Another appeal to stop trying to publish your pointless dissertation, at Chronicle of Higher Ed (currently behind a paywall). I suppose if enough university press editors keep saying this, we’ll have to listen.
My old school upbringing (PhD 2002 thank you very much) still urges me to fight it though, particularly as it’s leading to calls that we lower the expectations for a History PhD to only 1-2 “journal articles” over four years. I wrote a decent journal article (IMHO) based off of my master’s thesis, maybe four years spent before the final draft was accepted. Yet I know there’s no way the skills and knowledge required to write a journal article (or two) come anywhere close to what you learn by crafting a dissertation (even a crappy one, I hope), or reshaping a dissertation into a publishable book. A dissertation necessarily takes time, immersing yourself in another culture so you don’t just write a shallow, simplistic account of the past. How many different types of evidence will you have time to analyze? How many different ways will you test your idea? How broad will your conclusion be? Repeat after me: writing 5 journal articles totaling 250 pages is NOT the same as writing a 250-page book.
What kind of subject can you research and write from scratch in that time frame? Not to mention, we probably aren’t really talking about a newly-minted PhD having published a journal article, which would require a year or more of review and revisions after the first draft. So I guess we just mean that they write an article-length work or two that their advisors consider publishable. Of course manuscript reviewers often seem to have their own opinions on that score, but let’s not get bogged down in details.
What about the knock-on effects of such a change? If an advisor can produce 2 PhD students in 8 years instead of one graduate in the same time frame, how does that help the over-saturation of the PhD market? And unless every program shifts to a 4-year/1-2 article program, who’s going to go first and put their grads at risk on the job market? To be frank, I’d really think twice before hiring a job candidate who hadn’t even attempted to write a 200+ page dissertation.
We complain now about too many useless publications – imagine if we had twice as many PhDs all trying to publish their multiple articles. Wouldn’t academic journals be flooded with new manuscript submissions? I personally put several journal article projects on the backburner because I was revising the dissertation. I also know my book, closely hewn from the dissertation granite, is worth far more to my subfield than what I would have produced in article form. YMMV though.
How does this all relate to tenure? Will a few articles now be enough for tenure, if you’re lucky enough to even get a tenure-track position? The AHA better rethink things. Assuming books are still required for tenure, when will a tenure-tracker (teaching and serving) have the time to learn how to research, craft and revise a long work, much much more detailed than they’ve ever written before? Particularly if publishers insist that your dissertation/article is already “published”, so you need to start a new project altogether? That’s an awful lot of project planning for a grad student. Under whose guidance will they perform this herculean task of writing their first ever book? Those who’ve gone from a master’s thesis to PhD dissertation appreciate how much harder the latter is. I wonder how most historians will ever publish a book at all if they haven’t had personalized attention at the graduate level to write a long research project. It can be done of course (ask me how!), but it seems to further divide History between the elites whose programs will probably continue to require a dissertation (and whose Research I schools’ tenure requirements will continue to expect a book), and everybody else who does nothing but teach and publish the occasional article.
I understand the concern about time-to-degree for Ph.D. graduates without jobs – I took 9.3 years after all. But it seems there are other ways to resolve the problem of the over-abundnace of unemployed PhDs. Reduce the size of the grad student pool? Create a separate degree for alt-ac or public history, keeping the full-length PhD program for a select few? Have historical associations vet e-publications? Instead some seem to be suggesting we reshape the entire discipline and its professional formation in a way that conveniently saves graduate programs from dealing with the elephant in the room.
As usual, this is my thinking (rather than researching) place, and I don’t teach graduate students, so I’m probably way off base. And if the discipline wants to define itself according to what the publishing market will allow, I guess we don’t have much of a choice. Seems like a pathetically impoverished discipline, is all.
John Grenier commented on a past post, and I think the topic raised is important enough to be promoted to its own post. Grenier wondered about the historical conventions for citing a primary source that you found through a secondary source. In my previous post I argued that we should avoid a footnote of the form “Vauban quote cited in Guerlac” (“2 quoted in 1”) unless we didn’t bother to look at the original (Vauban) quote. John offered a different interpretation: he’s used that “2 quoted in 1” formulation to indicate that even though he did check the quote in the original, he found it via a secondary source, so that secondary source should be cited. So who’s correct?
Of course there probably isn’t a correct answer. But maybe a poll will help:
Personally, I take John’s point, but only up to a point. It seems this might be a philosophical disagreement over what purpose a footnote serves. John’s idea seems to be a moderate example of the broader idea of “footnote as research process”, whereas for me a footnote isn’t so much about the process as primarily about indicating the source. The idea that a footnote should indicate more than just the (ultimate) citation seems to have taken a turn for the worse since the arrival of the Internet, though I won’t lay this at John’s door. You can find, for example, some guidebooks that tell students to include the source of the source, e.g. that a student needs to mention the fact that they got a particular journal article from a specific database (JSTOR, EBSCO…). This, to my mind is just dumb. First, this has never been required before – historians have never been expected to indicate which library they got a published work from, nor that they received it through interlibrary loan, nor that it was a copy borrowed from a friend…. That would be pointless. If it’s a unique document in an archive or rare book room, you obviously need to cite the call number of the holding institution. But it doesn’t matter to the reader if the author was looking at the 3rd edition of Bland in the British Library or in the Newberry. They can find a copy of the 3rd edition at the Library of Congress, and the quote will still be on p. 203. (Marginalia is another matter, in which case you do indicate which exact copy you’re looking at.)
Admittedly, the Internet has made it slightly more complicated since you can find a text version of a document as well as a scan of the original. But still it isn’t that difficult. If it’s a text-only version, find a scan of the original, or else include the website info (because you don’t have the original). But if you’re looking at a photographic reproduction of the original, you don’t need to mention that you got it from ECCO or Google Books, or whether you photocopied it in the library 20 years ago, or looked at a microfilm version of it at the Bibliothèque nationale. Historians have never had to do this in the past, and there’s no reason why we need to clutter up our footnotes with such extraneous information. Now if you want to mention these locations in the Acknowledgments sections, or if the institution insists on a specific citation formulation, that’s another matter.
But back to John’s more specific point. I’d argue the key message for an author to get across to your readers is 1) to say which source you got that information from, and 2) to indicate, in the case of primary source/secondary source, that *you* looked at the original. At the least, I think there needs to be some way for you to indicate to your reader that you did actually look at the original. I don’t think “2 quoted in 1” tells the reader that – that could just as easily be interpreted to mean that you’re simply noting that the historian you are citing wasn’t the origin of the quote. That’s in fact how I interpret such wording. Not that I bow down to the AHA, but I think they agree with my interpretation (as I mentioned in an earlier post on the topic). A good test might be to look at all those works that cite the same quote over and over – “Marlborough captured every town he besieged” or the “we fight more like foxes than lions” – how do most historians cite them? Can we actually trace them back to the original scholar that realized the quote was important? Google Books, here we come!
Personally, I don’t assume an author is the first scholar to discover a quote. I might be a bit jealous if somebody publishes it before I do, but I don’t assume they were the first to come across it. If promoted to the status of a rule, using “2 quoted in 1” every time you found a quote/cite in a secondary source would be impossible to follow. It’s assumed that every historian relies heavily on the sources of previous historians, if only because everyone has to start somewhere (we were all grad students once…). For example, I’ve tracked down 95% of all my sources because other historians cited or quoted or mentioned them at some point (either in footnotes, bibliographical guides…). Yet we don’t want “2 quoted in 1” for every single footnote – I think it’s assumed you’re not exploring virgin territory, and it would choke the notes to death in any case. But if you’re only using a single quote, if it’s the kind of source that you’d never think to look at, or it’s on a topic slightly tangential to your work, and/or you only looked at that single part of the source, then I could see using the “2 quoted in 1” formulation. Just beware that, when I read something like that, I assume that the author DIDN’T go back to the original. And I wouldn’t assume that you checked the original (even if you had).
It is, of course, a matter of degree. If the single quote you’re using is part of an argument that you are lifting from someone else, it makes more sense to use the “2 quoted in 1” formulation. That being said, in my own experience I almost never see that convention used by other scholars, making one wonder who exactly deserves the credit in the first place: the originator of the quote-argument pairing who needs to be tracked down, or some ‘plagiarizer’ who just copied it without proper attribution? I’d prefer to avoid giving the credit to author X if I’m not even sure that they didn’t lift it from some other scholar.
Now that I think about it, maybe we should ban the “2 quoted in 1” formula use for another reason: it encourages us to overgeneralize from a single anecdote? (Depends on the type of historical argument you’re making of course.)
But I can see how this might lead to a slippery slope if you move beyond a single quote. For example, if you find that another author is using the exact same quotes (plural) you’ve used AGAIN AND AGAIN, and advancing the same argument as you made with those same quotes, that’s plagiarism because they haven’t put the pieces together themselves, even if they did add a few new quotes of their own. Not that that has ever happened to me AND to one of my colleagues. Nope, not ever. So if your quote is part of a larger part of your argument, you should indeed cite the secondary author that you’re taking your lead from. If you read a secondary source and it directly talks about the exact subject you are discussing, you need to cite it regardless of whether you thought of it first or not, and regardless of whether you then go to the originals and find the same thing they found.
So am I in the minority regarding how I read “2 quoted in 1”? Is there a different phrasing to indicate you went back to the original, but want to give the secondary author credit? Historians are largely apathetic when it comes to methodology, so I doubt there is a standard convention that everyone follows.
In summary, this is how I see the ethics of scholarly citation and plagiarism:
- Did you consult the original? If yes, and if it’s a single instance, you can cite the original source. This is particularly legitimate if you bother to explore the original beyond the single quote. Of course if you want to use “2 quoted in 1”, there’s not much harm, though other readers might not interpret it the way you do. The harm comes, however, from just trusting the secondary source attribution.
- However, if you found a single quote through a secondary source and wouldn’t have known/thought to look there (because it’s outside of your field, or beyond your main focus), or you aren’t able to access/read the original, you should cite the secondary source.
- That being said, if you came across a single quote during your initial foray into the topic, and are making that topic your focus, I’d argue you don’t need to cite the secondary source. This is a bit vague, but if I’m an expert on Vaubian siegecraft, I’m not going to footnote that I read a quote on Vauban in Chandler back when I was in grad school (I’ll cite him in other places), especially when I’ve done far more research on the topic than he has. Petty? Perhaps – but historians deserve credit when they move the historical debate forward.
- There are some quotes that become so ubiquitous that I’ll just go back to the original and cite it there, because I know many of the previous authors who quote it found that quote from somebody else, but they didn’t bother to cite that secondary author. This is easiest to tell in broad surveys, often written by scholars whose specialty is in another period/place altogether from whence the quote came.
- If you use multiple quotes from the same secondary source (even if you’ve checked the original), you must cite the secondary source, since that secondary source clearly understood the importance of the source and passed that appreciation on to you. This is still the case even if you find additional quotes from that primary source that weren’t cited in the other secondary source.
- If you use more than a couple of quotes from different secondary sources, then you need to use the “2 quoted in 1” formulation, because you’re essentially just cherry-picking from secondary sources rather than personally grappling with the original documents.
- If the single quote is an important part (e.g. the crux) of your larger argument, you should probably cite the secondary source, but make it clear that you also consulted the original. I’m not sure if you have to do cite the secondary source precisely where you use the quote, but it should appear in a footnote rather than as a simple entry in the bibliography.
- If the quote is connected to a larger argument, I’m not sure what’s appropriate. If you’re just adopting another’s view, “2 quoted in 1” makes sense.
- If somebody points out a source to you (or gives you a copy) and you personally go and look through it, you can cite the original. It would be nice, though, to say something like “Thanks to Dr. XYZ for pointing me to this source.” I’ve done this, for example, when a friend says “Hey, King William’s Chest has a section on the siege of Charleroi – you can borrow my microfilm.”
- A further complication is the type of publication: the audience of a more specialized work probably expects you to cite the original, whereas it’s more acceptable in a survey to cite the secondary work. Similarly, you might have to worry about the publisher’s policy on footnote length and conventions generally.
Fundamentally it boils down to the issue of how important the secondary source is for your research: how important is the secondary source to you finding the primary source, and how important is the use of the quote to creating your argument. If a secondary author plays a seminal role in how you fashion your argument, they merit mention. If it’s merely a further example of something you’ve already established, it’s optional, and I tend towards the “no.” And it necessarily requires personal judgment, even idiosyncratic judgments. To give an example: I’m reading a dissertation, and an epigraph at the beginning of a chapter is a wonderful quote for one of the points I’m making in my own work. Yet I’m not going to cite that dissertation (for this quote at least). Why not? Because I generally subscribe to the “if you find the original you can just cite it as a primary source” school of thought. But if specific reasons are required in this case, here they are:
- That archive volume is already on my list to go through, so I would have found it anyway.
- I will be going through the entire archive volume myself – not just this single letter.
- That epigraph is just one more example of the sentiment I’ve already found in dozens of other sources. So perhaps this is uncharitable, but I came up with the interpretation of such quotes before I ever came across this quote. The dissertation author contributed nothing to my interpretation of his quote.
- Expanding on my last statement, I don’t want to give extraordinary credit (and that’s what “2 quoted in 1” is, in my book) for this specific point in my argument if the author doesn’t even appreciate what he has. In this case, the dissertation author doesn’t really use the quote for any purpose, much less to make the point I’m making. The quote is interesting because it quite clearly suggests something important about the period, but the author doesn’t see the obvious conclusion to draw from it. That does not merit a citation.
Possibly petty, but that’s how I roll. Definitely cite to reward original and sound argumentation, as well as skulking in archival holes and corners. But don’t praise people who aren’t curious enough to pay attention to what their sources say.
Not sure if these are totally consistent, so thoughts appreciated.
Interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed today on academic monographs as luxury items: expensive items that justify their high cost by appeal to prestige and reputation. The takeaway quote for me (admittedly because I’ve already said the same, though from a scholarly – as opposed to publishing – perspective):
So here’s a thesis. If there truly is a crisis in scholarly publishing, it has arisen from this fundamental first cause: the end of the era in which institutions sponsoring presses saw the publishing of scholarship as something near to the heart of their core mission, and deserving to be supported on those terms. Result: What was never intended to be a system left to the vicissitudes of the market has become exactly that. Scholarly books have become high-priced, prestige-driven luxury goods not by accident, but by forgetfulness.
I’m sure there are various complications – particularly that some popular subjects are marketable in softcover – but the article and the comments are an interesting read.
The article also cites a report which estimates that the average academic book now carries a price tag of $90, up 50% from a decade ago (i.e 2002-2012). My Vauban under Siege monograph costs twice as much, so I guess that means it’s twice a good as the average monograph! Ah, the life of luxury…
Truth be told, though, my book probably doesn’t cost that much for most readers. As it so happens, I just received a royalty payment, which adds yet another wrinkle to the mix. I was curious about the number of copies my book has sold (I won’t give the number on the statement, but it’s several times lower than the number I’d been told a few years back), so I went to check on WorldCat to see how many copies were in libraries. To my shock the book was reported in 753 libraries! Now I know I haven’t sold anywhere near that many copies, so I explored further and quickly realized that most of those “copies” are purely digital, i.e. a university or group of state university branches pool their pennies together and subscribe to publishers’ e-collections, which give them access to all of the monographs within the publisher’s catalog (or maybe by series, who knows). Something to keep in mind if you’re concerned about the circulation of your future book, or even thinking about terms in a future book contract.
Recent CHE article on the continuing struggle between academic publishers and academic libraries, this time over the costs of e-book subscriptions.
I sure am glad I *own* (not rent or borrow) physical/digital copies of almost all of my sources. Sometimes there are advantages to studying the early modern period. And English history.
New Chronicle article on the same topic: how to turn a dissertation into a book.
Again, good advice in general, but puzzling statements as well. I’m not sure how we can reconcile all these requirements with academic rigor.
Quotes of note:
- “Books are driven by arguments, not by constellations of analytics.” …. I think I agree, but to be honest I have no idea what exactly this means. Is it discouraging an author from evidencing his/her claims with multiple, independent tests? Or is it as simple as counseling authors to avoid jargon?
- “In some ways, your prose style now matters more than your thesis.” …. Because you can use rhetoric and anecdotal impressions to easily hide flaws in logic and evidence. As long as it’s a good read.
- “A book will always have significantly fewer citations than a dissertation.” ….
- “[A Series editor at Cornell UP] suggests that junior scholars put the dissertation away for a few years in order to work on writing articles first, since peer reviews can be invaluable in helping you tease out the arguments for your book.” ….Good advice, unless you’re on the tenure track and a book is the goal in the next five years. And assuming it takes 2+ years to get anything published these days, given how long it takes to get reviews back, and then the likely revise-and-resubmit request. The Cornell editor’s advice is a little confusing when put next to the Illinois editor’s advice previously mentioned about not publishing anything that’s already appeared – not that UP editors are required to agree on everything.
- “Tell a good story first, in other words, and then, once you’ve captured the reader’s interest, only then bring in academic theory. And needless to say, this advice also means that the “literature review” needs to go!” ….You had me up until the “literature review needs to go” bit. It depends on what one means by “literature review”, but I say the historiography stays in the picture. Maybe the call to avoid historiography encourages authors to ignore recent scholarship altogether? Maybe the way the historiography has been written is itself part of your argument? Should Keegan have cut out his first chapter from Face of Battle? Or maybe an author has already been accused of creating a straw man, so you need to establish what other ‘experts’ in the field have said about the subject? Or maybe a reader wants to see how an author has interpreted a historiography, since it’s hardly self-evident. All important reasons to keep the historiography in, to my mind at least.
Maybe it’s a History thing, or maybe my dissertation was really different from most others. I must really be old-school.
Courtesy of Venti Belli blog, I read a blog piece on current academic publishing. The op-ed presents the University of Illinois Press editor-in-chief’s view on that hotly-contested question of whether PhD students should embargo their dissertations. I’m personally ambivalent about that particular issue (see Publishing tag), but the broader import I took away from the blog post was disconcerting. I appreciate the pressures academic publishers face. I appreciate the concerns of acquisition librarians, who have to placate the increasingly-specialized interests of their faculty with dwindling acquisition funds. But more and more I think the interests of academic publishers are diverging from the interests of academic scholarship, at least for historians.
Overall the story is a well-known tale of the decline of the monograph, the core of the academic publishing business model as well as the historical discipline. If presses can only sell a few hundred copies of an academic monograph instead of a thousand, then fewer monographs will be published and each monograph must appeal to a more diverse audience; as a result, presumably, fewer budding historians will be able to advance their professional career, and a less diverse variety of (popular) subjects will be published.
To assist graduate students in their quest to achieve publication, the latter part of the blog article lists numerous revisions to make a dissertation more publishable. “Basic” revisions include the addition of an introduction and conclusion, structuring the book around an argument, “making selective rather than exhaustive use of examples”, shortening its length, and being sure to change its title. More involved revisions include encouraging the author to “embark on some new research to expand the geographical and/or chronological scope of the work, or to bring in additional primary sources.” Most are sound recommendations. But those few that aren’t common sense (if your dissertation doesn’t already have an argument, then what the hell is wrong with your dissertation committee?) have dangerous implications to my eye. I certainly wouldn’t have published my dissertation as it was. In fact I followed just about all of the revisions mentioned above. Revising a dissertation is a good, even necessary, thing.
I am more concerned with how far we travel in this direction. One passage from the blog that jumped out at me deserves some rumination (as always, read the original for context):
publishers prefer that a book contain little to no previously published material. We try to counsel authors to publish the articles they need for their portfolios by developing pieces that won’t be in the book, perhaps pulling out a self-standing chapter of the dissertation that’s an outlier to the book’s focus. It’s also wise to avoid publishing a “nutshell” version of the book as an article that a scholar can access on JSTOR instead of buying the book.
What do we make of this? This suggestion would have, I think, several deleterious effects on academic history.
First, the call to publish books with no old material certainly would seem to upend the whole promotion-and-tenure process as it now stands. When university press editors explicitly state that they don’t want to publish any “old” material (and all historical research is old), that should make us wonder how exactly young scholars are expected to get a monograph published in time for tenure/promotion – particularly since the AHA has recently reaffirmed that the monograph is the gold standard for historical scholarship. Ph.D. recipients have just spent 5-10 years immersing themselves in the ins-and-outs of topic X, written a 150+ page work on the subject, yet now they are advised by academic publishers to change topics, or to glom on a period or place outside of their expertise? How is a young scholar supposed to do research on a new topic while holding an academic job (if they’re lucky enough to get hired in the first place), and then be ready for P&T in 5 years? Historians need to decide to what extent our promotion-and-tenure decisions should be founded on the vagaries of the publishing market.
Personally, however, P&T isn’t my main concern – callous I know, but I’ve got tenure. My larger concern is over what effect this trend will have on History (see how I capitalized it there?) as an academic discipline – what it would do to historical scholarship. For example, what quality should we expect from a work that has not seen any kind of previous publication? Should we be comfortable with academic publishers essentially saying: “Trust us. The book you are now reading hasn’t been vetted by multiple layers of peer review (the sustained input of dissertation committee members, multiple chapters vetted independently as separate journal articles or conference proceedings, as well as further input from readers of those publications). The two or three peer reviewers we’ve chosen should be more than adequate for you. And, by the way, we made the author incorporate the subsequent century into his/her argument because more people are interested in that timeframe than the period the author actually studies.” That kind of publisher gatekeeping will open the gates not to a City upon a Hill, but to a Potemkin village instead.
I’ll have more to say on the subject – maybe this summer will be the summer of the Marlborough historiography? – but the last thing History needs is yet more pressure to crank out half-baked research composed of arguments based off a few anecdotes drawn from a few published sources. I’m sure most readers can think of several recent historical works that are a mile wide and an inch deep, some published by academic presses. Such shoddy scholarship should be unacceptable today, now that so many more sources are available to the average historian than ever before in history.