Peer Reviewing Writing History in the Digital Age

[In lieu of a reading reflection this week for HIST946: Digital Humanities, we were tasked with reading an essay or two from Writing History in the Digital Age that is currently open for public peer review. I read Frederick W. Gibbs and Trevor Owens, “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing. You can find related posts here.”]

I am fascinated by the process of open peer review for Writing History in the Digital Age. Although there are sections of the volume that lack substantial comments (there were only a few on the essay I read, and glancing around at the others showed similar patterns), the publicness of sharing these works online can promote scholarly discussion across a variety of disciplines. I will likely spend some more time thinking about the piece and, instead of making an overall assessment of the piece as a whole, ask questions within paragraphs that will help prompt discussion. It seems that this would be more useful than the general overview I wrote. Also important is the transparent process of open peer review. Instead of some mysterious black box of activity, open review prompts more discussion of the work by a wider range of scholars than the few selected by an editor under the traditional modes of publishing. It is a unique tandem: the openness of the work itself, but also the transparency of comments and ideas that may encourage further thought not just among the writers but among other viewers and reviewers as well.

I will also note, in my experience with this, that I felt what I could describe as a social or cultural pressure to do something substantial and useful. I know of Fred Gibbs and Trevor Owens, I’m interested in the work they do, and we’ve had digital conversations. My name is now publicly attached to their work, out there not only for them to read but available to anyone else who might be interested in knowing my thoughts. Call it ego, call it reputation, call it a line on the CV, but I’ve inserted myself into the broader process of writing and creating this volume of essays. I see this as a good thing. It shows a commitment to publicness in scholarship and (appropriately enough for Gibbs and Owens piece) a transparency in our methods. I want to feel that pressure of offering something useful because I want to help my colleagues succeed. I do not know if I succeeded in offering something helpful, but I suspect this will not be the only time I spend thinking about their piece.

If you have not read it, Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s piece on open peer review is a must.