American Historical Association Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations

In their June 2013 meeting, the AHA Council drafted a statement on policies regarding best practices for embargoing completed history PhD dissertations. In a follow-up Q&A, Jacqueline Jones, AHA vice president, Professional Division, summarizes some of the most common claims and questions about the statement on Twitter, blogs, and the comment section below this announcement. Former AHA President William Cronon offers further elucidation on this statement here. We welcome further discussion on this issue.

The American Historical Association strongly encourages graduate programs and university libraries to adopt a policy that allows the embargoing of completed history PhD dissertations in digital form for as many as six years.  Because many universities no longer keep hard copies of dissertations deposited in their libraries, more and more institutions are requiring that all successfully defended dissertations be posted online, so that they are free and accessible to anyone who wants to read them.  At the same time, however, an increasing number of university presses are reluctant to offer a publishing contract to newly minted PhDs whose dissertations have been freely available via online sources.  Presumably, online readers will become familiar with an author’s particular argument, methodology, and archival sources, and will feel no need to buy the book once it is available.  As a result, students who must post their dissertations online immediately after they receive their degree can find themselves at a serious disadvantage in their effort to get their first book published; it is not unusual for an early-career historian to spend five or six years revising a dissertation and preparing the manuscript for submission to a press for consideration. During that period, the scholar typically builds on the raw material presented in the dissertation, refines the argument, and improves the presentation itself. Thus, although there is so close a relationship between the dissertation and the book that presses often consider them competitors, the book is the measure of scholarly competence used by tenure committees.

In the past, most dissertations were circulated through inter-library loan in the form of a hard copy or on microfilm for a fee. Either way, gaining access to a particular dissertation took time and special effort or, for microfilm, money. Now, more and more university libraries are archiving dissertations in digital form, dispensing with the paper form altogether.  As a result, an increasing number of graduate programs have begun requiring the digital filing of a dissertation. Because no physical copy is available, making the digital one accessible becomes the only option. However, online dissertations that are free and immediately accessible make possible a form of distribution that publishers consider too widespread to make revised publication in book form viable.

History has been and remains a book-based discipline, and the requirement that dissertations be published online poses a tangible threat to the interests and careers of junior scholars in particular.  Many universities award tenure only to those junior faculty who have published a monograph within six years of receiving the PhD.  With the online publication of dissertations, historians will find it increasingly difficult to persuade publishers to make the considerable capital investments necessary to the production of scholarly monographs.

Students who choose to embargo their dissertations should be required to deposit a hard copy of their dissertation in the university library (or two if required as a condition for inter-library loan).  Alternatively, if university libraries no longer provide any way to archive physical dissertations, students should be permitted to embargo the digital copy for up to six years, with access being provided only on that campus or with the student’s explicit permission off campus.

By endorsing a policy that allows embargos, the AHA seeks to balance two central though at times competing ideals in our profession–on the one hand, the full and timely dissemination of new historical knowledge; and, on the other, the unfettered ability of young historians to revise their dissertations and obtain a publishing contract from a press.  We believe that the policy recommended here honors both of these ideals by withholding the dissertation from online public access, but only for a clearly stated, limited amount of time, and by encouraging other, more traditional forms of availability that would insure a hard copy of the dissertation remains accessible to scholars and all other interested parties.

Adopted July 19, 2013

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  1. CJH

    Stupid and stunting.

    The AHA should be recommending that departments change how they grant tenure – citation should matter not publication.

    Reply
  2. Michael D. Hattem

    I don’t think I’d call this “stupid.” And, if anything, it is the insistence of tenure committees and the lack of foresight amongst publishers that are stunting. The AHA is simply trying to find a way to deal with the situation as it currently stands in a way that does not needlessly hurt the career chances of junior academics. I get the sense this may be a more uphill battle than we realize as there is increasing political pressure on public universities to make available scholarship produced even partly through state funding. Addressing the topic in the first place is a good first step by the AHA. After all, much like the RIAA, I suspect that much of the academic publishing industry will only be brought into the digital future kicking and screaming.

    Reply
  3. Ryan M. Poe

    As a graduate student, I absolutely can’t stand when others guard their dissertations and theses close to their chest, as if their work is so genius, so ground-breaking that releasing it early will surely cause it to be scooped.

    Scholarship embargoes substantially hinder graduate student progress, and I would wager nearly every cohort has seen someone have to change their topic or approach their subject radically differently because a fellow scholar won’t share their work. (This is usually in fear of overlapping their work, making them potentially unhireable.) This, in my experience, only hinders the field.

    I agree with CJH on this. Why not take aim at the tenure process itself, that is still steeped in an older tradition of what it means to be an intellectual? Or keep hitting hard at those veiled (and not-so-veiled) attacks on the humanities and higher ed? With all of the problems over jobs and hiring for history PhDs, info embargoes are a non-issue.

    Reply
  4. Travis Mason-Bushman

    The phrase “History has been and remains a book-based discipline” strikes me as a statement that the AHA ought to be questioning, not uncritically repeating as gospel.

    Reply
  5. Trevor

    Please offer some evidence to support this claim. “an increasing number of university presses are reluctant to offer a publishing contract to newly minted PhDs whose dissertations have been freely available via online sources.” Ideally, not just hearsay but actual incidents where historians submitting book proposals were told by publishers that they were not interested in the proposal because it was based on a dissertation that is accessible online.

    Reply
  6. Chiara

    Do people actually sit and read various PhD theses online so thoroughly and absorb and systematize them so completely that they have no interest in actual books by the same authors? Sounds silly to me.

    Reply
  7. William Barrow

    History may be a discipline that is dependent upon lengthy texts, but it’s not a necessary condition that they be paper-based books.

    Reply
  8. Marisa Ramirez

    It would be helpful to know what hard data AHA used to inform their decision.

    It seems fear, not data, often guide decisions in this milieu.

    A recent study that I co-authored determined that most university press directors in arts, humanities and social sciences favored considering an open access electronic thesis or dissertation on their own case-by-case merits. More on our study: http://crl.acrl.org/content/74/4/368.abstract

    Reply
  9. AnonPhD

    Speaking from experience, this has happened to both myself and a colleague. We were told from separate presses that we needed to take our dissertations offline before our submissions would be considered. The issue is that they were available for free.

    Reply
  10. ben

    There’s evidence. For example, the website of Manchester Uni Press: “Because PhD theses are increasingly freely and widely available in digital repositories, our policy is that we will not consider books based on theses for publication unless they are of exceptionally high quality and broad appeal, have been expanded significantly, and have been rewritten and restructured for a wider audience.”

    Reply
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  13. Nick

    I have several friends and colleagues who have embargoed their dissertations, but who have been very willing to provide me (and others) with digital copies, when asked. I probably won’t buy their published books, but only because they will be published by Routledge, OUP, CUP, Harvard UP or whoever else and sold at, what – $70, $80, $120?

    I do think there is merit in the idea that when dissertation projects have received public funding, then the completed projects should be made publicly available within, say, two years of completion. Too much historical research is already sequestered behind expensive journal paywalls – dissertations should not be kept behind the Great Paywall of Academia.

    Finally, the idea that digitally-available dissertations jeopardise book contracts is, as others have already noted, an untested proposition – mere speculation. Perhaps it would be better to return to the old idea that the first book should be an original piece of scholarship, and *not* a revision of the dissertation.

    One of my committee members wrote his tenure book on a topic entirely unrelated to his dissertation, and it remains a brilliant a piece of research, written from scratch. The modern tenure-review process prevents such a thing happening these days, when producing a book – any book – just becomes another box to tick.

    Reply
  14. Donna Sinclair

    I am under the impression that a book and a dissertation are not the same, or at least they shouldn’t be. I also find it unlikely that most people are slogging through 400 page dissertations online, though some of those folks might be inclined to read a 200 or 250 page book. It is also unlikely that I would have my students read a dissertation, but I might assign the subsequent book. I have to agree that it could be more productive to address the tenure process than to embargo dissertations. As a matter of fact, in my dissertation, I cite a dissertation that another scholar shared with me. Our work has some similarities but I am building on what she did, which I think makes sense. Collaboration and transparency contributes more widely to widening our knowledge base – isn’t that the point?

    Reply
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  16. bob

    1. I recently signed a contract with a university press and was explicitly told to have the dss. embargoed.

    2. All this statement does is advocate giving authors the *choice* of having their work embargoed. Freedom of choice…it’s not such a scary thing, folks!

    3. My money (loans) and my labor went into crafting my dissertation. It’s mine to do with what I please and that’s all there is to it.

    Reply
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  19. Michael P. Procter, Sr.

    Although I understand the rationale behind this decision, I do not agree with it. As Larry Cebula posted earlier, the AHA is determined to remain in the 19th century. It appears that the organization does not like anything digital, from degrees earned online to digital publication of dissertations and other manuscripts.

    AHA stated that “History has been and remains a book-based discipline….” Whilst the former is true enough, the latter is patently false. We are in an age where history is available at the touch of a key or the click of a mouse. The AHA needs to overcome this need to remain mired in the past while subliminally suggesting that one must suffer the life of an historian by combing through the stacks.

    If the AHA’s only reason for an embargo is to preserve an author’s ability for publication and possibly the earning of a royalty, this can easily be accomplished with publishing the dissertation on a pay-per-use website. I’ve certainly encountered plenty of those. Of course, digital publications can be copied and passed around, but that has always been the case, especially since the advent of that pesky Xerox machine. For those running the AHA, it’s time to dust of your bowlers and your shawls and step into the 21st century – it’s a wonderful experience!

    Reply
  20. Mr. Holland

    Collaboration and transparency is a good thing. Forcing students to collaborate and be transparent is a bad thing. This is a fine statement because it protects the intellectual property of the scholar, allowing graduates to circulate their work as they see fit. On the day that J-Stor makes all academic articles freely available to the public, Ph.D. students may be ready to consider giving away their work. Until that day, no university can force them to do so.

    Reply
  21. MEP

    @bob

    I’m still not going to buy your dissertation. Keeping it offline for a few years doesn’t change that. It just hides your work from view until such time as it becomes irrelevant. It is your choice, but it’s a short-sighted one.

    This statement from AHA is equally short-sighted. Scholarship isn’t about supporting a publishing industry. It’s about pursuing knowledge. Locking that knowledge up behind expensive paywalls (and $100 books are just analog paywalls) sends the message that knowledge should only be accessible to those who can and will pay. This is elitism at root.

    I’m sorry that your student loans are so large you need a book contract to pay them (I’m in the same boat), but we shouldn’t be addressing our economic problems by betraying our philosophical goals. Presumably, those goals have something to do with the advancement of knowledge rather than the advancement of a few price-gouging publishers, but maybe I presume too much. I thought scholarship was about learning and teaching, not publishing. AHA apparently believes otherwise.

    “The American Historical Association (AHA) is a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies.”

    Should be amended:

    “We will promote the study of history by encouraging such study to be unreasonably expensive for all who pursue it. We will not embrace tools and technologies that help spread the knowledge of history at low cost. We will not seek to reform the academic economy in such a way as to lower the barriers to entry to people of all economic backgrounds. We will not encourage our members to share their knowledge of history with others solely for the purpose of enriching society at large, but only on the condition of their own economic enrichment and the continued enrichment of our publisher partners. We are a sham.”

    Reply
  22. David

    Folks, the article cited by a number of commenters indicates that only 50% of university press editors would consider a dissertation that was open access. That’s an ENORMOUS drop-off, and exactly the kind of evidence that supports the AHA’s point.

    Reply
  23. Ryan M. Poe

    The 50% number doesn’t demonstrate a problem with open access, it demonstrates that publishers believe (seemingly without evidence, though I may have missed it) that open access is a threat to their bottom line.

    Reply
  24. Jessica

    Trevor, I was told by two different publishers at the last AHA that the book would have to be substantially different from the dissertation because, as smaller presses, university libraries are the primary purchasers of their books, and the libraries would be hesitant to buy a book that was at all similar to a dissertation already available on proquest. They told me that bigger presses are more able to publish revised dissertation because they reach a wider audience. My experience may not be exactly the evidence you are looking for, but it does suggest some truth to the AHA’s assertion, particularly for scholars who will not be publishing with the biggest academic presses.
    Further, while I’d love to see both the publishing and tenor processes changed, I don’t think there is a lot of space or leverage for the AHA to exert exterior pressure to make those kinds of changes happen. Influencing the accessibility of dissertations, however imperfect, does seem far more practical to me. While a long term campaign that might nudge the tenure process in a better direction is desirable, many of us on the market now appreciate a little immediate protection in an already fierce and uphill battle to establish a career.

    Reply
  25. Larry Cebula

    Why are we so determined to be irrelevant? This may or may not help a few young scholars (I am skeptical) but it does great damage to the profession as a whole. The public goes to find historical information online, not in bookstores. And we have erected an impenetrable wall between the public and our research. Embargoed dissertations are not the half of it–see also scholarly presses the price books out of reach of anyone but 300 university libraries, conferences with boring presentations and high fees, and (worst of all) JSTOR, which prevents access to anyone who is not a current university student or faculty member.

    JSTOR turns denies access to its database 150 million times a year. That is how many people who are searching for specific information contained in some JSTOR article, are brought to the JSTOR site through a search engine keyword search, and cannot read the article they found because they are not affiliated with a university.

    Now, let’s have another “Why are the humanities declining?” article, shall we?

    Reply
  26. David

    The 50% number doesn’t demonstrate a problem with open access, it demonstrates that publishers believe (seemingly without evidence, though I may have missed it) that open access is a threat to their bottom line

    Whatever the cause of the problem, it does in fact provide pretty graphic evidence that publishers are much less likely to consider a dissertation that is accessible. You may find that problematic as I do, but lots of early commenters were asking for the AHA’s evidence for the decision. Well, there it is.

    Reply
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  33. Anne Whisnant

    While I recognize that AHA is promoting a voluntary embargo option here, I agree with those who say this is a backward approach that allows the strictures and structures of academic publishing and the tenure process in universities to once again define thinking about what “the history profession” is and what it needs. Given that the subset of PhDs for whom this particular set of issues will be pertinent is ever shrinking, and given the revolutionary possibilities of the digital era, wouldn’t AHA’s time, prestige, and energy be better used by taking the lead on new formats and means of scholarly communication (including a radical rethinking of “the dissertation”) than by appearing to be continually trying to shore up a declining system?

    Reply
  34. Michael D. Hattem

    I agree with many of the posters in terms of how, in an ideal world, embargoes would not be necessary, or, even better, that UP’s would not be vested with so much influence in either the hiring or tenure process. But, the fact is, that as of right now, they are. How are junior academics to deal with the situation as it stands, in order to protect their own professional interests?

    Saying, “The AHA does not like anything digital,” is unhelpful hyperbole considering you’re making that statement in the digital comments section of the AHA’s digital blog on its digital website. Similarly, to argue that history is no longer a “book-based discipline” denies reality. Digital history and humanities sites are fantastic, but academics still need a monograph to get tenure.

    While I think we all agree that our work should be freely available, I wonder how many of us (without tenure or a full-time job) that are criticizing this recommendation would choose to leave our dissertation un-embargoed if it meant having to give up a university press book contract (and, subsequently, a job or tenure)?

    Reply
  35. Leon Fink

    On balance, I think the embargo option makes sense: this, despite my own past disdain and distaste for those who wouldn’t share their completed dissertations even under the old, more restricted system of access. No one expects a half-written dissertation to be publicly accessible. By the same token, and esp. given the pressures to move swiftly through PhD programs, a completed diss. is today little more than a half-written book that warrants some professional shelter from indiscriminate access while the author brings the project to a more polished conclusion.

    Reply
  36. Trevor

    @Jessica
    Thanks for your response. This is helpful evidence for further clarifying my concerns. Based on your comments (and they echo those of many others) it’s clear that publishers are telling early career historians that they would not publish books based on dissertations.

    I’m curious to hear from publishers as to what constitutes “substantially different than the dissertation.” Given that most books that are developed out of the raw material of a dissertation and take years of work, I would imagine that any good academic book that has its roots in a dissertation would by default be “substantially different than the dissertation.” Said differently, there are vanity presses out there that will more or less copy edit a dissertation and publish it with blurb on the back of the book, but that is fundamentally not the business that academic publishers are in. For this reason, greater clarification from academic presses is sorely needed and I don’t think I’ve seen it.

    To your point that “I don’t think there is a lot of space or leverage for the AHA to exert exterior pressure to make those kinds of changes happen.” Personally, I think this sells the AHA short. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the AHA is the professional organization for historians who work in the United States. If there is any organization in the United States that can act collectively on behalf of historians it’s the AHA. As such, it would seem to be exactly the type of organization that historians would want to turn to for representing their collective interests. In this particular case, historians are the primary force in deciding which historians get tenure. For a variety of reasons (to some extent) historians outsourced the decisions about who gets tenure in the field to academic book publishers. This proposal accepts the reality that book publishers decide who does and doesn’t get tenure instead working to establish solidarity between historians (the actual people who make decisions about who gets tenure) to either 1) represent the interests of historians and history to the publishers and ask/demand that they not hold it against scholars who decide to make their dissertations open access or 2) work to build consensus among historians to take control of who they do and don’t give tenure to based on a tenure and promotion system that moves away from looking at the book reviews and press a academic monograph based on a dissertation is published by.
    I am not currently a member of the AHA. I have been in the past. I will likely be in the future. I enjoyed getting perspectives, but didn’t really care about the journal, but I don’t imagine that I will join again because I want easier access to the publications. I would rush to join the AHA if I felt like it was doing bold things to advocate for a vision of the future of history in the United States. I want an AHA that is at the forefront of the future of scholarship, that is working to make history as relevant and widely accessible as possible.

    Reply
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  38. Dorothy Bishop (@deevybee)

    There is a bit of a disconnect in the logic here. Surely the key to whether you are an academic success is whether people are interested in your work. Yet what is argued here is that you need to prevent people reading your work in one format – easy access free online – so that it can be made available in another – where it is expensive and less likely to be read.
    Perhaps one way forward would be to insist that online depositories make public the number of downloads of all theses. This way, scholars would have evidence of the popularity of their written work, without needing to rely on publishers.

    Reply
  39. Mareike König

    This is a wrong and deplorable signal that goes into a wrong direction. Young scholars need visibility from the beginning and should not be ball in play of the publishing companies. See our Manifesto: Young Researchers in Digital Humanities
    http://dhdhi.hypotheses.org/1855

    Reply
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  42. Joseph Thomas

    There’s a disconnect in the reasoning behind this proposed embargo in order for libraries to buy books based on revised dissertations. Libraries are buying fewer books altogether, and fewer revised dissertations anyway.

    Reply
  43. low-tech cyclist

    “the book is the measure of scholarly competence used by tenure committees.”

    I see the problem: if the availability of dissertations online undermines the raison d’etre of a book expanding on that dissertation, tenure committees might have to actually read and evaluate the candidate’s published research, rather than simply saying, “Yep, she’s got a book, she’s checked that box.”

    Sorry that the times have added a touch of real work to a soft racket, but that’s life.

    Reply
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  54. Andrew Villalon

    (1) I am a bit upset by the accusation voiced in many comments that in promoting this policy, the AHA is acting in a stupid and stunting manner based on mere speculation and without any evidence. It is a bad rap–as several other comments make abundantly clear. In fact, the association is trying hard to address the relatively new reality of the world wide web by establishing a policy that will protect junior scholars needing to meet widely-entrenched publishing standards for academic tenure.
    (2) The call for the AHA to expend its efforts in other directions is all well and good, but ignores the fact that it has regularly done just that. In recent decades, I for one have read numerous AHA-sponsored articles in an on-going debate over how tenure decisions are made and how the process might be revised. It is not primarily the AHA’s fault that there is such institutional resistance to suggested changes. Is there any other historical organization involved in the same degree of soul searching? Frankly, I would argue that the AHA has usually tried to address issues confronting our profession in a rational, responsive, and largely successful manner. I witnessed this in a very up-close-and-personal way when the professional division was rewriting the guidelines on just how historians should characterize the status of their work in their academic c.v.’s. After having endured a “slap suit” for libel that in part centered around this issue, I contacted the head of the professional division which eventually rewrote and clarified the guidelines in a manner that responded nicely to my issues.
    (3) Like it or not, the fact is that our discipline, unlike many in the sciences, is still book driven, particularly in its upper echelons, the Division I research institutions. In most such institutions, you want tenure, you produce a book. PERIOD. As Mr. Spock once indicated, “it may not be logical, but it is true.” And while it remains true (as it probably will for quite some time to come), the right of the young scholar to protect his or her work from widespread dissemination before it comes out in book form takes precedence over other considerations.
    (4) The new AHA policy does not mandate the embargoing of dissertations; it merely gives the student that option. If a student has strong ideological objections about embargoing or has no intention of revising the dissertation and publishing it in book form, then he or she can forego the option, thereby making the work widely available without delay.
    (5) As several people have already pointed out, there is in fact good evidence—some anecdotal, but some in the form of preliminary studies—that publishers do consider whether or not a book based on a dissertation has already enjoyed wide circulation on the web when deciding whether or not to publish it as a book. One may disagree with their decision, but disagreement makes it no less a reality. (Again consider Mr. Spock.)
    (6) In justice to the publishers, they really do have legitimate financial concerns. In many if not most cases, if a book is not purchased in adequate numbers, it will lose money for the publishers. This is particularly so in the case of academic books where the press runs tend to be small. If posted dissertations siphon off potential book purchasers, or at least are perceived to do so by publishers, this will definitely have a chilling effect harmful to junior scholars.
    (7) To the person who alluded to his/her mentor as having written a separate dissertation and first book, I would have to say “get real!” How many such cases are there in our discipline? Or for that matter, how many can there be? After all, when the tenure clock starts ticking away for newly-minted PhDs, those who are lucky enough to have jobs will have to teach and fulfill their university service functions in addition to stealing time to finish the book? And then there is the little matter of living one’s life outside academe!
    So please line me up with the comments by: Michael Hattem, Mr. Holland, David, Leon Fink, and, of course, Jackie Jones.

    Reply
  55. dkblake

    I am not a historian, but I am a Ph.D. student submitting my dissertation next year in a related humanities historical field. I was very happy to see this stand being taken by the AHA and seriously annoyed at the comments both here and the AHA, many of whom (as usual in comments sections) have no idea what is being argued.

    The issue is simply that dissertations are becoming compulsory publications, and they are not written to be published. They are written as research projects which still require a few years of developing and honing one’s thoughts prior to becoming a formal publication. Turning that document into a publication does not significantly change its circulation, and increasingly disbars recent graduates (who are going through enough problems as it is) from thinking through and developing their dissertation towards a monograph. If you believe the dissertation is the final word you have on a subject, it’s probably not very good to begin with.

    There is a serious fallacy going on here that publishing a dissertation is the only means of getting your ideas out. Have people never presented at conferences? Never published journal articles? Likewise, have people never gone on academia.edu? Ever had a shared Dropbox account? There are plenty of means of circulating your ideas besides an online dissertation database.

    Let us also not forget that compulsory publication can incur onerous copyright issues without access to the subvention funds (or faculty salary levels) often necessary to address them.

    Since my state university has required online submission earlier in the 2010s, none of my colleagues in my department have enabled their dissertations to be made available online. I plan not to. I’ll just have to let journal articles, conference papers, and my academia.edu website transmit my ideas, and continue to develop my ideas towards a monograph. Hard-copy works may seem “stultifying” in the Internet age. What is truly “stupid” is failing to understand that a book still remains the best medium for demonstrating scholarly research. If you have a problem with university presses, that’s one issue. But scholars need all avenues open to develop ideas, including the traditional university press book. Compulsory conversion of the dissertation to a formal publication unnecessarily hinders that process.

    Reply
  56. Dr. Jessica Brannon-Wranosky

    My response: @AHAhistorians stmnt on Diss embargo.

    PhD’s on the market for their first job and/or first publishing contract are a disfranchised group, period. The reality is that open access endangers their academic viability. I began investigating and agitating on this specific topic as far back as 2008, when it came to my attention as a PhD candidate. I gathered names of academic editors and library administrators willing to go on record about the realities of their financial inability to publish/purchase books based largely on openly accessible dissertations. I think open access has a fabulous realm of current and potential uses and purposes. Yet, requiring open access of academic work is a luxury for those with jobs, with tenure, without the need of tenure, or fields not book based. Newly minted PhDs in history often do not fall into any of these categories. Before any stones are thrown, I am a supporter and practitioner of the field of digital humanities, and I am a digital media author. I am not a Luddite; I am a realist. The reality is books are needed for tenure in history, and it is not reasonable to expect those with so much at stake, and without job security, to shoulder a burden that does not show signs of industry wide change in the near future. There is an ever-present frustration with large professional organizations not supporting the graduate student or newly minted PhD condition of existence, but this is not one of those cases. I applaud the AHA for this statement as a stopgap for the interim to allow new faculty members to survive academically until we, historians as part of the larger academia, figure out how to incorporate open access into each discipline’s industry norms and future.

    - See more at: http://blog.historians.org/2013/07/qa-on-the-ahas-statement-on-embargoing-of-history-dissertations/#sthash.x6rEtDsh.dpuf

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  63. ALD

    I was just wondering how many of you caught the next story announcing the hiring of an AHA Director of Scholarly Communications and Digital Initiatives? It contains the following delicious lines:
    “Times have changed. Digital environments allow new forms of communication, dissemination, interaction, advocacy, and teaching that open up a range of possibilities. We can collaborate more effectively; we can explore new kinds of historical sources; we can publish in different ways using innovative modes of communication; we can create new kinds of communities of scholars, teachers, and students, and reach audiences beyond the academy.”
    Times have changed? I wish the new director congratulations and the best of luck…he’ll need it.

    Reply
  64. Pingback: Why I Embargoed My Dissertation | Michael J. Altman

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  66. Ryan M. Poe

    It’s not the reality of the field being book driven that I think most of us are taking issue with, it’s that this decision seems to submit to the unaltered continuation of that reality. I applaud the AHA giving young scholars more choices, but I wish that came in pushing back against outdated publisher. tenure board, and university demands on us and our scholarship.

    Reply
  67. Pingback: Embargoing digital dissertations: A round-up of the discussion so far | History@Work

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  71. Andrew Villalon

    In my earlier post, there was one point I forgot to make, despite its importance, but was reminded of the omission when I read dkblake’s subsequent post, which I quote as follows:
    “The issue is simply that dissertations are becoming compulsory publications, and they are not written to be published. They are written as research projects which still require a few years of developing and honing one’s thoughts prior to becoming a formal publication. “
    As anyone who has worked in academe for any significant period of time is aware (or should be), dissertations run the gamut from very good to quite marginal. That the marginal ones have led to a PhD being awarded can be a reflection of various factors, some justifiable, some not. Examples I have personally witnessed have involved awarding the degree to an individual who has done enormous research work and produced some very interesting results, but whose actual writing and/or organization is substandard. It is easy to say “well, make that person stick around for another year or two until the writing equals the research,” but as a practical matter, that is not always possible. So poorly written dissertations get through more often than we would like.
    The question then becomes, should we saddle a person with that millstone at the beginning of his or her career, by making a substandard piece of work visible to all? I would argue that we should not. As dkblake suggests, in compelling people to put their dissertations on line, we are compelling them to publish material that in many if not most cases is not ready for prime time. I for one wonder how many of those advocating the policy of “full disclosure,” i.e. the electronic publication of dissertations, would care to have early drafts of their work (whether articles, books, or even public lectures), with all the warts still in place, put out for the world to see. I know I wouldn’t. Everything I do goes through numerous drafts (my numbering system sometimes reaches into the thirties) often revised in light of feedback from generous souls. It is only the final product that I would want out there for the world to see (or that part of the world that has any interest).
    Compulsory posting of dissertations is compulsory publication, plain and simple. As dkblake indicates, it is wrong.

    Reply
  72. Pingback: Editors’ Choice: AHA Recommendations Embargoing Completed History PhD Dissertations Roundup : Digital Humanities Now

  73. Tom

    I agree with LarryC that finished, peer-reviewed publications should be more accessible to the public. I do not, however, agree that dissertations fit this category.

    When I was shopping my first book last year, I was asked by at least one publisher if I had embargoed my dissertation. (I had.) Another publisher expressed that he would only accept manuscripts that had been revised “far beyond” the dissertation, specifically because of the online availability of dissertations.

    To me this is an issue the author’s right to publish in the venue of his or her choice. If a student wants to put his or her entire dissertation up on academia.edu, that should be his or her right. It should not be forced on students by universities.

    Reply
  74. Richard Saunders

    An egregiously poor decision on AHA’s part, based partly on faulty assumptions. According to an article just released in College and Research Libraries 74, n.4 (Jul 2013), the vast majority of scholarly presses do NOT have a problem with prior availability of dissertations. Kinda cuts the legs out from under the AHA statement.

    Reply
  75. Pingback: Stupid and Stunting: The AHA’s Statement on OA Dissertations | BiblioBrained

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  77. David

    An egregiously poor decision on AHA’s part, based partly on faulty assumptions. According to an article just released in College and Research Libraries 74, n.4 (Jul 2013), the vast majority of scholarly presses do NOT have a problem with prior availability of dissertations. Kinda cuts the legs out from under the AHA statement.

    That article, as I noted above, said that only 50% of book editors (which is, after all, what we’re talking about) would consider an open access dissertation for publication. That’s a bad number for those worried about tenure. The majority you’re thinking of is for journal editors, which aren’t really germane to the discussion.

    Reply
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  89. Paolo

    A few years ago a colleague contacted a mumber of leading academic presses and asked if the availability of the thesis was an obstacle to the publication of a book based on the thesis. Many of them replied that even if a thesis was submitted without being reworked – which was very unlikely – due to the reviewing and editing process, books are bound to be different from theses, and the availability of the thesis would not be a problem. Some said, however, that once a contract is signed, they prefer/require that the thesis is taken offline for a while. But this is quite different from an automatic six year embargo. A solution of compromise would be to allow an embargo if there is an offer of a contract, and the publisher explicitly asks for an embargo. It seemed that this solution satisfied all presses my collague contacted. No-one seemed to be worried about the prior availability of the thesis.

    Reply
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  92. Ted Karamanski

    When a dissertation is completed there is a “public” defense. Why? Because the completed scholarship is seen as making a contribution to the field and the author is open and able to professionally engage in dialogue. This should not be closed off. The PhD degree is the “reward” for a completed dissertation NOT tenure at a research university. Revise tenure is need be, not scholarly dialogue.

    Reply
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  96. Jim Hubbard

    What about the “marketplace of ideas?” Shouldn’t everyone interested in scholarship want as many pieces of research available as widely and easily as possible? Shouldn’t we all be willing to let the marketplace decide what’s good and bad scholarship?
    A way to make scholarship available over the internet would seem to be a good thing, particularly if it were combined with the capacity to provide cheap paper copies (which is certainly possible) for those who prefer them.
    Why tolerate the interference of self-appointed gatekeepers, particularly in the form of commercial publishers? I can tell good scholarship from bad, and I am merely an elderly historian never part of academia. Surely no one else needs the editors at OUP to tell them what to read or what to value. If tenure committees need such help, maybe some fundamental rethinking is needed.

    Reply
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  127. Nicole

    How is this an issue nowadays? There are tons of self-publishing, on demand printing companies now. Dissertation publishers were always this sort of bizarre micro-niche vanity publishing anyway, so I don’t see how their approval is really necessary anymore.

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