however, for more publications news!

Full citation: J. Jarrett, review of Josep María Salrach, Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013) in The Medieval Review 14.09.16, online at http://hdl.handle.net/2022/18731, last modified 15 September 2014 as of 27 September 2014.