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Student publishing supported by UCL Press: the story of Object, UCL History of Art graduate journal

By ucwcsnl, on 29 June 2016


I am pleased to have an opportunity to share my experience as an editor for Object 17.

Object is a journal produced entirely by graduate students in the History of Art Department at UCL, which has been produced in print form for the last 16 years. The contents of each edition represent the diversity of issues and methodologies with which graduate students in the department are currently engaged. Drawing upon object and theory-based analyses, the studies within Object indicate a continual questioning and renegotiation of meaning in the visual arts. As with previous editions, the essays and reviews included represent the wide range of historical and theoretical concerns of our current research students.

The seventeenth edition of Object was published in open access form online for the first time this year, with the intention – while maintaining the journal’s core values – of wider distribution, increased readership and public engagement via the department’s growing digital platform. As part of a proud departmental tradition, the relationship between Object and its readers has developed over a long period of time. In order to carry on the tradition, while making full use of the new digital platform, we had to think about how the original print format version could be transferred into Open Journal Systems (OJS). This required numerous departmental meetings to decide interface and customization work with UCL Press, who host OJS for the use of student journal publishing. As our original format was not entirely transferrable to OJS I had to think about the structure of the interface (such as how to reorganize the website to achieve clarity and momentum), focusing on what was best for the journal and for the community the journal serves.

Having now published our journal on UCL Press’s OJS platform, the impact of our articles and reviews has become more visible. On the website, our contributors and readers can check the most updated information on where, internationally, their journal has been downloaded. It is wonderful to see that Object is attracting readers from all over the world, which made us more passionate about our research activities.

Offering open access to an art history journal that had previously circulated mainly within universities and museums meant that copyright became an important issue. With a limited budget, I had to think about various ways of persuading the image copyright holders to contribute their images for free. This was challenging because revenue from copyright is an increasingly important source of income for museums and estates. Through constant communication, we eventually received lots of generous contributions.

Apart from dealing with designers to prepare the interface, and ensuring that each article was set within the OJS system, my own duties included setting the schedule for authors to complete manuscripts and have them reviewed, engaging proof-readers to check the articles and helping choose the cover image. Therefore, an eye for detail and building strong collaborative relationships between parties were vital. In discussions, I learnt a lot about editorial policy, the revision process as well as practical matters such as intellectual property rights and formatting.

As an editor, it was my responsibility to participate in the decision whether to accept or reject an article for publication in the journal. Sometimes it required an open and honest discussion and feedback in order to produce a common understanding and outcome that was in the best interest of the authors, the journal and the community. I discovered how to make an objective assessment of a manuscript from an editor’s perspective.

I was lucky that, as an editor for this issue, I could be involved in the initial conception of the project, managing production while working closely with my co-editor Tom Snow, our editorial board, various faculty and staff in the department and UCL Press. It was a rewarding experience to read and edit the many interesting manuscripts from contributors. Overall, I learnt that producing an academic journal is about effective communication between individuals with different kinds of expertise and valuable experience. I genuinely appreciate all the members of our department who were willing to contribute their time, knowledge and brilliant ideas for the publication. Particularly, Prof. Frederic Schwartz and Prof. Rose Marie San Juan, as they know Object‘s unique traditions well and have had long experience working as members of the editorial board of Oxford Art Journal. They helped the team to define and resolve issues for the project. Through the whole process, I learnt how to make good, effective editorial judgments and decisions for serving the needs of the academic community.

As an academic field, art history has abundant resources of invaluable discussion around visual images and culture that can help the wider public internationally to enrich their contemporary understanding. In this respect, open access is crucial, and thinking about the digital platforms was a small step toward that great, distant goal.

During the process, I had to invest a considerable amount of time and effort. But it was extremely rewarding because I could attain a more comprehensive perspective on the practical workings of the academic world. I came to see how my study can be positioned in a larger academic context and how I can grow as an academic who can contribute to the future academic world.

We all worked hard to produce Object online for the first time and had a wonderful departmental celebration during which we could share all the challenges we encountered over several glasses of wine. Although it feels like an important turning point to be launching online, I am fully aware that this is just the beginning of a journey. The new digital platform offers a glimpse of the potential yet to be explored. Fellow students liked the interface. And perhaps due to its enhanced visibility, the proposal for submission has increased this year so we now have two editors and three deputy editors working on the new edition.

Sena Lee

Co-editor, Object 17, History of Art, University College London

Jewish Historical Studies Joins UCL Press: A Letter from the Editor

By uclhmib, on 12 February 2016

Jewish Historical Studies coverJewish Historical Studies: Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England is now jointly published with UCL Press. Why is this such excellent news and of historical significance in itself?

In 2013 the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE) celebrated its 120th anniversary.  It is one of the longest-running historical associations in the world and its journal, commonly referred to as Transactions, began in 1893-94. While its publication has been somewhat irregular (a few world wars happened to intervene), it is famous for featuring some of the most outstanding scholarship in Jewish history – well before Jewish Studies became institutionalised as an academic field. The JHSE is a hybrid: its membership includes full-time academics, part-time scholars and teachers, and those whose livelihoods lie totally outside of education. The JHSE comprises students and retirees, doctors, lawyers, accountants, journalists, musicians, artists, Jews and non-Jews. A rather large share of members are historians whose work engages Jews in the English-speaking world. As an organisation the JHSE has always aspired to promote the best and most current research in Anglo-Jewish history while its remit ranges broadly in Jewish Studies.

Until its most recent issue, Volume 47, Transactions was published privately by the Society. Starting with volume 44, my first as editor, a standardised peer-review process was introduced along with an editorial board. Whereas in the past (almost) all submissions to the journal appeared in print, this is no longer the case. We maintain the central purpose of Transactions – publishing papers that were presented to meetings of the Society – and also provide a venue for the types of scholarship and issues pertaining to research of concern to the Society generally.

In the grand scheme of things, the journal is thriving. Since the presidencies of Ada Rapoport-Albert (UCL) and Piet Van Boxel (Oxford), who initiated a shift to University College London for the Society’s functions, attendance at meetings and conferences has surged. Some fabulous younger scholars, such as David Dee of Leicester’s De Montfort University, Julie Mell of North Carolina State University, and Philip Nothaft of All Souls, Oxford, have published in, and become vital forces in the evolving shape of Transactions. Historians who are at the cutting edge of their respective fields, such as Alex Knapp in ethnomusicology, David Ruderman in intellectual history, Sharman Kadish in material culture, and Susan Tananbaum and David Feldman in social history, have published their latest scholarship in the journal.

Under UCL Press it will appear in print and on-line as an open-access publication, following a path that will make the journal even more attractive for aspiring contributors. (Submissions are piling up in my inbox.)

The next issue, volume 48, which will appear in December 2016, will have a substantial section guest-edited by Theodore Dunkelgrunn of Cambridge, concerning the formidable career of Solomon Schechter. The volume also will comprise ‘regular’ articles, book reviews, and at least one review essay.

    What is it, though, that makes Transactions different? One aspect is apparent in the current issue, which is dedicated to the late Professor David Cesarani of Royal Holloway (1956-2015) (to which we would add the Hebraized acronym z”l, ‘of blessed memory’). While many academic journals refrain from obituaries or any form of institutional recognition of deceased members, we regard this as part of our mission. Is there a historian anywhere who does not find such material helpful, or of interest? We also include information about the life of the JHSE: its current central group and branches, and those who appear at its meetings. Along with reviews of books, now expertly handled by Lars Fischer, there are ‘research reports’, often containing primary source material, which is not the standard fare of academic journals. We are, in the end, a scholarly and academic publication, but proudly more than that.

 As editor of Transactions and on behalf of the JHSE, I wish to thank Lara Speicher, Alison Major and their colleagues for making possible the relationship between the UCL Press and the journal. The well-being of the JHSE and an increasingly robust Transactions are mutually beneficial. To quote that great sage, Rick of Casablana:  ‘I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’

About the author

Michael Berkowitz is General Editor of Jewish Historical Studies and Professor of Modern Jewish History, UCL.

This post was originally posted in UCL Press news in February 2016.

Digital Technologies in Academic Publishing: Thoughts of a Journal Managing Editor

By Alison Fox, on 13 October 2015

I have just completed my year mandate as the managing editor of the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence. Those who know me are aware that I dip my toes both in academia and the tech startup world. And that gives me a rather unusual perspective on both. If one would ask “What were the two things that made you most proud at the journal?” I would simply say switching to open access and developing a social media presence. Both bring the powers of the digital in the service of research, making it faster, more relevant, and more connected to the outside world.

The switch to open access was made in collaboration with UCL Press, dubbed the first fully open-access university press in the UK. We implemented the Open Journal Systems (OJS), which means the submission, editing and publishing processes are now transparent, scalable, and above all else, incredibly quick. We are done anonymising manuscripts, sending dozens of e-mails and docs back and forth, or doing DTP. The work of the academic editor or the reviewers’ has suddenly been simplified and all that could be automated is now automated. We receive dozens of submissions per month now, and we are not snowed under anymore. We are accepting less than a third and keeping the journal high quality.

But the advantage of OJS was not just for us, on the inside. This sounds grand, but it is a great progress for the scientific advancement of knowledge. With this kind of system, it does not take years to get an article published. The slow and cumbersome review process often made research and publications obsolete. This is now a story of the past. It now takes just a few months from start to finish. But what’s even more important, it is open access. Anyone can read it. You don’t have to be in education or pay thousands of pounds for access. You can do so for free, from the first second of it being published by us.

For my clients in the London tech startup environment, it takes me two months to conduct dozens of qualitative interviews and to get quantitative data on millions of users. And it takes me a few days to prepare and present a report. In academia, that kind of research could take half a decade to gather and present to the public. This is completely unacceptable and needs to change. Some visionary initiatives, like Academia.edu, sought to change this. We did it too, at a smaller level, but it works. And it feels damn good.

In addition to open access, using social media to communicate with our audiences only contributed even more to bringing academic research in the now. We are among the most active UK academic journals on Facebook and Twitter, and we used that to keep everyone posted on the latest research available.

With open access and social media, the academic publishing world is changing. This is our chance as researchers to become relevant again, by regaining dynamism.

About the Author

Diana Richards is currently finishing a doctorate at UCL Laws and has been consulting in the digital sector since 2010. More info at http://www.dianarichards.co.uk. The UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence can be found online at http://ojs.lib.ucl.ac.uk/index.php/LaJ.

This post was originally posted in UCL Press news in October 2015.