We are pleased to recommend Paula Findlen’s essay in the September issue of Perspectives on History, “What Counts: On Books, Articles, and Productivity.”
Last September, Findlen read with interest Sarah Maza’s Perspectives article, “Does Size Matter?” on the decline of the big books, noting how the “great beasts” that used to roam the land were being replaced by smaller, more nimble, and less imposing creations.
Findlen looked at her own productive sabbatical, and noticed that she had not produced a long book, a short book, or any book. Instead, she engaged in a series of projects and articles, collaborations and editorships.
“True confession,” she writes, “I’m a failure as a book producer by any traditional standard and it doesn’t bother me in the least.” But she knows that not being bothered is a privilege of rank. “If I were going up for tenure or even promotion to full professor with this profile,” she writes, “my colleagues might wring their hands in utter consternation….” Findlen recommends that historians “come to terms with an expanding range of options that will, of necessity, alter our image of where peer review occurs and what counts as a significant publication.”
Readers who want to follow up on her suggestions will find support in several AHA statements: “Redefining Historical Scholarship,” “Suggested Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Media Activities in Tenure, Review, and Promotion,” and “Tenure, Promotion, and the Publicly Engaged Academic Historian.” These conversations have been happening for some time. Findlen’s article suggests, however, change has been very incremental.
“I’m being deliberately provocative,” Findlen writes. We hope readers will take this as an invitation, and we welcome comments, below.