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

SenaLee29 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