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ResourcesResearch IntegrityOpen Peer Review in the Humanities – Scholarly Kitchen (Seth Denbo | March 2020)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Open Peer Review in the Humanities – Scholarly Kitchen (Seth Denbo | March 2020)

Published/Released on March 04, 2020 | Posted by Admin on March 13, 2020 / , , , , ,

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Editor’s Note:  Today’s post is by Seth Denbo, Director of Scholarly Communication and Digital Initiatives at the American Historical Association.

Open peer review hasn’t caught on in the humanities. Nearly ten years ago, a few notable experiments attracted the attention of the New York Times. The “Web Alternative to the Venerable Peer Review,” as the headline in the print edition on August 24, 2010 dubbed it, was presented as an innovation that would revolutionize the way scholars evaluated each other’s work. Breathlessly excited about the potential of web-based open review for “generating discussion, improving works in progress, and sharing information rapidly,” the Times contrasted this with what was presented as the purely “up-or-down judgment” of customary review practices. Openness was said to be central to the attractiveness of these new forms of peer review.

Flash forward to the present, and little widespread change in humanities peer review has occurred. Many articles on peer review have pointed out that the systematic practices we think of as central to scholarship and scholarly communication evolved as recently as the mid-20th century. Melinda Baldwin has written on how peer review did not come to be seen as necessary for scholarly legitimacy until the Cold War. Ben Schmidt has shown that the phrase “peer review” doesn’t enter the lexicon until the 1970s. Despite the relative recent emergence of systematic practices, peer review is central to scholarship. And, within a range of different ways of organizing review and masking the identity of author, reviewer, or both, a more-or-less closed process still dominates in humanities journals and book publishing. These long-standing practices still seem to provide editors with the evaluation they require to maintain quality and the feedback that assists authors in improving their work. Alex Lichtenstein, editor of the American Historical Review (AHR), recently wrote “as an editor I especially value the developmental as well as evaluative role” provided by the current double-blind peer review practices and structures that he directs as editor.

Despite his commitment to double-blind review, Lichtenstein is overseeing the AHR’s first foray into experimenting with open review. “History Can be Open Source: Democratic Dreams and the Rise of Digital History” by Joseph L. Locke and Ben Wright is currently posted on for an open, public comment period that will run until early April. In parallel, the editors have invited several reviewers to submit more traditional peer reports. Those reviewers have been given the option of anonymity, but their reviews will be public.

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