Topics in 19th Century American Science

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Topics of Three American Scientific Journals between 1819 and 1922

After doing my first analysis of American scientific journals during the nineteenth century, I did some more topic modeling of my dataset of three journals (the American Journal of Science, or AJS from 1819 – 1922, the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or PAAAS from 1848 – 1915, and the Journal of the American Chemical Society, or JACS from 1879 – 1922) For this analysis, a topic model was run on the entire corpus, rather than just one set of journals. Each of the 209 text files were split into documents of 1,000 words and a 500 topic model was created to investigate the corpus as a whole (see quick visualization above).

Unsurprisingly, chemistry comprises 32% of the topics; this is most likely because JACS is such a large part of the dataset. Similarly, geology and mineralogy are the next most significant number of topics at 14%, representing much of the subject matter of AJS. Additionally, some subject areas such as zoology, botany, and meteorology are more prominent in this topic model than in the other models. There are two somewhat surprising results, however, the seemingly large amount of topics relating to theory and method and business. Both of these categories might help to indicate trends in professionalization. Given the trends from the previous analyses, it is important to ask in which these theoretical and business topics appear and during what time period. Presumably, if the previous analyses were correct, then the answers would be that theoretical topics are more prominent in PAAAS and that both of these topics should increase during the late 1870s.

One topic that typifies the kind of topic for theory and method can be found in a topic with the words: term, terms, general, called, case, true, present, sense, relations, defined, definition, relation, form, definite, considered, question, paper, applied, expressed, and conditions. This is a topic with general words about science and how it is performed. For this topic, the largest number of words assigned to that topic (45) comes from PAAAS in 1876. A similar topic has the words: factor, influence, conditions, factors, important, direct effect relative relation determining control role present combined importance influences, indirect, data, favorable, and normal. The top related documents to this topic also come from PAAAS in the 1890s. Thus it seems that as with the previous topic model analysis, PAAAS discusses more theoretical topics, and these topics cluster during the later part of the nineteenth century.

With regard to business topics, especially as they pertain to the ACS, a topic containing the words society, chemical, american, journal, chemistry, chemists, members, editor, year, abstracts, papers, industrial, meeting, council, address, york, number, publication, proceedings, and directors is a topic discussing meetings of ACS, and also addresses their publication concerns. This topic appears only in the JACS documents, and the earliest date in which this topic appears is 1893, around the same time as the “unexpected” and “expected” topic divide happens from the previous analysis of JACS. A topic wit the words committee, report, secretary, congress, appointed, international, members, council, meeting, year, association, account, library, fund, chairman, treasurer, adopted, committees, received,  and society is a more general topic also referring to meetings, appears most frequently in PAAAS. The earliest PAAAS issue for this topic is 1874, and most of the documents assigned to this topic come from the 1890s which would again be consistent with previous analyses.

It is also worth noting that there were 85 topics that were discarded for this analysis. Most of these topics appear to be random distributions of numbers (such as topic with a series of numbers including 000, 1, 500, 100, 400, 200, 10, 300, 600, 800, 700, total, 20, 250, 50, 3, 30, 900, 150, and 750). These seem to represent page numbers or indexes that are sometimes present at the back of volumes. Considering that the overall topic model contained 500 topics, this is a relatively small number of topics (17%) that were discarded for this analysis.

Overall, it would seem that the findings for this second analysis are consistent with those of the previous analyses. PAAAS does seem to be more involved in discussing theoretical topics, and business topics appear to be more frequently discussed in the later part of the nineteenth century. Most importantly JACS at least becomes more involved in discussion of business in the 1890s, the same period when the ACS is consolidating into a professional society with a clear identity separate from the AAAS. This analysis does, however, seem to add some nuance to the overall picture of science, however. Why do subjects such as astronomy and meteorology, subjects that were often so small in the other analyses that they were lumped together as “other sciences” appear relatively prominently here? Additionally, since physics was the next discipline to form a professional society, when did it become so prominent? The other topic models seem to show physics as equal to chemistry. Some of the answers to these questions may be matters of statistical significance, this analysis over the entire corpus is more consistent with the assumptions of Mallet.Nonetheless, both analyses seem to consistently point to the same general conclusions that are present in past topic modeling research on this dataset.


Dissertation Updates


For those who haven’t been able to follow the latest blog posts on the current draft of my dissertation about nineteenth century origins of the American scholarly communication system, I’ve now posted the entire thread on Medium for those who prefer longer-form reading. As always, I’m interested to hear thoughts and ideas, and thanks to those of you who have read at least some of these posts.  It is great to get these ideas out there in a preliminary form.

Scholarly Communication and Inequality

This blog post concludes an ongoing series with excerpts from chapters of the rough draft of my dissertation The Power of Science: Origins of American Scholarly Communication, 1840 – 1900.

In a speech Alexander Dallas Bache gave to the Franklin Institute in 1842, he stated that, “voluntary associations for the improvement of agriculture, manufactures, and the arts, exist all over our country, not supported, it is true, by our great sovereign the people, but by a few, who are either immediately or remotely interested or who desire to advance the weal of their country.  If the eyes of this most august sovereign might but be opened to the importance of fostering these institutions!”  Bache was criticizing the fact that small institutions spread around the United States were fostering science for local audiences and often in an inconsistent manner.  Furthermore, Bache was advocating for a national movement to support more consistent promotion of science and the formalizing of scientific organizations.

For Bache and his supporters, scientific societies like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and government agencies such as the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian should serve as a means to nationalize scientific efforts in the United States.  Additionally, such national institutions should create an aristocracy of science that would exclude charlatans and others who might embarrass American scholars who were interested in creating research comparable to what was being produced by their colleagues in Europe.  To do this, Bache and his circle used their influence to reform organizations like the American Association of Geologists and Naturalists into a national organization under the control of Bache and his colleagues.  Ultimately, however, this plan was unsuccessful. George Barker, himself a president of AAAS and a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania (like Bache), helped found the American Chemical Society (ACS).  In some ways Barker’s efforts were similar to Bache’s.  Early leaders of the ACS also wanted to create a national and centralized organization for chemistry.  ACS organizers wanted to create their own mini-version of an aristocracy of science.  Ultimately these scientists were more successful, though than Bache and his colleagues had been.  Why?  In part, leaders of the ACS early on realized the need to control the information flow within ACS in a way that Bache and his colleagues never were.

Why is this link between professional organizations and journals important for modern scholars of scholarly communication? One might suggest that Bache never truly opened the eyes of the people as he alluded to in his speech, but simply substituted one small spread out group of people who promoted science with a different small group of nationally focused professionals.  Furthermore, Bache stated that, “While Science is without organization, it is without power:  powerless against its enemies, open or secret; powerless in the hands of false or injudicious friends.”  In order to create “power” in science, Bache created nationalized and centralized organizations such as the AAAS, but without any clear way of controlling the information flow for those organizations.  George Barker and the early leaders of ACS also were interested in creating the same centralized and nationalized institutions but did have a greater concern with controlling information in chemistry.

At a time when some argue that “academia as lurched from crisis to crisis in scholarly communication for too long,” and when bibliometricians are noting inequality within scientific publishing, and when movements such as  Me Too or Black Lives Matter are advocating for reforming inequality within society as a whole, it is important to think about why the scholarly communication system is in crisis and why it is inequitable.  Though this dissertation does not entirely answer how scholarly publishing contributes to inequality, it does provide a part of the answer.  In the nineteenth century, founders of science in the United States such as Alexander Dallas Bache and George Barker never set out to create an equitable system.  Quite the contrary, these leaders of early science sought to create a small group of influential scholars that they controlled and that could be used to distribute patronage to their network of colleagues.  It is therefore no wonder that the scholarly communication system as it evolved replicated at least some of these unequal power structures and is now contributing to methodical bias against certain groups of scientists.  By learning more about how the scholarly communication system evolved and by demonstrating to practicing librarians and publishers the reasons for the scholarly communication system’s underlying sources of bias, one can only hope that more informed and more lasting solution of the crisis in scholarly communication can be created.

Scientific Journals in 19th Century U.S.


This blog post continues an ongoing series with excerpts from chapters of the rough draft of my dissertation The Power of Science: Origins of American Scholarly Communication, 1840 – 1900.

When examining the differences between some of the most prominent American scientific publications, some very clear differences emerge, and it becomes possible to detect how these journals reflect the larger social context of nineteenth-century American science. The American Journal of Science (AJS) was published from 1818 and continues publication today. Through much of the early nineteenth century AJS served as a news source for American scientists; in the mid-nineteenth century AJS began to publish more original research in a variety of different fields, and by the twentieth century AJS is dedicated almost entirely to geology.  The Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (PAAAS) was published between 1848 and 1914 and overlaps with AJS.  In the 1840s and 1850s, PAAAS is fairly similar to AJS, but with some key differences.  PAAAS also serves as a news source, especially for news of the association, and by the twentieth century is almost entirely a directory of AAAS members; PAAAS also discusses theory and method of science somewhat more often than AJS.  The Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) was first published in 1879 and continues publication today .  JACS combines elements of both AJS and PAAAS.  Early in its publication, JACS publishes research, but it is not until the 1890s that JACS began to serve as a news source for the American Chemical Society and a space for discussion of theory and method in chemistry.

It is useful, therefore, to compare these journals in more detail.  AJS and PAAAS were similar in scope and different only in terms of who published them; Benjamin Silliman, a science professor at Yale, edited and managed AJS; AAAS, a scientific organization, disseminated PAAAS.  Yet, the two journals were different in terms of subject matter.  PAAAS and JACS were similar in the sense that both were published by scholarly societies, and AAAS and ACS overlapped significantly in membership between 1848 and 1897.  These two journals differed significantly in their content, however, and by analyzing the content of these three journals, especially between 1818 and 1914 (the years that the two journals overlap), it may be possible both to see how these journals reflect the social dynamics with the organization of American science and to begin to understand if ACS’ strategy of more tightly regulating publication did have an effect on the nascent scholarly communication ecosystem in the early twentieth century.

Performing a distant reading of over one hundred years of articles within three journals is complicated.  Fortunately, topic modeling along with more in-depth textual analysis of words and concepts provides a good overview of the themes found within these journals, however. The combination of these methods can help to understand how these scientific publications reflect larger social trends in organization of science. By doing some textual analysis of both topics and some word lists in AJS, PAAAS, and JACS one can see how ideas of professional sciences shifted over the period of sixty years. AJS moved from becoming a generalized science journal with some news content into a geology journal.  JACS started as a specialized chemistry journal but began to discuss more issues of method and theory later.  PAAAS was the transition between these two journals.  PAAAS resembled AJS but also published more news content and discussion of theory.  Since AAAS and ACS members overlapped and struggled for power among themselves for much of the 1870s through the 1890s, seeing how these journals compare can help to understand how dissemination of information became an important priority for leaders of the ACS.

Scientific Organizations and Scholarly Communication

This blog post continues an ongoing series with excerpts from chapters of the rough draft of my dissertation The Power of Science: Origins of American Scholarly Communication, 1840 – 1900.

The tension of centralizing scientific authority while allowing sub-specialties to work on more narrow problems did not dissipate when the first specialized professional scientific society in the U.S. formed in the later part of the nineteenth century.  The American Chemical Society (ACS) is, in a way, very similar to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Yet, even though the beginnings of both organizations seem comparable, chemistry followed a very different course in creating its professional organization.  In the same way that Bache and his circle drove much of the institutionalization of science in the mid-nineteenth century, the early founders of the ACS also began with a very small group of founders.  The situation was, however, quite different.  Rather than seeking instruments of power through the government, as Alexander Dallas Bache and Joseph Henry had done, these chemists were more closely attached to a well-developed chemical industry.  Therefore, even though Bache and his colleagues also believed that science should be tied to the practical needs of business, these early ACS leaders were even more interested in serving the needs of industry. The founders of the ACS also dealt with smaller, well-organized, and competing chemistry organizations, a situation different from Bache.  Rather than refusing help to competing organizations such as the American Association for the Promotion of Science in the late 1830s, the leaders of ACS merged with several professional chemical societies when they created their organization.  The foundation of these two societies (AAAS and ACS) therefore were motivated by similar aims and by a small number of leaders felt the need to centralize authority, but he methods these organizers used was quite different.

The problems of the ACS, principally the subdivisions within the discipline also seem quite similar to the issues with which Bache and the founders of the AAAS struggled.  Many subsections of the ACS began to form even during the organizations earliest years. Unlike the organizers of the AAAS though, the managers of the ACS seem very preoccupied with informational issues.  Even before there was any formal society, officers of various committees discussed the need to create libraries and to start journals and proceedings to share scientific discoveries.

In all, by comparing the similarities and differences two organizations one can see how a link between scientific organization and scientific communication began to establish a nascent scholarly communication system beginning as early as the 1880s.  The professionalization of chemistry, as with science more generally, was led by a small group of people who were very interested in industrial progress.  This group wanted their authority centralized, but ultimately the chemists were more successful in centralizing their authority within the ACS.  Why?  Perhaps the answer lies in the differences between the institutionalization of the AAAS and the ACS.  ACS created more of a union between different societies of chemistry.  AAAS created a single organization and attempted to suppress rival societies.  Leaders of ACS also recognized a need for disseminating and sharing information that does not to seem to be a concern of the organizers within AAAS.

Alexander Dallas Bache and His Circle


This blog post continues the series started two weeks ago with a lightly edited excerpt from the next chapter of  the rough draft of my dissertation The Power of Science: Origins of American Scholarly Communication, 1840 – 1900.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) foundation was largely due to the efforts of Alexander Dallas Bache and his desire for the centralization of science. Bache’s work was supported by a growing national concern among American scientists who out of national pride wanted to American scientists and scientific work to rival the outputs of European scientists. In addition to the concern about American scientific scholarship being inferior to that of Europe, there was also a growing concern about education in the United States, and a desire among Americans to create a better national education system.  Bache himself travelled to Europe to research the educational systems of other countries and wrote a report for the national government about the kinds of practices that he felt could apply in the U.S.  Bache even put some of these his into practice while serving on the board of Girard College, a local private school in Philadelphia.

Bache was not alone in his attempts to create American scientific institutions.  He had the help of a small group of scientists that he termed the Lazzaroni.  The term itself comes from an Italian term for hospitals serving the poor; Bache and his fellow scientists often used the term humorously to indicate that they were beggars looking for money to support their efforts. Members at various times included John Fries Frazer, the Provost at the University of Pennsylvania and a former student of Bache’s, as well as Joseph Henry, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. These men had a substantial correspondence with Bache discussing the organization of science.  Additionally, there were other correspondents of Bache who may not officially have been a part of the Lazzaroni, but who were very well acquainted with the goals of the group and who often supported their efforts.  Members of this outer circle included most notably Louis Agassiz, a professor at Harvard University and one of the most prominent scientists active in the U.S. at the time.  The Lazzaroni had diverse opinions about how science should be organized in the United States, but generally had four concerns.

First, Bache and his colleagues believed that science was too localized and too focused on interests only relating to states (such as the geological surveys) or often to local industries (such as mining operations in individual towns and counties).  They wanted to find ways to tie these institutions into a broader framework of education.  More importantly, Bache expressly believed that science needed to have a national agenda and that there needed to be two types of institutions that did not yet exist in the U.S..  The first of these organizations Bache hoped to create was a federal scientific institution similar to the Académie Française and Bache later started as the National Academy of Sciences in 1861. The second part of Bache’s vision was a national professional organization that would later become the AAAS.

Such institutions, according to the Lazzaroni, would need to have a clear definition of what sorts of science would be acceptable to practice at these national institutions.  For Bache and his colleagues who were working in the context of a rapidly industrializing country, science needed to be of use to industry.  Therefore, the focus of the Lazzaroni was on geology, chemistry, and other sciences that would be of use to companies seeking to exploit the newly discovered resources opening up throughout the U.S.  In order to achieve the manner of scientific expertise and research necessary to achieve this goal, Bache also recognized the need for greater specialization of science.  Bache and the Lazzaroni struggled with this concept, however, because they also wished that all science should be centralized through organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences and the AAAS.  This inherent contradiction would continue to surface until the organization and later separation of scientific associations like the American Chemical Society thirty years later.

In all, Bache and the Lazzaroni wanted to create a kind of aristocracy of science that would ensure only the best scientists received the kind of patronage and control over the scientific system that they believed would protect the integrity of science nationally. The centralized, rigid, and hierarchical establishment that Bache, Frazer, Henry, and like-minded scientists envisioned was challenged as science expanded and other groups established other sources of authority within science, most notably the ACS, the first national specialized scientific society to form in the U.S.

Pre-History of American Scholarly Communication

This blog post continues with an excerpt from the next chapter of  the rough draft of my dissertation The Power of Science: Origins of American Scholarly Communication, 1840 – 1900.

Systems for publishing and sharing ideas existed long before formal journals or scholarly societies appeared in the United States, and many of the methods for distributing scholarship in the United States were based upon models that European academies and government sponsored institutions created.  Yet, there were some significant differences between the institutionalization of science in the United States and in Europe, specifically Britain, France, and Germany.  First, there was little if any government sponsorship of scientific activities in what would become the U.S. Most scientists in the American colonies and early Republic were either members of European academies and societies or were strongly tied to the European Republic of Letters.  Second, unlike many European countries, the United States was highly decentralized both geographically and politically.  In Europe the central government usually controlled universities or were major sponsors of societies such as the Royal Society of London.  The United States on the other hand, often relied on individual citizens to sponsor scientific pursuits with little or no government support.  Finally, because there was no established system of scientific organization, there were significant struggles for power among individual scientific leaders about who should control science.  This distinctive American situation led to a unique blending of scientific authority vested in societies and universities that was quite different from European models of scientific organization.

How did this American state of affairs for scientific organization evolve?  From 1660 – 1746 scientists in the American colonies had no professional societies of their own and were often part of groups like the Royal Society of London (founded in 1660) or other European academies and societies.  In 1746, Benjamin Franklin and fellow businessmen in the city of Philadelphia founded the American Philosophical Society, America’s first learned society.  By the early nineteenth century, Philadelphia was host to several such groups including the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Natural Sciences.  Boston had rival groups like the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and New York the Lyceum of Natural History.  In the 1840s, there were efforts by prominent scientists to establish national organizations and institutions.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) became the predominant such national group.  That outcome was by no means inevitable, however.  In fact, the founders of what became the American Medical Association and the American Association of Geologists and Naturalists both vied for dominance in the early part of the nineteenth century, and their struggle in part contributed to the split professionally between medical practitioners and other forms of science in the United States.

The Power of Science: Origins of American Scholarly Communication, 1840 – 1890 (Introduction)

This blog has been a bit quiet lately, but for good reason.  I’ve been focusing on writing my dissertation (the tentative title of which is also the title of this post).  Since this blog is about the history of scholarly communication, I’m going to be posting lightly edited portions of my rough draft of the dissertation for the next few weeks.  Basically, I see this as a way of getting out some of my basic ideas.  If anyone has comments, I’ll be especially interested in hearing them.  This week, I’m making availableof my introduction.

Alexander Dallas Bache (1806-1867), scientist, government administrator, and university professor addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the first national scientific society in the U.S., and asserted that, “While Science is without organization, it is without power:  powerless against its enemies, open or secret; powerless in the hands of false or injudicious friends.” (Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1852, lii – liii).  When Bache was writing in the 1850s there were many decentralized educational institutions such as public schools, lyceums, and some religiously-affiliated universities.  There was only one consistently published scientific journal, the American Journal of Science, one scientific professional association, the AAAS that Bache helped to found, and there were only the beginnings of government-sponsored scientific institutions including the Smithsonian and the National Academy of Sciences.  Fifty years after Bache gave this speech, state-sponsored universities existed through the Morrill Act along with a nation-wide public-school system. There were multiple scientific journals, many of them published by specialized scientific societies that formed out of the AAAS, and the government was taking a greater interest in scientific work.  In all, the kind of power to which Bache referred seems to have been established in the U.S. during a roughly sixty-year period (1840 – 1900).  Moreover, the power structure created during this period became embedded in other scientific systems like academic publishing that are now an important part of scientific work both in the U.S. but around the world.

How did this establishment of scientific power desired by Bache happen?  This dissertation hopes to answer that and several related questions that arise from the actions of Bache and other scientists between 1840 and 1900.  How did the broader organization of science in the late nineteenth century create a system of professional disciplines?  Why did the AAAS form, and why did specialized societies like the American Chemical Society (ACS) later form independently from the AAAS?  Why did these professional societies create journals, and how do these journals help to communicate science? Finally, how did the system of scientific societies develop alongside the system of departments within universities?  Universities, scholarly journals, and professional societies are all a part of a complex scholarly communication system, and by understanding the history of the intersections between these groups, it may be possible to better understand why Bache and others created the scientific environment in the way that they did.  More importantly, understanding the early debates of these scientists may help to contextualize current debates about the need for changes in scholarly communication.  This dissertation will also contribute to an ongoing discussion in professional circles about the future of scholarly communication.

Scholarly communication has been debated over many years, and much of this research falls within a well-established framework of investigation for scholarly communication that relies on the work of Robert Merton as a framework (see Social Theory and Social Structure, 1968).  Merton concentrated on the values of the modern scientific system and the ways in which individual scientists achieved status within their profession. Eugene Garfield (see “The Intended Consequences of Robert K. Merton.” Scientometrics, 2004), founder of the Institute for Scientific Information citation index is but one example of the many sociologically trained scientists who have investigated scholarly communication according to Merton’s methods.  Garfield used the citation index to measure the prestige and status scientists by analyzing the number of citations scholars received in their publications.

Other scholars, however, have questioned Merton’s framework of utilizing prestige as the most important factor in understanding scholarly communication (see Scott Frickel and Neil Gross, “A general theory of scientific/intellectual movements,” American Sociological Review, 2005).  Therefore, it is important to ask what might be another possible framework for investigating both scholarly communication?   Perhaps by taking into account sociological theories about power in scientific movements and combining those theories with some variants of the bibliometric approaches based on Garfield, and Merton, it may be possible to achieve a more holistic picture of power in the scholarly communication system, how it originated, and how it continues to shape the dynamics of academic publishing.

Social Problems of Scholarly Communication

I’ve been reflecting on a few recent articles and meetings lately that have focused on problems in scholarly communication.  In particular, I’m thinking about Micah Vandegrift’s recent post on Open Knowledge where he suggests that open knowledge is about “creating a new academic value system for/as a public good.”  This is certainly a laudable goal, but contrasts with an editorial on a journal from the American Anthropological Association which observes that the association’s journal is viewed as a money-making effort to subsidize work of the organization.  Similarly an article focusing on the UK perspective and advocating for a definition of scholarship similar to Vandegrift’s, points out that, “Universities in the UK are increasingly adopting corporate governance structures, a consumerist model of teaching and learning.”  Overall, it seems like there is a major divide here.  On the one hand practicing scholars (certainly not all of them but enough) see their research as a private good, and on the other hand, members of the open access community (myself included) would like to see knowledge become a public good.  As a historian of scholarly communication and as a citizen who cares about education and access to knowledge, I have to ask myself, why does this divide exist?

The scholarly communication system that began developing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has always been in part about creating a community to disseminate research.  Yet, the definition of community has often not meant that research should be “open.” In the 1840s, professional scholars sought to create exclusive domains including only a small number of people. There was a belief among many of these early researchers that it was important to exclude people from the system.  For instance in 1838 Joseph Henry, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, wrote to Alexander Dallas Bache, later founder of the National Academy of Science that, science had to be strictly controlled “otherwise third and fourth rate men would soon control the affair and render the whole abortive and ridiculous” and “a promiscuous assembly of those who call themselves men of science in this country would only end in our disgrace.”  Both of these men argued for a centralized system for science under their control.  They later went on to found the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and some of their students and colleagues founded more specialized societies like the American Chemical Society

Moving forward in time, Marcel LaFollette in a chapter called “Crafting a communications infrastructure:  Scientific and technical publishing in the United States” in A History of the Book in America:  Print in Motion:  The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880 – 1940 (2009) has suggested that scholarly communication became a “business of knowledge production”  with a bi-furcated market in the United States.  There was the market for professional academics in which “the intended consumers were the same group of people who produced and evaluated the work” and also created an insularity that “encouraged development of an attitude within the research communities whereby scientists claimed ownership of their publication outlets, perceiving the journals and monograph series as ‘theirs,’ even though the intellectual property may have been produced, sold, and copyrighted by the publishers, who bore the financial risk of market failure and reaped much of the profit” (p. 243- 244).

In all, this very brief historical overview suggests to me that there is a major social problem in scholarly communication.  For many academics, research is a private good meant only to be viewed by fellow-practitioners.  If this is true, then why are movements like open-access even necessary, except perhaps to include scholars who work at less wealthy universities?  Additionally, if one sees scholarship as a private good, then attitudes like those of the American Anthropological Society become possible.  After all, if scholarly research is a private good, one should be able to make a profit from it and subsidize necessary operations of the kinds of professional associations for which people like Henry and Bache were advocating over one hundred years ago.

If the open access community wants to create a new scholarly communication system, it will be necessary to change a very entrenched mindset.  Major social reforms will be necessary to create this.  Scholars will need to be convinced that their work is a good for the general public, not just their colleagues.  Universities that have institutionalized the attitudes of their employees in tenure and promotion systems will need to have a groundswell of opposition to these policies.  Professional associations and other scholarly communities (not just the publishers who serve these organizations) that profit from the distribution of scholarship must be convinced that they give up a major revenue stream on which they have depended.  These are not easy problems to fix.  Nonetheless, unless the open access community does so, it will not be able to create a value system in which knowledge is a public good, a goal that I wholeheartedly endorse.

How should we publish scholarship?


As I reflect on the field of scholarly communication, it seems that those of us trying to change the ways we publish research, often ask ourselves several questions.  How should we make scholarship available?  Should research be made available in open access journals? Should scholars write for more public audiences? Should shorter pieces such as blog posts should count for tenure and promotion?  As a historian, I know that this not the first time people have asked these types of questions, and I’d like to focus on how one person in the nineteenth century answered them, at least for his own career.  His example, I think, may help modern librarians and scholars reflect on the communication of scholarship in the future.

For the past year, I have been working on a project called Leadership at Indiana University: Andrew and Theophilus Wylie, 1820-1890.   This digital humanities/public history project has created online exhibits that focus on aspects of the lives and careers of two early leaders at Indiana University, Andrew Wylie, the university’s first president, and Theophilus Wylie, a long-serving faculty member, interim president, and librarian.  I have already written several times about Theophilus Wylie, and I am particularly excited about one exhibit called Communicating Scholarship in the Nineteenth Century that focuses on the media Theophilus Wylie used to communicate his research.

There are two interesting aspects about Wylie’s scholarly communication practices.  First, as I’ve discussed in earlier posts about Wylie, he focused more on teaching than research; many of the articles he publishes are little more than records of his public lectures.  Second, Wylie used not just the medium of  the scholarly journal, but also several other outlets such as newspapers, literary magazines, popular science periodicals, and books meant for broader audiences.  Wylie even utilized a very old practice of writing letters to his contacts in Philadelphia, and asked that these letters be read out in scientific conferences (the earliest journals like the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society were often just records of early editors’ correspondence and attendance at meetings, and Philadelphia was the center of scientific research in the U.S. during the mid-nineteenth century). Overall, Theophilus Wylie utilized many different methods for disseminating his ideas.  Wylie’s practices stand in contrast to many other scholars during the same time period, such as J. Lawrence Smith, who only published in scientific journals of the time.

Do Wylie’s scholarly communication practices have lessons for today?  I think they do.  Like Wylie, modern scholars have many options for disseminating their work, and they have the capability of distributing their work to a broader audience.  I would argue that the Leadership at Indiana University project is itself a form of scholarship.  Furthermore, I would say that projects like this allow me to create other forms of scholarly communication.  In addition to this blog, I co-wrote another blog post that analyzes Wylie’s library.  This research will reach a much broader audience than would an academic article, and hopefully will be further shared in platforms like Twitter.  I am also preparing a conference presentation about Wylie’s library that, hopefully, will be presented at a conference for a more specialized scholarly audience.  When I’ve finished the presentation, I hope to use the feedback I receive to write an academic article about Wylie’s library.  I also plan on using some of the research I did for this project in my dissertation.  Overall, I think this project will allow many different kinds of scholarly output, similar perhaps to the multiple media Wylie used to disseminate his work.

To answer my original question of how we should publish scholarship.  I think that researchers like me need to publish scholarship in more ways varied than just articles in academic journals.  Though scholarly articles are important, I think digital humanities projects such as Leadership at Indiana University, as well as the blog posts, conference presentations, tweets, and other outputs resulting from the project are also methods of publishing scholarship.  In the same way that Theophilus Wylie used multiple media to communicate his scholarship, perhaps it is time for modern scholars to follow his example and make their work available both to academic audiences and to the broader public.  Doing so allows scholars to engage more fully with the many kinds of digital publishing technologies available, and could lead to a more healthy scholarly publishing system.