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NEH Grantees Experiment with New Kinds of Peer Review

August 24, 2010 | By Brett Bobley

You know a revolution is brewing when digital humanities makes the front page of the New York Times. The article -- "Scholars Test Web Alternative to the Venerable Peer Review" by Patricia Cohen -- discusses two NEH/ODH-funded Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant projects that are exploring new methods of scholarly publishing, communications, and peer review.  Just last month, these same two Start-Up Grants were also featured in a piece written by Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  

The Times article talks about a special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly that is experimenting with an online peer review system.  In a nutshell, authors posted drafts of their articles on the web and a group of Shakespeare scholars, chosen by Shakespeare Quarterly, read and reviewed the drafts using an open, “crowd sourced” model.  The article quotes Katherine Rowe from Bryn Mawr College, who is the guest editor of the journal and the co-project director for the NEH Start-Up Grant “The Cambridge World Shakespeare Encyclopedia: An International Digital Resource for Study, Teaching, and Research” that was awarded to the University of Southern California in collaboration with Bryn Mawr and the Cambridge University Press.  The goal of this grant is to experiment with new modes of publication and peer review for Shakespeare studies. 

In order to conduct this experiment, Katherine and Shakespeare Quarterly needed to select a web platform capable of facilitating online peer review.  What’s particularly interesting to me is that they decided to go with MediaCommons, a project from New York University and the Institute for the Future of the Book that was also funded by an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant.  That grant,  “MediaCommons: Social Networking Tools for Digital Scholarly Communication,” helped to build the MediaCommons platform which has now been successfully used to host a number of online peer review projects as well as form a communications hub for media studies scholars.  The Times piece quotes Kathleen Fitzpatrick, from Pomona College, one of the founders of MediaCommons and a principle participant in the Start-Up Grant.

I’m pleased that the Start-Up Grants are having an impact on the field and giving scholars the opportunity to experiment with new modes of publication and peer review.  If you are interested in applying for a Start-Up Grant, the next deadline is October 5.  Please see our guidelines and our most recent list of awardees.