Today on Slate, I do one of my things where I have a really quick and easy idea that will fix a huge problem in academia with little or no new effort (in this case, it is simply redistributed effort), and everyone laughs at it and yells at me.
Today the subject of my things-fixing is academic peer review, specifically in the humanities (though some in the sciences will find familiarity too–though I hope not in the 18-month wait time!). In fact, peer review is such a passionate subject amongst academics that I have a follow-up column for an academic audience coming out in Vitae on the heels of this one! ACADEMICS HAVE A LOT TO SAY ABOUT PEER REVIEW, and I want to help the system be better for them, even though I plan never to participate in it again.
So, what do you guys think? Is this a good idea–or, more importantly, will its good far outweigh its harm? Is it yet more unpaid academic labor (or, rather, “more” labor for people who should be doing it in the first place–bigwigs who submit their old recycled stuff to top-tier journals and simply expect them to be accepted?)? I want to hear from you!
Here, in case you’re wondering, is a full list of my experiences with peer review.
- My first article ever, “The Mirror and the Tower,” on 18th Century Sturm und Drang (wot? yes! I love Sturm und Drang! I do, I do!), was submitted to the Women in German Yearbook in 2007 when I was still a grad student. It got a revise-and-resubmit that was helpful but pretty harsh (though I can’t blame the reviewer because feminist Germanists do NOT like David Welberry and my stuff was based almost entirely on one thing he wrote once). I revised and resubmitted, and then it was rejected solely on the basis that I used one quote from one source that they did not deem sufficiently scholarly. I was pretty bummed, but one of my mentors, the luminously brilliant Gail Hart (sorry Gail, now everyone knows I love you), said “Nah, it was good! Just send it somewhere else!” So I sent it to a comp-lit journal called Sympoisum that only accepted submissions on paper (!), and received an acceptance, also on paper (!) while I was living in Vienna in 2008. Whee!
- My second article, which began its life in 2009, “Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, Kafka’s Verwandlung and the Limits of Metaphor,” was rejected out of hand without being sent out for peer review by Philosophy and Literature. A few months later, the editor of Phil & Lit died, and I was probably not as sad as I should have been. Because what the fuck, not even sending it out? So I sent it next to Modern Austrian Literature, where it underwent a two-year R & R epic saga under the eye of an increasingly irate reviewer who–it became increasingly clear–had not so much as skimmed the Ludwig Wittgenstein Wikipedia page. I made all of his/her changes dutifully and with good humor, and my tenacity was rewarded when the article finally came out in 2011.
- My third article, which was solicited (ha!), “Unerschütterlich: Kafka’s Proceß, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and the Law of Logic,” was accepted enthusiastically on first pass at The German Quarterly, with only minor revisions. Huzzah!
- My book, Kafka and Wittgenstein, came about because an editor at Northwestern noticed I was presenting a paper on Robert Walser at the 2011 GSA, and asked to meet with me (and I was like HELL YES OK WHAT IS THIS A JOKE?). In advance of the meeting, I sent him a galley proof of the German Quarterly article. On the basis of that German Quarterly article alone (no proposal), I was offered an Advance Contract on a book (which, one of my former faculty members and many Chronicle commentators were quick to remind me, “doesn’t mean much”). I finished the manuscript of Kafka and Wittgenstein in May of 2013 and was given the readers’ reports (WHICH WERE AWESOME and not even a little bit like the ones I pick on today), later that year. The book then went to Acquisitions, where it was accepted for publication and is now forthcoming.
- My final academic article, “Nichts zu sagen,” which I am just gonna go ahead and upload here in draft form (because, why not?), was submitted to Modern Language Notes in October of 2012. I have yet to hear a single, solitary peep back about it.