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August 07, 2012


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Mary Dudziak

Hi, Al. Thanks for taking up an important issue. I would not encourage a humanities PhD to put their entire dissertation on SSRN or elsewhere online. I posted advice about this a while ago:
My advice would be even more cautious now, since academic presses are even more sensitive to the impact of on-line sources on book sales.

At some point, digitally published academic press books will be more widely respected and treated more like cloth-and-paper books by tenure committees. But even when that happens, PhDs will want to be sure that they can take down or restrict access to the online dissertation when the book version comes out. If presses need payment for downloads to cover the cost of producing even digital books, they'll be less excited about your mss if an earlier version can be downloaded for free.

At the link above I also take up the issue of the benefits and concerns about posting drafts on SSRN when you have very original research that you plan to publish in a book.

Karen Tani

Hi Al, as someone who recently completed a humanities dissertation, I've spent some time talking this over with peers. The consensus seems to be to make it available on Proquest but place an "embargo" on it for a period of months or years. I'm not sure if this is wise, especially given Mary's comments above, but it was common practice among my cohort.

To add another note of caution, I know of a PhD who was careful with his/her dissertation and nonetheless found that someone to whom it was distributed reproduced it and made it available online.

Alfred Brophy

Thanks Mary and Karen for these important words. My experience over many years in several different areas of work -- 19th century literature, 20th century law, and contemporary property -- is that work very quickly migrates into the "public domain." People forget very quickly where ideas/insights/data originated. That points up the importance as Mary's post at LHB points out of getting work out quickly and in a way that people will remember it was your idea/insight/data.

Having said that, I put my dissertation up on proquest immediately. But I think there are really two issues here -- will other scholars use your work, even with citation, and thus the book when it comes out will feel like "old news"; second, will merely having the dissertation in some form up on the net make it feel like "old news." One of my editors many years ago said that there are really different markets for scholarly articles and for books and that it's ok to publish even major parts of a book as articles well in advance of the book. I'd imagine the careful balanced between trying to mark territory by publishing early and holding onto really good data so the book seems new is a delicate one. And it's one I've been struggling with over the years it's taken me to get University, Court, and Slave ready....

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