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Digital Humanities Quarterly to Experiment with Publishing Articles as Sets of Visualizations Rather than Articles in Verbal Form


On April 1, 2014 I was surprised and intrigued to read this post on the Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 933 from Julia Flanders, Editor-in-Chief of Digital Humanities Quarterly, published at Brown University in Providence, R. I. :

"Subject: New publishing model for Digital Humanities Quarterly

"Dear all,

"DHQ is pleased to announce an experimental new publication initiative that may be of interest to members of the DH community. As of April 1, we will no longer publish scholarly articles in verbal form. Instead, articles will be processed through Voyant Tools and summarized as a set of visualizations which will be published as a surrogate for the article. The full text of the article will be archived and will be made available to researchers upon request, with a cooling-off period of 8 weeks. Working with a combination of word clouds, word frequency charts, topic modeling, and citation networks, readers will be able to gain an essential understanding of the content and significance of the article without having to read it in full. The results are now visible at DHQ’s site here:

"We’re excited about this initiative on several counts. First, it helps address a growing problem of inequity between scholars who have time to read and those whose jobs are more technical or managerial and don’t allow time to keep up with the growing literature in DH. By removing the full text of the article from view and providing a surrogate that can be easily scanned in a few minutes, we hope to rectify this imbalance, putting everyone on an equal footing. A second, related problem has to do with the radical insufficiency of reading cycles compared with the demand for reading and citation to drive journal impact factor. To the extent that readers are tempted to devote significant time to individual articles, they thereby neglect other (possibly equally deserving) articles and the rewards of scholarly attention are distributed unevenly, based on arbitrary factors such as position within the journal’s table of contents. DHQ’s reading interface will resort articles randomly at each new page view, and will display each article to a given reader for no more than 5 minutes, enforcing a more equitable distribution of scarce attention cycles.

"This initiative also addresses a deeper problem. At DHQ we no longer feel it is ethical to publish long-form articles under the pretense that anyone actually reads them. At the same time, it is clear that scholars feel a deep, almost primitive need to write in these modes and require a healthy outlet for these urges. As an online journal, we don’t face any physical restrictions that would normally limit articles to a manageable size, and informal attempts to meter authors by the word (for instance, by making words over a strict count limit only intermittently visible, or blocking them with advertising) have proven ineffectual. Despite hopes that Twitter and other short-form media would diminish the popularity of long-form sustained arguments, submissions of long-form articles remain at high levels. We hope that this new approach will balance the needs of both authors and readers, and create a more healthy environment for scholarship.

"Thanks for your support of DHQ and happy April 1!

"best wishes, Julia."

As far as I could tell on April 1, 2014, an example of the visualizations published by Digital Humanities Quarterly could be found at this link. With each article DHQ published the following statement:

"Read about DHQ’s new publishing model, and, if you must, view the article in its original verbal form." [Boldface is my addition.]

Exactly how the visualization provided would be an adequate substitute for the full text of the article, or even a verbal abstract, remained a mystery to me when I wrote this entry on April 1, 2014.

NOTE: When I returned to this entry in September 2020 and visited the DHQ website, it appeared that the journal had adopted a kind of hybrid between textual presentation and visualizations, combining both with the publication of certain papers.

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