Reflections on the Journal of Digital Humanities Editorial Process

Note: This post includes an update from September 16, 2013.

The publication process at the Journal of Digital Humanities (JDH) has recently come under scrutiny, and we would like to take this opportunity to shed light on the journal’s operation and reflect on how we communicate our editorial practice. We value the community’s input on these important questions.

As part of the PressForward project based at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, JDH was launched as an experiment in surfacing digital humanities content from informally published content circulated on the open web. The journal aims to raise the profile of online scholarly communication and offer a formal publication venue and long-term home for independently-produced work. The research questions for JDH are wide-ranging:

  • Is there enough valuable material to source from the open web on a regular basis?
  • What are the challenges and benefits to increasing the speed of scholarly publication?
  • Are sporadic releases or edited collections more realistic and scalable?
  • Are the results from the digital humanities community replicable in other fields?
  • How can this experiment help provide data points for others interested in the production and circulation of gray literature?

Each issue of JDH includes reproduced or revised versions of high-quality material published online during the previous quarter, much of it surfaced by the companion aggregation project Digital Humanities Now. This initial material takes a variety of forms. In some cases JDH invites reproductions of previously released work. In others, JDH invites revised and expanded versions of promising work released serially or in early stages. JDH also solicits new work, particularly introductions to large, collaboratively-produced projects and reviews of tools and websites not covered by other publications.

Although much of the work published by JDH is first informally published online, the journal seeks to provide content of lasting value for those practicing or learning about the field. Our recent reader survey confirms that the quality of the articles ranks first in importance to our respondents, before time-to-publication or thematic coherence. JDH is committed to responding to those reader priorities. Although many of the pieces included in JDH have been selected for direct republication, one-third of the content has undergone extensive revisions. For those pieces invited for revision, JDH offers the opportunity for authors to develop work beyond their initial informally published content. Twice when JDH identified sufficient material on a particular topic to warrant a special section, we have invited an individual to write an introduction to that section. In another issue, JDH collaborated with guest editors who had suggested a topic to select and review material. At the same time that we seek to publish high quality work, JDH’s mission is to provide a pathway to publication that is more rapid than traditional venues.

Last May, two prospective contributors contacted JDH to propose a special section on postcolonial digital humanities. Although the proposal arrived from outside the usual Digital Humanities Now channel, the topic appeared particularly exciting and timely, and JDH worked with the prospective editors to craft a slightly different proposal with new content tailored for the JDH audience. Over the next three months those prospective editors corresponded with JDH regarding a timetable and process for submitting, reviewing, copyediting, and publishing the special section.

After receiving and reviewing the submissions in August, the JDH editors concluded that the special section was not ready for publication and proposed a period of further elaboration and review, to be developed in consultation with all the individual authors of the collection. In the following days, a serious and regrettable communication breakdown occurred between JDH and the section editors which reflected a mutual misunderstanding of expectations, and for which the journal apologizes. Although the journal looked forward to continuing to work with them, the special section editors instead opted to withdraw the collection rather than continue the publication process.

This outcome was deeply disappointing for JDH because it suggested dismissal of the important work on postcolonial studies and digital humanities. This was not the case. We are taking steps to avoid such miscommunications in the future, including revising our stock communication with contributors so that it more clearly delineates our publication process and the roles and expectations of special section editors and guest editors. We welcome community input as we work toward greater transparency while at the same time maintaining the best parts of JDH’s experimental nature. To inform this process of reflection and to respond to the level of public interest in these particular submissions to JDH, we have asked the prospective section editors for permission to publish the email correspondence between JDH and themselves.

JDH and PressForward apologize for the miscommunication and the hurt it caused. We remain committed to opening new pathways for scholarly communication, not closing off old ones. We look forward to continuing to engage our fellow researchers in this dialogue in the coming months.

Update (September 16, 2013): JDH prepared the full correspondence for publication, including the redaction of all personally identifying information beyond the names of the principal parties involved, and shared this correspondence with the prospective section editors. After reviewing it, the prospective section editors declined to grant their permission to publish the correspondence.