What's New at LiteraryHistory.com
April 20, 2013. Sorry to say this, but in my humble opinion the Open Library and Internet Archive both continue to be a disaster. The Internet Archive interface is horrible, and has been horrible in exactly the same way for years. It and Open Library claim to have books that they do not have, referring you back and forth to each other, until you finally discover they only have a title--not even a chapter listing, a title only. However, it takes a lot of following links and digging to find out that they do not have a book they claim to have. I've been suckered by their misrepresentations in the past, so today I went so far as to register for an account at Open Library, required to "see" their "copy" of Robert W. Corrigan's Arthur Miller: A Collection of Critical Essays. Registration meant the usual security steps of transcribing some difficult to read words, verifying your email address, etc. And for what? A chance to read the title! I assume these two enterprises are receiving some kind of public support. They need to do a better job.
March 2013. Since my Feb. 22 update JSTOR has changed its policies about free access once again, at least for some of its publications. Previously they required users to register to see their free articles; now many of the same articles are free without any registration (noticed on my Hawthorne update). Although this is a change for the better, the frequent revising of policies unnerves me, because I worry the current policy will be as quickly changed.
Feb. 22, 2013. It is such a wonderful development to see these two important academic institutions, JSTOR and American Literature, as described below, finally make serious inroads in bringing literary scholarship to the internet. Oh please, let this continue. Academic publishers must find a way to make this work. Forget about "Google Scholar." That is the biggest oxymoron of the century (so far). Scholarship requires real scholars, so please guys, do it, the next generation needs for you to figure out how to make the internet deliver the goods, and figure out how you can survive financially too.
Jan. 28, 2013. JSTOR, an important distributor of leading peer-reviewed journals, is being extremely generous about access at the moment. Our most recent updates for Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Percy Bysshe Shelley give a sample of how generous. For the Shelley page, we have just linked to 20 free scholarly articles from JSTOR, on three of the poems most frequently searched by students: "To a Skylark," "Ozymandias," and "Ode to the West Wind."
The very liberality of the offerings worries me though, stirring my suspicions that like so many internet giveaways (even from respectable scholarly sources), this is too good to last and will soon disappear. So, although the Elizabeth Barrett Browing and Percy Shelley pages exemplify what might be done on the internet, how a flow of good information might eventually drive out the poor and commercial sites, given a more liberal release of literary criticism from the academic community; still, we are hesitant to index many of these JSTOR free articles. Indexing is time-consuming, and when these freebies disappear our links go dead, and our users are disappointed. This has happened so many times in our 15-year history that we hate to risk a large commitment in indexing the newly available JSTOR material. We recommend that readers avail themselves of the JSTOR site and do their own searches there, to read some of "the best which has been thought and said" about British and American fiction, poetry, and drama. [Update Feb. 22: I've been unable to resist cataloging vast amounts of the JSTOR material for all the pages I've updated since Jan. 28th. It's just so good. I'm know I'll be sorry I did this when JSTOR changes their policies and all those links go dead. Oh well. Maybe users will search out the articles they see here in a library. . .]
Nov. 13, 2012. American Literature, an academic journal considered "the preeminent periodical in its field," currently has a "most read articles" page, listing the fifty most often accessed articles for the previous month. Users may view, for free, the full-text of all those articles. Very generous and enlightened! And great reading. We hope this will last.
Oct. 30, 2012. I stumbled on a noteworthy new venture today, though whether it's notable in a good way or a bad one is an open question. The site is called saylor.org: free education, and it's dedicated to the proposition that "education should be free." They offer free courses in fourteen fields, including English literature. The publisher, Michael J. Saylor, is a flamboyant dot.com businessman who founded a technology company, MicroStrategy. More on his colorful business career can be found in this Fortune magazine article, which is worth reading, quite a story. The curriculum for an English major at Saylor U is impressive, but the roster of academic advisors for English lit is not. Saylor.org.
Two substantial institutional projects: the ACLS Humanities E-Book Collection and the HathiTrust Digital Library. The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) project is a growing digital collection of high quality books in the humanities, which are available through their web site to libraries and, great news for the non-affiliated, by individual subscription (although individuals must be members of one of many learned societies). The cost for an individual subscription is reasonable, currently $40 annually, and it appears to have titles that regularly appear on English professors' recommended bibliographies. ACLS Humanities E-Book Collection is a much-needed alternative to the commercial subscription service Questia.com.
The HathiTrust Digital Library explains itself grandly as "a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future." What they will end up doing and how much public good they'll provide remains to be seen. I wish they could deliver on the promise of public access to out-of-copyright editions - which were for a few heady years right here on the internet as a result of Google's huge scanning initiative (now turned into ebooks for sale by Google). That was a goldmine for scholars, especially those of us working in the nineteenth century, with found treasures in the pile that included page scans (much more reliable than transcriptions) of canonical authors' first editions, and full-book page scans of long-out-of-print nineteenth-century tomes. Certainly someone other than Google needs to manage such a project. The Internet Archive, once our great hope, is going nowhere, still using the same horrible user interface and apparently more interested in commercial projects. Today I found at HathiTrust page scans of the important magazine of American transcendentalism, The Dial, edited by Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson. But the HathiTrust may intend to allow access only to its subscribing institutional members. HathiTrust Digital Library.
Sept. 9, 2012. Ah, the challenges of maintaining a collection of links to off-site material. Over the past several years, free peer-reviewed scholarly articles that were formerly available through the advertising-supported site findarticles.com have been drained away, to reappear in various Gale/Cengage subscription products (which are released on the internet under many names, see our July 2011 posting below). It was about three years ago that we had to start updating links for journals that had disappeared from the free findarticles.com universe; Victorian Poetry was one of the first to disappear as I recall. Some of the last remaining free articles in findarticles.com have now been pulled out. It's a bit like Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony, as the professors leave the stage. My recent link checks revealed that all our links to articles from Style, Twentieth Century Literature, Papers on Language and Literature, Studies in Short Fiction, The American Transcendental Quarterly, and Christianity and Literature, which had been hanging in there even while other journals vanished, went dead sometime after 7/9/12. The biggest loss is of African American Review, which had remained free through findarticles.com until very recently. Since African American authors are one of our most heavily queried topics, I'm particularly sad for this loss, as I was for the loss of free MELUS articles years back. Most of the introductory material we link to is still free, but the literary criticism is increasingly becoming either previews only or subscription services. But the good news about that is that high quality, peer-reviewed literary criticism is available on the internet from several sources, and perhaps publishers are figuring out how to offer it and get paid something for their product, too.
It's often the case that a Google search will show the same article title "offered" by several sources: JSTOR, Project Muse, Questia, eNotes, and something called "connection.ebscohost" are sources that appear most regularly at the top of a Google search these days. But there's always something new. Recently I've noticed the same article titles pop up in a "course pack" issued by Routledge. And even as a download from iTunes!! The nature of these offering varies widely. From JSTOR you see only a PDF of the first page of the article, often blurred beyond readability (but if a "Preview" option is offered, you can access a clear view of the first page). Project Muse is the other truly reputable source for scholarly articles (and Project Muse and JSTOR are the only two that provide full citation details). JSTOR briefly was offering readers the option to purchase some of its articles, for not terribly unreasonable prices, but they seem to have largely withdrawn that option in recent months. Project Muse, until about this January, provided a preview of its articles. Then there was a period when Project Muse provided nothing: a link to an article there brought up a virtually blank page. In recent months Project Muse has begun serving up fairly substantial excerpts, often the first two pages of an article. Neither JSTOR or Project Muse allows the general public access; access is only through subscribing libraries, usually academic libraries (though even many universities cannot afford full JSTOR and Project Muse subscriptions). But a reader could get a sense from a preview if an article is important enough to their research to obtain it through interlibrary loan, which is free for all in the U.S.
I hesitate to say what an "offering" amounts to from some of the other article sources, they change so rapidly, sometimes in bait-and-switch manner. The subscription service Questia, however, does seem solid: it continues to provide reputable scholarly articles and complete scholarly books for a subscription fee. When an article appears in more than one source, our preferred links are to Project Muse, Questia, and JSTOR. We try to mix our sources so that if one distributor changes its policies, or moves or removes their material, ALL our links won't go dead. We have some hope for the new Highbeam service (see our April 2 post below) and we will link to the eNotes service, if no better link is available. If the quality of any of these changes (again), so will our preferences (again).
More on Project Muse. There is now a purchase option at Project Muse that seems to be a pretty good deal. If you wish to read an article in, for example, The Emily Dickinson Journal, you may now buy a digital copy of the entire issue the article appears in for $20; or alternatively you may subscribe to The Emily Dickinson Journal for $50, which gives you a year's subscription to that journal plus access to all its back issues at the Muse. This might be worth the money for someone very interested in Emily Dickinson, and it's also a good way for scholarly publishers to expand their subscriber base and earn some much needed additional revenue. But let's see if this opportunity is still around a year from now. So many things are here today and gone tomorrow in the fickle world of online publishing. Not all the Muse journals offer the purchase option, but in addition to The Emily Dickinson Journal I've noticed several others there that do, with the same price for the single issue and a similar price for the year: MFS Modern Fiction Studies; Modernism/modernity; Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas; The Hopkins Review; and Journal of Asian American Studies (there may be more).
July 1, 2012. Last month I undertook a radical reduction in the number of twentieth-century writers covered at literaryhistory.com. At the beginning of June there were 203. Now there are 120. This will make it possible to do a better job of maintaining the pages that remain. Literaryhistory.com is my personal project, and it's become clear to me that 203 twentieth-century authors is more than I can keep up with (I also cover 61 nineteenth-century authors). Each author page needs frequent review, both to remove dead links and to add valuable sources as I come across them. Sometimes the dead links turn out only to have been "moved," given new url addresses. If the material is particularly good I will chase it around the internet repeatedly. I've had to do this with the Langdon Hammer lectures on modern poetry from Yale, and hundreds of poet pages from the Academy of American Poets, and for plenty of other publishers too. (Bless all the internet publishers who never change their urls.) At the same time there's a continuing stream of good new literary criticism coming online open-access. The latest ballyhoo is over Yale, MIT, Stanford, and other big-name universities publishing open-access courses. There's a lot more talk than action on this front, at least in the field of English and American literature; and there's a big difference between universities creating courseware to sell by subscription and universities publishing genuine open-access material. But literaryhistory.com is committed to finding and cataloging all of this material that is relevant to the authors we cover. I've just begun cataloging the Yale open-access lectures by Amy Hungerford on the American novel since 1945 (see my latest update for Flannery O'Connor). As this kind of excellent material appears, it becomes ever more apparent that readers need a better way than a Google search to locate the best information on a given author.
At any rate, since literaryhistory.com is meant to be a demonstration project, it doesn't serve our purpose to have poor or neglected author pages, which was the state some of our pages were slipping into because of lack of maintenance. There are always many, many editorial inconsistencies I discover when I look at an old page, too, which drive me (and my scrupulous scholarly readers) nuts, and that I have to fix, which is slow work, usually by hand. The most recently updated pages are always our showcases, but too many of our 203 pages had not had a good overhaul for two years or more.
My decisions on which authors to remove were based on a combination of factors. I've consulted major anthologies like Norton, and writers receiving only minor coverage there were candidates to drop. The later a writer was born in the century, the more likely I was to drop her or him. I've taken into consideration how regularly a writer is searched for at literaryhistory.com, and also how badly in need of a time-consuming revision the author page was. So now, the total literaryhistory.com project is down to about 180 writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Which means I will need to revise three to four pages a week to cycle through the entire group of writers in a year.
April 29, 2012. As literaryhistory.com has come to cover more and more writers we have less time to maintain the individual pages. And since the internet in continually changing, there's always much work to do maintaining author pages, work largely devoted to fixing dead links, but we're always trying to add new material too. So we've decided to reduce our coverage in areas that are less requested on our search engine, and (presumably) less often taught. Today we're taking down our section on the Language Poets. This is a distinguished group of writers that we're not able to do justice to, given our time and staff limitations. If any scholarly group or individual scholar could use the list of links we collected for Language Poets for their own online work, we will be happy to transfer to them our pages on the poets we previously covered: Rae Armantrout, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Charles Bernstein, Kathleen Fraser, Lyn Hejinian, Fanny Howe, Susan Howe, Michael Palmer, and Ron Silliman. Please contact jpridmore at literaryhistory.com if interested.
April 2, 2012. I've noticed a new source for online scholarly journals for those of us without university library passwords. It calls itself "EBSCO Host Connection," and claims that you can "read this article courtesy of your local library." Both the specific language and that claim raise questions in my mind, however. Their statement that you can "read this article courtesy of your local library" is identical to one made by a provider called "Access My Library" over the last couple of years, and that site subsequently all-but-disappeared: it seems to have been absorbed into "Highbeam" and thus in some way is part of the Gale/Cengage monolith. It was just a tease (to put it kindly) to get subscriptions, apparently. Literaryhistory.com does not intend to catalog articles on "EBSCO Host Connection"; we wasted much time cataloging articles at "Access My Library" that have vanished, and all our links to them went dead. See my July 2011 post below for more on the shifting sands of scholarly journal distribution online through sources like "Access My Library," "Findarticles," "Highbeam," and "Enotes."
February 15, 2012. Our search engine at literaryhistory.com is a low-cost (nearly free), off-site piece of technology. It's definitely low-tech. It searches full-text, and it does not offer fancy options like limiting your search to keywords, article titles, etc. Using a search engine to find a definitive list of a specific type or group of writers, such as "American novelists" or "English poets" is not the best way to approach data when you are searching full-text. For example, searching for "English poets," a search engine searching full-text will identify any page where the word "English" appears, as when a Philippine-American poet is described as "writing in English," or an article is published in a journal titled English Studies, even if the poet is an American. Please bear in mind that this web site is run on a shoestring. All the tech work is done by the editor. There is no university computer department to supply tech support. On the other hand, the university powers-that-be have not arbitrarily removed this site or reduced its funding or moved its url for fourteen years.
To find complete lists of writers in various groups covered at literaryhistory.com, we supply separate pages, as in the table of contents in old-fashioned books. We have lists, that is, tables of contents, for twentieth-century poets; twentieth century fiction writers; twentieth century women; and more, with similar lists for nineteenth-century writers and eighteenth century writers. All of the lists are broken down into further common subheadings. We try to "persuade" our search engine to notice our classifications by repeating classification-type-words in as many forms as possible on our author pages. This does not guarantee, however, that our search engine will perform an intelligent search. The tables of contents are a more reliable way to look for the writers we cover that belong to well-recognized groups such as "African American Writers."
November 2011. Here's a step forward for the independent scholar who needs access to journal articles, a promising development from the High Beam web site. I found a list of clickable article titles, by year from April 1997 to March 2010, for one of many peer-reviewed journals available through High Beam. Clicking the title takes you to the complete article. There is a fee of nearly $200 a year to subscribe to this, but still, this could be a usable source for serious research for those without a university affiliation. Which the annoying and intrusive "homework helper" sites like Enotes and Bookrags are not. Further investigation showed me that High Beam has rights or owns or has permissions - or whatever the legal status is - for 160 scholarly titles in literature, mostly peer-reviewed journals, many familiar names. Any of those journal titles can be clicked to see the list of articles available, with years of coverage varying by journal. There does not seem to be any search function or indexing, however, so it would be a matter of having already located an article title and source but needing full-text, or else simply browsing for something useful.
Another encouraging sign that legitimate academic publishers are beginning to take open access on the internet seriously is a substantive venture from the educational publisher Pearsons, one of whose subsidiaries is the longtime academic publisher A.B. Longman. A feature they call the "Longman lectures" includes audio and visual content. There are about 40 Longman lectures available currently, addressing many of the most often taught authors and books. I just added this Longman lecture on "The Story of An Hour" to the literaryhistory.com page on Kate Chopin.
July 2011. A source for literary criticism that has been on the internet for some time, called Enotes, puzzles me. It's a commercial site, available to the public by subscription and loaded with ads, that provides credible literary criticism for the authors I've checked it for. The essays sounded familiar though. Which is because they are the same essays available from Literature Criticism Online, published by Gale/Cengage and widely used in academic libraries. Literature Criticism Online is the online incarnation of the essays and critical reprints that have been published by Gale for many years in printed form under names like Contemporary Literary Criticism, Poetry Criticism, and Nineteenth Century Literary Criticism, which can still be found in major libraries in their long rows of numbered volumes. (I wrote an entry for NCLC myself recently, and can testify that this is a serious scholarly project with solid editorial procedures.)
I've noted the overlap between Enotes and Literature Criticism Online several times, and just now I found the identical introductory essay on Lorine Niedecker in both. But who are the people or what are the entities responsible for this site? The "About" page at Enotes offers no real identifying information about who owns and publishes the web site, just internet vagueness: "Enotes.com is a comprehensive online educational resource. Used daily by thousands of students, teachers, professors, and researchers, Enotes combines the highest-quality educational content with innovative services in order to provide an online learning environment unlike any other. Our content is all fact-checked, edited, and written by professionals who are experts in their field. It comes from our in-house publishing unit or from Academic Publishers, including content which is not available online anywhere else." Except that many of the same essays appear at a site called BookRags.
One wonders if Gale/Cengage is the owner of Enotes or only licensing its material to be used there. The BookRags web site raises the same kinds of questions. It's a similar enterprise, geared to students and even more blindingly commercial, that tells us little about who stands behind the site. The BookRags "About" section says, "Our carefully-selected catalog is compiled from over 100 respected sources, including Thomson Gale, one of the largest publishers of educational information for schools, libraries, and universities."
Gale/Cengage and Thompson/Gale seem to have substantial reach in the internet world of online learning. Cengage Learning, which is a private company (Gale is a subsidiary of Cengage Learning) is also behind the granddaddy of online literature research that's available to the public, Questia. Doing some business sleuthing I learned that Cengage Learning acquired Questia in 2010. Questia has an articulated "Collections Policy," which is a reassuring feature, and it carries a copyright notice at the bottom its pages: "Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning."
Literaryhistory.com does link to some specific articles at these subscription web sites, in an effort to provide more essays on the authors we cover. Until about 2009 literaryhistory.com linked heavily to peer-reviewed essays from a site called Findarticles.com (now called bnet.com), where good critical essays were available, with ads but for free. For a number of years Findarticles.com had long runs from such journals as College Literature, Victorian Poetry, Melus, Novel: A forum on fiction, Twentieth Century Literature, Studies in the Novel and similar peer-reviewed publications. But that gold mine was too good to last. Most of those articles have now been removed or moved to sites that are restricted and subscription-based. Some of the articles from Findarticles.com were shifted to a web site called highbeam.com, which has since been combined, at least partly, with BookRags, so that I've found articles of literary criticism at urls beginning "www.bookrags.com/highbeam." Another web site literaryhistory.com once used for free scholarly articles was called Access My Library. A recent search at the Access My Library site took me to a page at the url highbeam.com. At the bottom of the page it said, "High Beam Research is operated by Cengage Learning." Cengage Learning acquired High Beam at the end of 2008. Yet one more source for the same pool of articles (the same titles can often be found in Bookrags, Enotes, High Beam, and Questia) is another subscription service, called The Literature Network (url www.online-literature.com), which boasts "Content courtesy of High Beam Research."
One might wish for more players in this arena of online learning, such as a larger presence for H.W. Norton or Cambridge University Press. It seems that almost all roads now lead back to Cengage. Is it possible Cengage is competing with itself?! It is at least encouraging to know that the extensive, university-level Gale/Cengage material is available to the general public on the internet. [Unfortunately, by the early months of 2012, Enotes and Bookrags seemed to have abandoned re-printing signed articles from peer reviewed journals, and replaced that with unsigned material and commentary by volunteer readers who use their first names only. Questia alone remains a reliable subscription resource.]
The loss of access to all the free material that was once in Findarticles.com means that literaryhistory.com now links to articles on the subscription sites more than we did in the past. Our policy is that when the same essay is available from more than one source (since sometimes the same essay appears on several Cengage sites) we alternate which provider we link to rather than supplying more than one link to the same essay. If the essay is not available in the commercial subscription-based services, it may be only available from one of the traditional academic distributors, JSTOR or the Muse, which require a university affiliation and a password. We sometimes link to articles from those two academic sources when they provide an excerpt or abstract. We try to warn users when a link is to a subscription site or an abbreviated version of an article, but I worry that all the warnings are distracting for users. An even greater problem is that with all the changes in ownership at Findarticles.com and Gale/Cengage, and scholarly journals themselves changing their distribution channels, the links at literaryhistory.com often go dead. When that happens, if you cut and past the entire article title into Google, the article is usually still on line somewhere, and Google will take you to the right url.
June 2011. Literaryhistory.com has added links to three open access books from Open Book Publishers: on Henry James (Henry James's Europe: Heritage and Transfer, by Dennis Tredy, Annick Duperray, and Adrian Harding, eds.); on Percy Shelley (The Theatre of Shelley, by Jacqueline Mulhallen); and on Coleridge (Coleridge's Laws: A Study of Coleridge in Malta, by Barry Hough and Howard Davis).
Open Book Publishers is taking a new approach to scholarly publishing, one that recognizes the need to incorporate open access into traditional academic publishing. The company is a non-profit run by academics (mostly associated with the University of Cambridge it appears). Traditional in that their books are subjected to peer review and are overseen by an academic editor, they are preserving scholarly standards of accuracy and professionalism, which have been in short supply in the online world. At the same time, their publishing model is non-traditional in the way their books are made available to the public. A book can be purchased in digital (£ 4.95), paperback (£ 14.95), or hardback format (£ 24.95). And the book is also available for free at Google. A link from the Open Book Publisher's web page takes you directly to the open access editon.
This recognizes that the way scholarly information is distributed has to change, because the expectations of consumers of reference and research works have changed. Readers increasingly expect material to be available online and open access (free). And there are readers the world over who want to learn about English literature, many of whom do not have borrowing privileges at well-endowed university libraries, but who could gain access to the wealth of the world's knowledge through the internet. But will Open Book Publishers be able to survive financially with their new publishing model? It's a worthy experiment. You can see three publications from Open Book Publishers through our pages for Henry James, under Tredy; for Percy Shelley, under Mulhallen; and for Coleridge, under Hough.
April 2011. A new source of open access material has appeared on a web site called Docstoc. This is in some way connected with ProQuest, which publishes dissertations and seems to be a reputable entity, and it also seems to have some arrangement with Highbeam, which has been making literary criticism from some scholarly journals available over the past few years, both for free and through subscriptions. Another promising feature of Docstoc, the prices for articles are more reasonable that some of the traditional journal publishers. I noticed a price of $6.99 for an article from the Arizona Quarterly; by contrast, some Cambridge journals charge over $30 per article. The actual offerings at Docstoc are a disappointment though. Testing it for our Norman Mailer page just now, I found their first return was the Wikipedia article on Mailer. The search function was not able to locate literary criticism and produced a garble of returns, such as an article about a patent for a mass "mailer."
As for the more important distributors of scholarly journals in literary studies, the Muse and JSTOR, researchers with institutional privileges may have noticed that when you know the title of an article or its author and subject, you are sometimes more successful finding what you are looking for on the public internet than going through the MLA bibliography. Once you find the article you can use your institutional password to directly access the Muse or JSTOR journal. For those without institutional passwords, these two giants offer tantalizing glimpses of articles just out of reach. Perhaps enough to send students running to the library? JSTOR is now selling articles, $16 per article is a typical price, and it provides the first page as a preview. In the last year the quality of the print of these previews has deteriorated significantly at JSTOR, however, so that it is almost unreadable. Surely this is intentional, since JSTOR is capable of providing high quality print and formerly did so. It seems an odd sales tactic, simultaneously offering a sample of something that they are willing to sell, and making it nearly impossible for the reader to determine if it is of interest. One wonders, too, how many articles are being sold at prices like $16 a pop. Articles in the Muse journals (sometimes the same journals are in the Muse and JSTOR) often appear with either an abstract or the first few paragraphs (in clearly readable type), and for some journals it is possible for members of the general public to buy for download an entire journal edition or to subscribe to the journal. At literaryhistory.com we try to list a few scholarly articles for each author we cover, preferably articles where full-text is available through a commercial site like Highbeam, but if there is little or nothing on a given author we will supplement the coverage by linking to some of the abbreviated material provided by the Muse and JSTOR. This is only a taste of real scholarship, but perhaps gives the student a taste for it. There is no way literaryhistory.com (with "our" staff of one) could provide a thorough coverage of all the scholarly work on the 250 writers included here, or review all the criticism on the writer and cite only to the best--and many of the best articles would not be available to link to anyway, since only a small portion of published literary criticism is open access.
December 2010. Closing the year on a bad note, I find that quite a few peer-reviewed journals whose articles used to be available through the commercial but free site bnet.com (which used to be called Findarticles.com) are no longer there. I have a lot of work to do to fix all the links that are now dead; meanwhile I apologize to readers who encounter useless links. Not all the links have been affected, but certain journals have been yanked. Sometimes journal articles can be found by entering the name of the article in a Google search, because some journals move things around to different distributors. It's very frustrating when articles move or disappear like this. Many of them I've chased around the internet to different urls more than once already. Grumble, grumble. The only way good reference material can be catalogued is if their urls are permanent! And cataloging the good material is far better than depending on a Google search. Search engines have way too many conflicts of interest to be reliable, not to mention that Google and its ilk are completely unqualified to evaluate and recommend web sites on literature. Google gives high ranking to sites with names like plagiarist.com, among other poor choices.
September 2010. The newest page at literaryhistory.com, on Ralph Waldo Emerson, demonstrates how an open-access web bibliography could serve scholarly publishers, both in disseminating scholarship and in helping the flow of the cash stream. Under the heading "Literary Criticism," five recent articles in peer-reviewed journals are listed and linked to. None of the articles is free, but all provide abstracts, and four are available for purchase (prices range from $14 to $30). Journals that give readers the ability to preview the merchandise and to purchase the article seem to be taking advantage of the opportunities the internet affords. Not all journals do this: a recent article on Emerson in PMLA, which I would have liked to include, gave neither a preview or the option to purchase, so there was nothing to offer the casual user, and no reason to provide a link. See the Emerson page for details about the prices and publishers for this very small but suggestive sample.
March 2010. I resort to a range of stratagems to guide readers to solid literary criticism, and occasionally to material that is for sale. It occurred to me that I should mention, literaryhistory.com does not receive any payments from any of the sites we link to. One subscription service regularly recommended here is the Literary Encyclopedia, which, as I try to remember to say, is "a well-edited online database that provides signed literary criticism by experts in their field, and is available to individuals for a reasonably-priced subscription." It also has an admirable business structure, in that the contributing scholars share in the profits (if there are any yet).
Literaryhistory.com will link to a book of literary criticism featured on an academic press site, especially if a chapter excerpt is present. We also link to other sites that have critical commentary for sale such as subscription services like Highbeam and Questia. Sometimes a journal publisher will supply the first page of an article, from which you can get the gist of the author's argument, and increasingly journals are allowing you to purchase individual articles, for what are starting to be reasonable prices. Some charge more than $30 for a single article, at which point most of us would rather trudge to the library (IngentaConnect today wanted $39.95 for "Jimmying the Back Door of Literature: Dashiell Hammett's Blue-Collar Modernism," by Russell Gray.) None of them has gotten as low at $3, which is the price for an archived New York Times article, but things are getting better. Melus for example is now charging $6 for an article. The infuriating thing about the big online databases like the Muse and JSTOR has been that they will not provide subscriptions to individuals, only to libraries. So, if you didn't have a university-issued password, those articles were off-limits for you. (Also, universities do not let students keep their passwords once they graduate.) Now some of these articles are becoming available, although the price is often too high.
Another for-the-record statement from the publisher of literaryhistory.com: there are costs associated with publishing scholarship, and the editors, proofreaders, and programers of scholarly journals and books deserve to be paid. Maybe the authors do too, although for many that would be an innovation. Ideally the internet will make good scholarship more visible and improve its financial viability. It's just a matter of figuring out how to do that. As for revenues for literaryhistory.com, I plan to make this site a not-for-profit corporation as soon as I get the time, and seek support from foundations and the public. It seems to me important to keep it free from the influence of commercial publishers and distributors, many of which are more interested in the quick buck than in accuracy or quality.
February 2010. Charles Bernstein's web site has announced that the folks associated with PennSound will be taking over the archives of what has been for thirteen years the most outstanding online publication for contemporary poetry on the internet, John Tranter's Jacket. "They" will also be continuing the magazine: "Starting with the first issue in 2011, Jacket will have a new home, extra staff and a vigorous future as Jacket2. Jacket and its continuation, Jacket2, will be hosted by the Kelly Writers House and PennSound at the University of Pennsylvania." PennSound, under the direction of Charles Bernstein and Al Filreis, is now a huge internet presence for contemporary poetry, and with this move it and its vision of who and what is important will become even more dominant in academia and on the internet. I can understand why Tranter would need to get out of the magazine though. It must be exhausting for him, and his accomplishment over thirteen years has been super-human. I'm one of many who is deeply grateful for his labor. But this is a real loss, and I can't imagine Jacket will continue to have the same kind of edge and intelligence under institutional management. I have to admit I'm also worried they will change all the urls. There are going to be a lot of dead links at literaryhistory.com if they do. Little tombstones for Jacket. UPDATE Jacket2 has fortunately kept the old urls, so literaryhistory.com's links to the excellent articles in the original Jacket continue to work.
But the search function at Jacket2 may be worthless. At least that was my impression when searching for additional articles there on Laura (Riding) Jackson. I had already found one in Jacket 26 (2004). But the search function at Jacket2 said there were no articles on Laura (Riding) Jackson. It suggested that perhaps I meant "laugh providing jacket." Instant poetry.
December 2009. I'll be making a presentation on literaryhistory.com at the annual Modern Language Association Convention in Philadelphia this month. The title is "A Proposed Model for Peer Review of Online Publications," which is what I've always hoped literaryhistory.com could be--a test project demonstrating how online bibliographies could allow editors to screen material and to seek out material by recognized authorities regardless of how obscurely it might be published online. This is a function much needed on the internet. To be truly valuable, the bibliographies would be more specialized than literaryhistory.com is able to be (with our gigantic staff of one), and each would have its own advisory committee. Editorial consistency would be nice too. Maybe someday.
January 2009. I got a nice surprise when I checked our Google statistics. Literaryhistory.com is now at the top of the Google list when anyone searches for "nineteenth century literature." We are number two for "twentieth century literature" and rank in the top five for "postcolonial literature." Thank you, readers, for linking to literaryhistory. We must have some high status readers, because Google rates sites by the numbers of links to it, and gives preference to links from high-knowledge users. Someday I hope our individual author pages will appear higher on the Google lists, at least above the crowd of plagiarist sites that always seem to turn up on top for the classic authors. But most of our fans link to main pages on our site, like the nineteenth century literature page, not individually to our author pages.
December 2008. We began this year linking to both current books of literary criticism and public domain books available at Google Books. At first we were hesitant to link to the copyrighted material, though it was clearly a boon to serious literary research on the internet. We remain concerned about the actions and intentions of Google Books, even though Google has now apparently resolved the problem of their copyright violation with the copyright holders. Since the resolution involves charging for access to the books at Google Books and using part of that income to reimburse the copyright holders, we expect that the copyrighted books (and perhaps all the books at Google Books) will soon be removed from public viewing, and thus our links to such material will probably soon be dead. We are revising our nineteenth century first editions pages to make them link to texts from the Internet Archive, the non-profit organization that posts only public domain works, since we are more confident that Internet Archive texts will remain freely available online.
Other news from this year: I was at last able to reach a human at the company that provides the search engine for this site (no easy feat), and requested, could I please, please pay for their search engine rather than having their embarrassingly off-the-mark ads inserted in your search results. The cost for keeping the ads off was less than $100 a year and well worth it. Now we have ad-free search.
November 2006. Over the past year I've been reformatting all the bibliographies and I'm not finished yet. It's a time-consuming process that can't be accomplished with a macro, because thanks to the magic of cut and paste I've copied many different formats into this, and now have to move words and punctuation around to make them consistent. The difference in the reformatted pages is that they are now alphabetical by critic, which is the way readers expect to see a bibliography. In the early days of creating these pages there weren't enough signed articles online to make this worth doing, but things are different now. Also in the early days the url for each link was visible, because I had the idea that making a web address invisible kept information from the reader. But that made the pages ugly and technical-looking. After much experimenting I've concluded that a presentation in alphabetical order by critics, with clickable information rather than visible web addresses, is the easiest to read and use.
January 2006. Literaryhistory is pleased to welcome our new editor for Filipino American literature, Jean Vengua Gier. Ms. Gier is especially tuned in to new developments in Filipino American writing and is already expanding the list of Filipino American authors in innovative ways. Jean Vengua Gier is co-editor with Mark Young of The First Hay(na)ku Anthology, published jointly by Meritage Press (U.S.) and xPress(ed) (Finland), Fall 2005. Her work has been published in various poetry journals including Proliferation, Interlope, and Moria, and the anthologies, Babaylan, Returning a Borrowed Tongue, and Going Home to a Landscape. She is also a writer and researcher in Filipino American studies; her essays have been published in scholarly journals including Jouvert: a Journal of Postcolonial Studies (N. Carolina State U.), Geopolitics of the Visual: Essays on Philippine Film Cultures (Ateneo University, Philippines), Critical Mass: A Journal of Asian American Cultural Criticism (U. of California), and the anthology, New Immigrant Literatures of the United States (Greenwood Press). Jean is an instructor at U.C. Berkeley, and lives in Santa Cruz, CA.
In other news: We have entered links to several articles from the most recent edition of American Literary Scholarship, published by Duke University Press and available from e-Duke. Duke journals are online on a free trial basis until March 2006 through HighWire Press. We hope not to be abusing this privilege, but it seemed like an opportunity to make users aware that this excellent resource is online. (For a short time it was possible to check out the year's work in several American authors, summarized in American Literary Scholarship.)
The collaboration between Duke publications and HighWire, launched in July 2005, may make it possible for individuals (not just libraries) to subscribe to the online version of their preferred Duke-published journals, and the prices look very reasonable. HighWire press from Stanford University Libraries is also an admirable venture that scholarly publishers should be aware of (they offer many journals free to developing economies, for example). E-Duke journals of interest to literary scholars including American Literary Scholarship, American Literature, American Speech, boundary 2, Camera Obscura, Common Knowledge, differences, Eighteenth-Century Life, French Historical Studies, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, Modern Language Quarterly, Poetics Today, and Theater are currently viewable on a free trial basis at Duke Journals (now taken offline).
May 2005. Beginning this month we are shifting to an emphasis on recognized critical authorities in the newest web pages and updates. It is a new luxury to be able to do this, but it's often possible now to find something by a leading scholar on the free internet: if not an article, at any rate a review of his or her book, or the publisher's blurb at a web site, something. We're trying to make sure that some of the best known authorities are represented by a link somewhere in this webliography. The extent to which we can link to critics is limited, however, by the limited offerings of reliable literary criticism on the internet. In the early days of creating these bibliographies we were often happy to find internet articles that were not marred by spelling and grammar errors. There was little one could recommend, especially for less popular authors. But I'm happy to report that situation has changed, as the articles indexed here demonstrate.
March 2005. Persuasions On-Line, the Journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America, has incorporated literaryhistory's Jane Austen page into its journal site to give its readers access to an index of the Persuasion articles. The journal published its first full-text online edition, Vol. 20, in Summer 1999, and now has all issues through 2004 freely available online, as a public service. Most of the articles are individually indexed at literaryhistory. The web site for Persuasions On-Line is http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/
December 2004-May 2005. Because of a request from a user, literaryhistory added a search engine last November, a step that has given me a much better picture of our readers and their needs. The search engine leaves a record of every search (privacy disclosure: nothing can be known about searchers other than the search term they type in). We are now getting an average 200 typed in searches a day, representing about 150 unique phrases, up from about 80 searches a day and 50 unique phrases in the first months of the engine. Also, in response to user search requests, literaryhistory has begun covering selected nineteenth century American authors and eighteenth century British novelists.
Installing the search engine revealed how well this site was originally designed. It shows me, anyway, that it's better to have a search engine apply itself to a summary-type document like a catalogue than to search the full-text of the articles themselves. It's not a question of slowness; the technology exists to search full-text documents quickly. But the problem one encounters in those kinds of searches is that you get results that are often trivial. Although there are elaborate efforts to design artificial intelligence to overcome this, this is when the technology gets expensive, and the solutions never seem to work very well. At literaryhistory.com the search engine addresses itself to a list of articles, annotated with correct keywords, or including abstracts incorporating the keywords. This creates something that is both machine readable and human readable.
June 2004. A Google Universe? An open letter to the NY Times.
April 2003. Literaryhistory is selected by the New York Public Library as one of the 25 best reference works of the year. On April 25, I attended a ceremony at the Donnell Library in New York honoring the winners, which included such impressive other reference works as findlaw.com and publications from Gale, Oxford University Press, New York University Press, H.W. Wilson, Macmillan Press, Routledge, and Charles Scribner. Literaryhistory.com must have had the smallest staff of anyone present (I couldn't talk the cat into going with me).
May 2000. Literaryhistory.com is recognized by the Scout Report.
October 19, 1998. Literaryhistory.com domain name is registered. The first version of the web site is published before the year's end.
1998-2013 by Jan Pridmore
We appreciate your comments. Please send email to jpridmore at literaryhistory.com