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REED-L  June 2002

REED-L June 2002

Subject:

Re: International Undergraduate Shakespeare Journal

From:

Thomas Larque <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

REED-L: Records of Early English Drama Discussion

Date:

Mon, 3 Jun 2002 09:47:36 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (157 lines)

> Do we really need this "publication"?   I would be interested in hearing
> what you think this journal would offer that others don't. As a non
> Shakespearean, I am under the impression that there are more places
> to publish articles, books, reviews and "notes" on Shakespeare than on
> any other single topic.   Thomas, it sounds as if you have already been
> able to find an audience for your work, in fact.  Don't these
> opportunities exist for undergraduates who are doing quality work?  In
> fact, if they had work that could be published elsewhere, why would > they
publish with this Journal?  Wouldn't its very name be a stigma?
> Will this just be a place for students to publish who can't publish
> elsewhere?

I certainly am not in a position to deny that *some* undergraduates may have
the chance to be published by mainstream Journals.  After all, I have found
an outlet for my reviews.  However, such opportunities are fairly limited.
I was in the right place at the right time with the right things to offer.
Most undergraduates are not so lucky.

Furthermore, although I have found an outlet for my reviews, I have not yet
even tried to publish an article or essay based on research or literary
criticism in a refereed journal.  I may well try this at some stage in my
undergraduate career, but I am aware that it will be a *very* lengthy and
difficult undertaking.  Not only is there a huge amount of competition for
limited places - I would guess that the abundance of Shakespeare Journals is
undermined by the huge number of scholars who either specialise in or have
an underlying interest in Shakespearean studies - but the quality demanded
for articles printed in mainstream Journals is usually set far above the
level of even the best undergraduate.  There is an unstated requirement for
genuine originality, for example - something that is not demanded of
students until they start working at Doctoral level - and an expectation
that the writer will have a wide-ranging expertise in their subject area
based on years of study.  A simple indication of this difference of
expectations can be seen by consulting the bibliographies at various levels.
As an undergraduate student known for unusually long bibliographies I
usually list somewhere between two and twenty-three items for a standard
essay.  A successful MA dissertation that I have to hand lists thirty-eight.
By contrast, a single
essay in "Early Modern Literary Studies" contains an average of forty to
fifty "Works Cited", or extensive research of another kind to give similar
weight to the research.  Undergraduate students are just not normally
expected to read that many books on a single small subject area, and many
simply do not have the time.  The Bibliography question is merely the tip of
an iceberg, the overall quality and level of understanding expected from an
article printed in a mainstream Journal is light-years ahead of standard
undergraduate work, and any undergraduate hoping to publish in such a
Journal would have to stop working at their own level and produce work that
rivals that of Professors and postgraduate students.  Postgraduate students,
of course, *are* expected to be experts - even if only in the narrow subject
of their dissertation - while undergraduates are expected to be generalists.

The first thing that an undergraduate Journal would offer that other
Journals would not, therefore, is a place where undergraduates can publish
undergraduate level research and writing.  The quality of the work published
would not have to depend so much on extensive experience or massive
background reading, and could focus more strongly on the quality of the
ideas rather than the length of the bibliography.  In short, an
undergraduate Journal should be willing to publish excellent *undergraduate*
work, while mainstream Journals would only consider work that was excellent
by the standards of professional researchers.  There is a world of
difference between the two standards.

As for whether undergraduates would be willing to publish in such a Journal,
I certainly hope so.  As Elza Tiner has suggested, having an addition to a
CV should not be the only motivation.  Many students should actually find
the experience of writing for such a Journal and having their work published
enjoyable and rewarding, in the same way that they would enjoy writing for a
Campus Newspaper or belonging to any other student society.  Very few
students are put off from such activities by the thought that they could be
acting in the West End rather than on a University stage, or that they could
be writing for the New York Times rather than the Campus Paper.

> In another vein, there are distinct problems with "online" publications
> when it comes to establishing credentials for anybody.  If there is an
> editorial review process, with established, not to say distinguished,
> scholars on board, then it will be taken seriously by some.  But there
> are many graduate schools (or tenure committees) that will be
> skeptical about this as a publishing credit. (Of course, they could
> judge for themselves with an easily accessible website.)

This may well be true, but in the first place "establishing credentials"
should only be a side-effect or bonus of publication in this Journal.
Having fun, getting recognition, finding a wider audience for your writing,
and experiencing the publication process would also be major motivations.

As far as "establishing credentials" goes, undergraduates are not normally
expected to have published any of their academic writing anywhere, so I
would guess that those who have made the effort and got themselves published
would be given some credit just for having the interest and enthusiasm to
have done so, in the same way that they would get credit for playing an
active role in the University English Society, or for carrying out voluntary
work in their field of interest.

On the deeper question of whether a publication in an Undergraduate Journal
might be considered a genuine "publishing credit", it is worth pointing out
that there are already online Postgraduate Journals of this kind - for
example "Postgraduate English" at
http://www.dur.ac.uk/~dng0zz5/journal1.htm - and Birmingham University's
Shakespeare Institute runs an annual Postgraduate Conference to give
students the chance to present papers.  The postgraduate students who write
for or give papers at such student-only outlets are obviously gaining
something or they would not take part.  One thing that they are gaining is
experience (of publication or presentation), in a relatively safe venue with
a greater chance of succeeding than they would have in mainstream academic
publications or conferences - but judging from the many academic CVs
published by Assistant Professors (and others of a similar level) on the
Internet they also gain a credit that they can proudly display on their CV.
Writing for a student-only Journal or Conference may not be as prestigious
as being published in the "Shakespeare Quarterly", but it gives an advantage
over those who have not been published at all.

For undergraduates the prestige of writing for a student-only publication
would surely be much greater.  While postgraduates are expected to be able
to write to a standard suitable for publication in mainstream academic
Journals before the end of their course, undergraduates are not expected to
do so.  For most undergraduates the choice would not be between the
"Shakespeare Quarterly" and an undergraduate journal, but between an
undergraduate journal and nothing.

> But if you are going to all of the trouble of establishing an online
> presence that can be taken seriously and be sustained over the longer
> term, why restrict it to undergraduates?   As Jim O'Donnell notes in
> Avatars of the Word, without paper, publishing, mailing etc. costs,
> the only real  restriction on online publishing is the stamina of the
> editors.

There are a few points here.  Firstly, I am not sure how interested
Professors and prominent postgraduates would be in publishing for a Journal
that was edited by an undergraduate and was willing to publish undergraduate
research.  Secondly, a Journal which allowed submissions from everybody
would promptly push out all but the most exceptional fraction of a
percentage point of undergraduates - leaving those who would have been able
to publish in mainstream academic journals in any case.  The aim of an
Undergraduate Shakespeare Journal would be to offer an outlet that does not
currently exist elsewhere.  My main motivation is that I would have liked to
write for such a Journal, but it doesn't yet exist so I am having to invent
it.  I would like to think that it will fill a niche that nobody has yet
occupied.

> I imagine that students at my institution would be potential
> contributors here.  We require senior theses that are sometimes quite
> good, but rarely find an audience outside of the committees that grade
> them.

Yes.  This is the sort of thing that I would hope to encourage.  I am sure
that I am not the only undergraduate who would like to write for an audience
rather than simply writing for a grade, and an undergraduate Journal would
give the opportunity to do this without having to take a break from your
degree to write a mainstream academic Journal article at a standard
equivalent to a PhD thesis or better.

Thanks to Amelia Carr, and everybody else for their comments.  This
discussion has given me much to think about.

Thomas Larque.

"Shakespeare and His Critics"
http://shakespearean.org.uk

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