Welcome to the Russian history blog. For my first post, I thought I’d start to lay out a little bit of what I was thinking when I asked this great collection of colleagues to join me in this new venture. I am sure this is something that I will return to from time to time, but it seemed an appropriate way to begin the discussion.
I am very fortunate to be a member of George Mason University’s Department of History and Art History, because I am in a department and at a university that takes digital scholarship seriously. Our department is probably most known for its Center for History and New Media, an organization at the forefront of using digital technology in history since the days of the CD-ROM. Drawing upon research for my book coming out this May, I worked with CHNM to build an internet exhibit on the history of the Gulag, confident in the notion that my university would consider such work as serious scholarship when the tenure decision was being made. (And it did, as I received tenure last year.)
Lately, prompted by a presentation of CHNM’s director Dan Cohen to a departmental faculty seminar, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the future dissemination of historical research, which according to many experts will undergo significant shifts in the near future (not unlike what has been happening in the newspaper industry in recent years). The economics of publishing, reductions in library budgets, and the altered digital environment likely make these changes inevitable. We, as scholars, can either sit by and watch the changes happen, or we can become actively involved in changing the nature of the scholarly publishing enterprise. Numerous fields other than history have already been moving in new directions–notably law, economics and some of the physical sciences. Whether in blogs or uploading papers to the Social Science Research Network or Arxiv , scholars are increasingly either cutting out the traditional publishing network or doing something that expands on traditional scholarly publishing. Scholars are increasingly recognizing that peer review as currently constructed has not only benefits but significant costs. (See, for example, the “Scholars Test Web Alternative To Peer Review” in the New York Times along with the links at the end of this post.)
There are many possible directions we can go as scholars to help shape this future. One of these is the blog. In many other fields, blogs have become a way for scholars to expand their influence in a field. (Economist Tyler Cowen, here at George Mason, has been particularly successful in this regard with his blog Marginal Revolution. The same can be said of many other economists, law professors, etc.) This is an area that has only barely been broached in the field of Russian history. (The most successful similar digital projects in Russian history, in my mind, are the PERSA working papers series and Sean Guillory’s Sean’s Russia Blog. Hopefully, the short-lived E-Kritika will make a comeback.) There are other group blogs in history and in the humanities including: Crooked Timber, Frogs in a Well and Whewell’s Ghost among others, and we will no doubt draw inspiration from them.
So, at the 2010 ASEEES convention, after presenting on a roundtable about digital resources for Russian history, I began a conversation with long-time colleague and friend Andrew Jenks and we decided to launch the Russian History Blog as a group blog. We start here with five contributors, though we may well add more in the coming months.
Our only guiding principle as we start this blog is to focus on history and only to focus on contemporary events when they have clear historical content. We hope the blog will be seriously but informally academic. Our posts will be varied–reviews of films and publications, discussions of materials and questions in our own research, descriptions of how we use digital resources in our teaching or research. Some posts will be quite short, others quite long.
The audience for the blog, we imagine, will be small to start, and the initial audience will likely be our fellow scholars, but we hope also to contribute to a larger conversation on Russia and Russian history. Most academic publication on Russian history currently exists either in book form or in peer-reviewed journals that, of necessity, lie behind a pay wall. On the internet, material behind a pay wall may as well not exist. We hope the blog will enhance traditional scholarly publication (and we are most certainly not advocating its elimination, as all of us have published in traditional genres and venues) and put some of the results of our best scholarship in front of a wider audience.
So, that is my initial thinking as we start this project. No doubt my thinking and the project itself will change considerably over time. I hope you will join our conversation in the comments section and that, perhaps, you will consider a digital project of your own. In that vein, I am appending here just a small selection of writings that have influenced my thinking about this blog. I hope you will find them as influential as I have.
Dan Cohen: Open Access Publishing and Scholarly Values
The Scholar Communication Institute at UVA on “Emerging Genres in Scholarly Communication“