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AHA: Time to Move from the Monograph to Recognize More Public Kinds of Scholarly Work

Textbooks, congressional testimony, media appearances, historical gaming—the American Historical Association is urging universities to accept more types of work from candidates for hiring, promotion, tenure and other benefits.

It’s a development historians say follows movement—particularly within the field of public history—toward broader recognition. That field involves work regarding national parks, museums, documentaries, archives and historic preservation.

“Historians who were being hired in academic positions to act as public historians were essentially, you know, serving two masters,” said Gregory Smoak, immediate past president of the National Council on Public History.

Smoak said their work as public historians “simply did not count for promotion and tenure. It was devalued in the academic rewards system, and there was even a previous American Historical Association group that worked on this back in the ’90s.”

He said he has seen “incremental” progress since a 2010 report. But he has also had young colleagues dissuaded from certain work “by the fear that they won’t finish that book.”

“More and more we are trying to express the value of the humanities to communities,” he said. “And, more and more, people are saying, ‘I would love to do that kind of work, and if I do that kind of work it could be a career killer.’”

The American Historical Association’s new “Guidelines for Broadening the Definition of Historical Scholarship,” approved by the association's council in January and published in the latest edition of its Perspectives on History magazine, suggests this broadening not just for public history, but history over all. The guidelines aren’t specific on the important question of how to assess these various kinds of output for tenure, promotion and other decisions, but, they say, “there is no reason such work cannot be peer-reviewed after publication.”

“In most history departments, ‘scholarship’ has traditionally and primarily encompassed books, journal articles and book chapters, and papers presented at conferences,” writes Jim Grossman, the association’s executive director, in the magazine. “The weight and significance of each of these vary considerably by institution. The most valued coin of the realm remains not just the book—especially for early and midcareer scholars—but a particular kind of book known only in academia and scholarly publishing as a ‘monograph.’”

“Accessibility too often matters too little, and writing for a broader audience can even be viewed as a negative,” Grossman writes.

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed