Scholarly communication has fundamentally been altered in the digital realm. On the one hand, digital scholarship is far more accessible in format (and sometimes language too) than traditional academic scholarship (note also no paywalls). One of the most prominent examples of publicly engaged scholarship is the Network in Canadian History and Environment(NiCHE). Established in 2004 by a small group of scholars, the network now includes hundreds of scholars from across Canada and the world. NiCHE publishes blog posts on Canadian environmental history research as well as pedagogy. Furthermore, NiCHE has developed its own repertoire of open access publications—from paper collections to textbooks, as well as monthly reading recommendations. NiCHE also engages with communities through their annual summer schools. Thus, as a publicly facing scholarly website, NiCHE offers an interesting platform of engaged scholarly communication that reaches a wide audience. There is also a series of interviews that NiCHE has begun publishing of historians who have found fulfilling jobs outside the academy. As someone who wonders about academic job prospects a lot, it is wonderful to see and read success stories. Another platform of scholarly but publicly facing communication is the Rachel Carson Center (RCC) Perspectives(henceforth Perspectives) is an open access publication chronicling the activities of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. Rebranded in 2016 as RCC Perspectives: Transformations in Environment and Society, it “provides a forum for examining the interrelationship between environmental and social changes and is designed to inspire new perspectives on humanity and the wider world” with the aim of bridging “the gap between scholarly and non-scholarly audiences and encourage international dialogue.”Perspectivesoffers an interesting middle ground between a blog and an academic publication. Featuring short pieces on cutting edge research, it allows scholars an accessible and open platform to showcase their work whilst allowing the public to soak in this work without a paywall. A sister publication Arcadia: Explorations in Environmental History. Each story explores a particular place and time, focusing on “on a site, event, person, organization, or species as it relates to nature and human society.”Both Perspectives and Arcadiaembody not just open access as a publishing exercise but also promote open access as knowledge exchange ideology. Thus, there is great service in publicly minded digital scholarship.
At the same time, however, in the digital realm, ithas become difficult to discern the engaged scholar from the blatant liar. I am in particular talking about people like Dinesh D’Souza who has taken upon himself to try and “engage” with historians such as Kevin Kruse. Based on made up sources, D’Souza spouts his rubbish at various fora and by the looks of it, convinces a fair few. On Twitter, the medium he chooses most to engage with Kruse and the like D’Souza spouts his mistruths and then disengage. The silver lining with following—as much as sanity will allow—of D’Souza’s antics is the realization that academics need to be out in the public sphere much more. If anything, there is an urgent need for quality research to be more accessible. Furthermore, I have come to realize that people don’t actually know what it is that historians do, or what constitutes history. If history and historians have to be relevant, they need to make themselves heard. So as a budding scholar it is important that I am conscientious and careful about my online persona and managing my online presence to reach people. Furthermore, reading William Cronon’s piece in Perspectives in Historymade me realize that while Cronon’s sentiments are not unfounded, he does not seem to talk about what tenured faculty canchange about publishing. Why don’t they start open access publishing? Why aren’t tenured faculty upending the system, since they are slightly higher in the pecking order? Yes, historians have traditionally produced monographs but if we thought of ourselves as public intellectuals and not just tenure track faculty, then does the monograph model hold? At a time when people are not reading books, does it make sense to hold a model in virtue that does not actually relate to ground realities?
Having avenues such as NiCHE, Perspectives,and Arcadiais a veritable opportunity for young scholars such as myself. Not only do they offer avenues to publish and disseminate scholarship, but they also mold scholarship to be publicly facing. I think recognizing the importance of such avenues is very important if we are to have any hope of remaining publicly engaged intellectuals.
William Cronon, “Why Put at Risk the Publishing Options of Our Most Vulnerable Colleagues?,” in Perspectives in History(Summer 2013). Available at: https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/summer-2013/why-put-at-risk-the-publishing-options-of-our-most-vulnerable-colleagues. Last accessed April 30, 2019