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Challenges and Changes in Humanities Publishing with a Spotlight on Classical Studies

Detail of statue and arch from Raphael's Disputa.
Logos and headers for these journals: Bryn Mawr Classical review, The Digital Archaeological Record, Open Library of Humanities, Open Context, Humanities Commons.

This post originates from my contribution to the 2020 SCS Panel on Humanities Publishing organized by Deborah Stewart, Director of Penn's Museum Library, and sponsored by the Forum for Classics Librarians and Scholarly Communications, a group within the Society for Classical Studies.

I have spent the entirety of my career in collections. My first position was at the University of Kansas. I had a typewriter to produce order slips and I remember hauling around the volumes of the German books in print. Our collections were in print, we worked from card catalogs, and we had a microfiche catalog for journals. We had one dedicated OCLC terminal, and we offered mediated database searching at cost, with no screen, a printer, thermal paper, and dial-in access. The US dollar was weak against European currencies, and European journal prices were beginning to escalate. Today, our libraries provide access to multi-formatted resources, and we work with publishing environment that is increasingly disrupted.

I began librarianship as German languages and literature bibliographer, and today I work with multiple European languages, Greek, and Latin as a classical studies librarian. I find it exhilarating to work with the extremely interdisciplinary classical studies field. It is a field that  embraces the future along with the past. Scholars in the field have been leaders in the development of digital publishing.

Ancient studies, broadly speaking, can boast the Bryn Mawr Classical Review as the oldest continuously open-access online resource – predating arXiv by one year—as well as long-lived openly accessible platforms such as Perseus Digital Library, TOCS-IN, and Nestor, and newer groundbreaking platforms such as Open Context, tDAR, and Dickinson College Commentaries, to name just a few. The Penn Classical Studies Department's own Vergil Project dates back to 1995.

These long-lived and newer projects do not privilege the new. The published record for ancient studies does not become obsolete. The monograph remains an important publication format, and research collections represent primary evidence in multiple languages and formats, including printed text, inscriptions, physical and represented artifacts, all of which cross multiple disciplines including economics, history, philosophy, art, architecture, archaeology, numismatics, philology, and literature. Many of these projects made their contents openly accessible before the phrase “open access” was in use.

A growing number of open access initiatives promote a sustainable environment that supports scholars, publishers, and libraries. The Penn Libraries supports many open access initiatives, including, among others, Open Library of the Humanities, a grant and library supported effort primarily for journals. Its model takes into consideration the limited funding available to scholars in the humanities. Peerj is a platform for biological sciences and computer science. It posts pre- and post-peer reviewed work and facilitates an open-peer review process. Knowledge Unlatched works with libraries and existing publishers (including Brill, DeGruyter, and US and European university presses) to provide sustainable, open access monographic publishing, especially for subjects which may target smaller audiences.

Our current publishing environment includes fewer and fewer publishers. This consolidation effectively erodes the competitive market, which translates into growing costs for libraries. Ultimately, this means that many libraries trend away from purchasing scholarly monographs, which are still central to humanities scholarship. University presses have seen expected sales to libraries drop significantly over the past years. With fewer publishers, bargaining power is diminished, and even the scholarly community’s control over its own production is eroded.

Publishing is essential for the success of the humanities scholar. Libraries have a mission to share and preserve the scholarly record. It then follows that it is within a research library’s mission to work toward a solution for a sustainable publishing ecosystem in order to serve scholarship across all disciplines. Humanities scholars, who have a unique set of goals and needs, can see their library as a partner in the challenges and changes ahead. Libraries are already pursuing different approaches to resolve the challenges within an increasingly complex and unsustainable publishing ecosystem.

Scholars can work with publishers, libraries, and other entities in order to develop their aspirations for open and multi-modal scholarship

Open access publishing is an experimental area of publishing, developing in large part to counter some of the more hegemonic and costly publishing practices that have become dominant.

If you are considering publishing in an open access journal, you can take a couple of steps to determine the viability of your chosen journal.  While many open access journals are peer reviewed, others are not. You do want to verify that you are choosing the right publication, and there are ways you can do this.

One obvious solution is to confer with your colleagues, but there are also tools available that can help you with this process. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a Creative Commons licensed platform. The DOAJ has a thorough review process (recently revised to address the rise of opportunistic publications). Each journal meets criteria for inclusion. DOAJ also awards a “seal” for a high level of openness and high publication standards (both defined at the site), including long term preservation and archiving and allowing the author to retain their copyright. Each journal’s editorial information is clearly presented, including the journal’s method of peer review, its aim and scope, its submission charges, if any, and more. You can easily review a journal’s articles to see which scholars are publishing with the journal.

Ulrichsweb, a subscription database, is a journal directory that is available at most academic libraries. There, you can limit your journal search to scholarly, peer-reviewed status. Each Ulrichsweb journal entry notes whether the journal is open access or subscription based. It also provides a link directly to the journal or publisher site. Journals have to be well established, to be included in Ulrichsweb. For instance, Archivio d’Annunzio (AA) is listed in DOAJ and it is also listed in Ulrichsweb. Ulrichsweb confirms that AA is an academic, open access journal that is both refereed and peer-reviewed, with a start year of 2014.


Regardless of whether the journal with which you are publishing is open access or not, you will want to secure your ability to promptly post your work in (usually your library’s) institutional repository (IR)–whether or not you are posting the “version of record.” Materials in IRs are highly discoverable via Google searches, which means you will reach a wide audience, going well beyond the readers of the journal or those in your immediate discipline.  (For an example of a journal's guidelines to self-sharing of published research, see Cambridge Core on social sharing.)

It cannot be over-estimated how important it is to read and consider your contract with your publisher. You may find that its terms limit your ability to freely reuse elements of your work without permission from the publisher. Look at alternative model author contracts to help you understand what you can reasonably ask for even if you are not prepared to replace the publisher’s contract completely. The SPARC Addendum is a good place to start. SPARC, an international scholarly coalition, worked with Creative Commons and Science Commons to develop the contract. You can download the addendum, a one page legal document, which is intended to “supplement and modify” a publisher’s contract.

Why go to this extra effort? Making your work open access means that you make your work available to the largest possible audience. Your work will be discoverable and accessible beyond those who share your specialization. Undergraduates will be more likely to come across your work, high school students and their teachers will come across your work, and curious people – who will never have heard of and likely have no access to discovery tools that are used by the discipline - will benefit from your scholarship.

Part II Multi-modal Publishing in the Humanities

Multi-modality is unavoidable when researching the ancient world. Scholars rely on primary evidence derived from multiple physical and virtual formats. How can we represent this cornucopia of possible evidence in a way that makes it intuitive for an audience and that is affordable for publishers?

Libraries offer one solution through their institutional repositories (IRs). IRs can handle multiple media formats from music samples, to 3D imagery, to video, to interactive maps. IRs notably provide permanent links and DOIs for digital artifacts, and their best practices include long-term storage, accessibility, and portability. Scholars and publishers can work with their libraries to take advantage of this service. IRs are highly discoverable via Google and Google Scholar searches, and discovery of your supporting media will raise the discoverability of and direct the public to your published work even if the final version is not openly accessible.

Multi-modal Sites To Explore

Open Context, founded by archaeologists Eric Kansa and Sarah Whicher Kansa, is funded by the NEH, IMLS, Hewlett Foundation, and the NSF. Exploring Open Context will introduce you to a different paradigm for publishing. Open Context’s goals resonate with traditional publishing, but they emphasize replication and reusability, sharing, and an open path for enriching and fostering future research. Open Context publishes documents, field notes, diaries, images and maps, vocabularies and typologies, artifact and “ecofact” data. Items receive stable identifiers for online and offline citation. Open Context strives to interlink its data to other research repositories in order to raise discoverability and use across the wider universe of information. Publishing services do come with a fee. Significantly, Open Context creates partnerships with academic presses to provide the printed text with the data and evidence that support arguments and findings. Additionally, Open Context’s editorial board assists contributors with the cleaning and organizing of their data.  The Digital Archaeological Record, tDAR, is a not-for-profit that provides similar services for small fees. tDar allows you to “identify digital documents, data sets, images, and other kinds of archaeological data for a number of uses, including research, learning, and teaching.” Both Open Context and tDar are committed to long term preservation.

The Humanities Commons began as an initiative of the Modern Language Association (MLACommons).  It expanded to incorporate three other humanities associations, Association for Slavic, Eastern European, and Euroasian Studies (ASEEScommons) the Association for Jewish Studies (AJScommons), and the College Art Association (CAAcommons). Any individual can engage with the materials in the HumanitiesCommons, although association members have additional privileges. The site provides a venue for a professional presence, discussion of common interests, and development of scholarly works in a system that facilitates collaboration and comment. Unlike some of the other academic sharing sites that we’ve become familiar with during the past decade ( or ResearchGate, for instance), HumanitiesCommons is open-access, open-source, and not-for-profit. HumanitiesCommons just received a $500,000 challenge grant from the NEH, which will support the project's long-term sustainability. Kathleen Fitzpatrick was the Director for Scholarly Communication at the MLA at the inception of the Commons and largely responsible for the early development and concept of the MLACommons. She is still the project director. Fitzpatrick has experimented with these new approaches with her own work. She blogged extensively about the content for her recently released book, Generous Thinking, while it was in progress. Fitzpatrick also arranged with her publisher, Johns Hopkins UP, to have an open peer review of her book. Fitzpatrick is a co-founder of MediaCommons, which supports scholarly innovation in media studies.

While there may be challenges due to departmental or institutional policies and politics, there also is a certain inevitability about this new face of publishing. The highly commercialized and profit centered practices that have grown up around science publishing are not compatible with the very different set of resources, priorities, and needs in the humanities.  Disciplines working with ancient philology, texts, and archaeology are set to lead the way – because of the inter-disciplinary-multi-disciplinary nature of the field, the multi-modal nature of the evidence scholars rely on, and the broader field’s history of applying and experimenting at the cutting edge of technology.



March 23, 2020