Found History

by Tom Scheinfeldt

OAH, AHA, NCPH Approve Recommendations on Evaluating Public History for Tenure and Promotion

| 2 Comments

The boards of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the National Council on Public History have approved a single set of best practices for evaluating public history scholarship in history departments. The advice is outlined in a new report [.pdf] entitled Tenure, Promotion, and the Publicly Engaged Academic Historian. Acknowledging that public history work is generally and unfairly overlooked in academic settings, the report provides practical advice to review committees on how best to consider public history and to candidates on how best to conduct and present public history in the tenure and promotion process. A supporting white paper [.pdf] by the report’s authors provides background and discusses the issues presented in the report in greater detail. Yours truly contributed a “case study” on digital history to the white paper, which suggests a set of both internal (audience, content, design, and process) and external (funding, publications, reviews, and awards) criteria for evaluating history websites.

2 Comments

  1. Tom, thank you for posting these new guidelines, which have obvious implications for DH scholarship as well as public history. While it’s encouraging to see the boards of so many influential organizations come together to thoughtfully address the pressing issue of evaluation for alternative forms of teaching, service, and scholarship, there are at least two aspects of the report that I find worrisome, one of which I’ll comment on here. This is the ambiguity with respect to the role of the monograph in an increasingly diverse ecology of scholarly output. While much of the recent DH rhetoric around new models of scholarly communication is *substitutive* (e.g., “alternatives to the book”), the precedents being established in DH tenure cases are *additive*: junior DH faculty are not only publishing monographs, they’re also producing numerous articles, working on funded grant projects, and engaging the digital public and other constituencies in innovative ways. The net effect is that the tenure bar for DH faculty is arguably higher than that for other humanists–not just because of their digital scholarship, but because of the cumulative combinations of their print and digital scholarship. We are embracing a wider, more diverse array of products as part of our professional identities–including funded, collaborative research–but apparently it is still the primacy of the single-authored book that continues to anchor and legitimate them. The report fails to acknowledge this tendency to simply graft new modes of scholarship onto the old, or the way in which it reaffirms the dominance of the existing T&P system by embedding novel scholarly products into its pre-existing structures and apparatus. It seems to me that the DH community needs to forthrightly address the discrepancy between rhetoric and practice: does digital work merely supplement the book (as recent tenure cases suggest) or provide a viable alternative to it? And will it be precedent or rhetoric that deans, provosts, and department chairs turn to when confronted with that question?

  2. I almost hate to recommend the UK Research Assessment Exercise 2008 for anything, but it does offer a model that seems relevant here. Basically, the RAE dealt in what it termed “research outputs”, precisely because it was not limited to traditional printed monographs and articles. (The RAE submission guidelines stated explicitly that “Research outputs may be any form of publicly available assessable output.”) So, for example, the Old Bailey Proceedings Online was submitted as a “research output”, with the same status as any traditional monograph. A friend of mine worked on a web-based research project in 2006/7 and the RAE credit she earned for that (she had just finished her PhD and had only one journal article published) helped her to get an academic post at a very good university.

    The RAE Guidance on submissions document is here: http://www.rae.ac.uk/pubs/2005/03/

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