|How will hypertext and new media change the nature of scholarly argument, communication, and publication? Although there has been much theorizing about hypertext and scholarship, there are very few concrete examples of scholars using hypertext and new media to present the results of sustained inquiry into the subjects that they study. In order to encourage experimentation in this arena, American Quarterly in collaboration with the American Studies Crossroads Project at Georgetown University and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has launched this experiment in hypertext publishing.
Rather than invite more theoretical statements about the possibilities of on-line publishing, we wanted to see what electronic publication might mean concretely for American studies scholarship. We also wanted to offer some of the conventional validation and peer review that scholarly publication in a journal generally offers. But one immediate problem that we confronted was that if we asked people to submit hypertext essays for review and then, as would be expected, we rejected many of them, the authors would have no other journals where they could submit their work. In other words, if we were the only game in town, then they would not have the option generally open to those whose work is rejected by a scholarly journal--submitting their work elsewhere. In that context, it seemed unfair to require completed projects from authors.
Instead, we asked simply for proposals. In May 1998 we invited people to submit proposals for on-line scholarly "articles." Despite the short time we gave people to prepare the proposals and the limited circulation of the call for proposals, we received more than twenty proposals. Significantly, the proposals were more likely to come from graduate students and recent Ph.D.s--presumably the group most likely to have thought about putting their scholarship into hypertext formats. And interestingly, a number of proposals also came from groups--an indication that the medium encourages people to think about collaboration. An editorial committee--two people from American Quarterly (Lucy Maddox, the editor and Theresa Murphy, the Associate Editor) and the heads of the other two sponsoring groups, Randall Bass of Crossroads and Roy Rosenzweig of Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media--evaluated the proposals. We also sent out some of the proposals to subject matter experts to get additional opinions.
The four successful proposals were given a green--or really "yellow"--light to proceed. We gave them the summer to prepare prototypes of their projects, which we would judge further to see if they should be fully developed. Thus, while we did not fully follow the conventional peer review process, these projects received substantial scholarly scrutiny. In September, we gave all four the go ahead, while also asking for significant revisions in the directions in which some were going. (The happy coincidence that the four members of the editorial committee live in the Washington, DC area made it possible for us to meet regularly in person. Ironically, the electronic medium seemed to make in-person meetings more rather than less necessary, because we often needed to look at on-line prototypes together as a group.)
We have now opened the projects for public view. In addition, the June 1999 issue of the American Quarterly includes comments on the experiment from the authors and from other scholars.
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