It’s Open Access Week, in this, the sixth year of my blog (AKA 2015). Like many younger scholars and people who have grown up with the most recent incarnations of digital humanities, I’ve been an open access enthusiast for a long time. But since I haven’t had a lot of my own publications, my version of openly sharing knowledge has normally been to post talks that I’ve given here in this space.
Earlier this year, however, I had an article come out in American Imago. It was exciting for a number of reasons. First, PUBLICATION! 🎉 Second, it was an essay that I’d been working on getting published since 2009 but that had been interrupted for years at a time because of family health problems and the challenges of working as a low-wage adjunct and then the changing nature of my work. Third, it was the first publication to come directly out of my dissertation research. I remain proud of the work that I did on that project, but also don’t really expect to see much more of it come to light given the different sorts of research I do these days. Fourth, I was excited to be working with The Johns Hopkins University Press because their author agreement was really very generous with what I could do with my own work. Past publications have seen me trying to use the SPARC Author Addendum to try to argue for expanded access to my own research. JHUP was going to give me those rights without me having to convince them.
And so, at the beginning of this week, I thought: I should make this essay open access, since I have the right to do so. I decided that I would share it via the MLA’s Commons Open Repository Exchange, or CORE. Part of the innovative community structure that the MLA has built for its members to share and discuss their work, CORE is a disciplinary-focused, “permanent, open access storage facility for [members’] scholarly output.” Not only does CORE allow researchers to share their work with the world, but it makes it easy to let others in the MLA who have interests in common with you know about the article. And did I mention that CORE handles a lot more types of research output than just PDFs? My good friend and steampunk collaborator, Rachel Bowser, and I submitted a talk we gave earlier this year to CORE, and it was a good experience. So with all of that and some institutional loyalty to the MLA as a member of the Executive Council, CORE was a perfect fit for my article.
One of the last lines of the CORE deposit asked me how I wanted to license the article for use by others in the future. I tend to prefer the CC-BY license, as that gives the most possible avenues for my work to be used again by others, and it’s what applies to everything I share on this site. I decided to check the author agreement one more time to see if that had any specific instructions about what I should do in this case. Here’s what I found:
Rights of the Author: You have the following nonexclusive rights: (1) to use the Article in your own teaching activities; (2) to publish the Article, or permit its publication, as a part of any book you may write or edit; (3) to include the Article in your own personal or departmental institutional database or on-line site; (4) to include the Article in your institutional repository provided the repository is institution specific and not a discipline-based database that accepts contributions from outside the institution; (5) to include your Article, if required by law, in an open access archive such as PubMedCentral.
When I had first reviewed the author agreement in February, I paid particular attention to point 3, which meant that I could put the essay on my website and share it that way. I had also noticed that point 4 meant that I could put it in an institutional repository. But this week, it was the second half of the point 4 that caught my attention: I can’t share the article in a “discipline-based database that accepts contributions from outside the institution.” When I signed this, MLA CORE wasn’t yet live and I just didn’t notice the prohibition.
While I don’t like this particular clause in the agreement, it is nevertheless an agreement and one to which I was a willing party. As much as I would like to support the MLA and to share the article in what I think would be the most useful means for my disciplinary peers, that’s not an option. In the future, I will certainly negotiate my author agreements to try to get permissions to submit to CORE. I might not always get it, but at least I will know to ask.
The other thing worth mentioning is that I’m currently serving the second year of a four-year term on the MLA’s Executive Council. It’s been a tremendous learning experience to this point, and I’m proud to be working with an organization that I care about. (You may consequently call my above comments about CORE “boosterism,” but please note that I speak only for myself and not for the MLA.) But from this vantage point, I have the opportunity (as do all MLA members) to bring items to the attention of the organization. You can be sure I’ll be talking to MLA staff and fellow Council members at our meeting next week about how the MLA might advocate to publishers—even ones with liberal and good starting places like JHUP—to re-consider clauses like point 4 in their author agreements.
Was this a bait and switch? “Where’s the article?” you clamor. Nope, not at all. Please help yourself to your very own copy of “‘Becoming Another Thing’: Traumatic and Technological Transformation in The Red Badge of Courage.” What? You can’t tell what it’s about given that title? Of course not! This is academia!
Here’s how I described the argument in the abstract:
This essay examines the traumatic transformation of Stephen Crane’s young protagonist in battle. It argues that this metamorphosis is brought on by the technologies on the battlefield and the youth’s outdated expectations about their speed. Further, it explores how Crane deploys tropes of mechanical and media technologies—especially the phonograph and the camera—to describe the protagonist’s psychically dissociated state and to account for the processing of traumatic memories. It closes by demonstrating that The Red Badge of Courage deploys metaphors of technology as a way to demonstrate the continuing relevance of the novel as genre in the face of rapidly evolving media ecologies.
That captures it pretty well. But it’s probably more accurate to say that this is what you get when you take someone who has been reading a lot of Virilio, Kittler, and Bolter and Grusin and then let them loose on Freud and Crane. Whether that’s something anyone actually wants is something else altogether.