28 May 2014

Conference/Journal Convergence

The latest issue of Journal of Musicology just appeared (in virtual form) for me today, and I've been reading through the fascinating articles by Karol Berger and Michael Gallope this morning (I omit Peter Schmelz's contribution not because I don't think it's fascinating, but simply because I haven't gotten to it at the time of writing). On broad topics cutting across decades and centuries, these are the types of articles that I wish appeared more often in my field. The arrival of this issue has made me set aside (again in a metaphorical sense) the journal that I had been reading through with interest, Gamut, a recently reestablished and exciting music theory journals that publishes entirely online.

Unifying the issues of these two quite different journals, and many of the other publications I've read recently, is that the articles selected for publication came not through open calls for submissions but as proceedings of conferences or as designed Festschriften for a major figure (well, important man, to be technical) in the field.

Yard from Dguendel/WP (CC:BY) 
Sign from arkadin55(CC:BY-NC-SA)
The JM issue comprises papers from the 2012 conference in honor of Richard Taruskin, "After the End of Music History," which included talks by so many of the brightest stars in the musicological firmament and which was covered in the New York Times. James Steichen's introduction to this and the following issue, which will contain more papers from the same conference, helps those of us who were not there feel the energy of the weekend: the dual performances of a lost Eugene Onegin, the premiere of a new work, the evenings on at a club at Princeton.

Beyond placing these articles together within the cultural context that produced them, what musicologists usually aspire to do with their writings on musical works, there is much that is gained from publishing articles from a single conference together. Responses from the audience or the dedicatee can be transcribed, edited, and included (the old IMS reports are fascinating in this regard). Interconnections among papers can be made by the writers themselves. And there is the opportunity, which Karol Berger takes, to keep articles shorter, nearer the length of the original presentation. This facet alone makes publication of conference proceedings and Festschriften in journals worth advocating. Too many of our journals contain articles that are far too long for their topics or narrow audiences. Whether encouraging such length is the editors' intent, or indeed even if they continue to publicly solicit shorter articles, those students and scholars who want to be published look at the tomes that do get accepted and are smart enough to know what to do.

Conferences as journal issues mitigate against this trend. They also help scholars, especially the untenured or underemployed, stay active in the vital intellectual life of the field by attending meetings and not needing to decide whether they will contribute their work to a special conference proceeding book, which will likely count less for tenure no matter how selective the press or how strong the process of peer review, or go out on their own in search of a peer reviewed journal.

Yet I am uneasy about the implications as more and more space in journals, especially at the top journals, becomes devoted to conference papers, or to colloquies, symposia, and round tables (common now in the Journal of the American Musicological Society). Conferences turn into journal issues either by the editors of the journal seeking out conferences or selected papers from conferences to publish or by the organizers of the conference proposing their papers (or, again, a subset) as ripe fruit for an issue. In either case, the scholars who are or could be included come from the group of people invited to present at the conference. Many conferences begin with an open call for papers, but these are rarely the conferences that turn into journal issues. Journal paper selection moves from selecting articles from the broad scholarly public to the group of people who were invited to prestigious conferences. And these invitations rarely, if ever, go out on the basis of the work to be spoken of at the conference--which is almost never written at the time of the invitation--but on the basis of past work.

This development does not harm me personally. I am now at a stage of my career where I receive more invitations to speak at important meetings in traditional and computational musicology than I could attend, let alone write new contributions for. And my newly tenured state enables me to publish more in fora that seem appropriate (even blog posts) than worry about what a promotion committee will think of the surrounding context of my thoughts. The change to conferences as journals does, however, have the potential, especially if it becomes more common, to exclude from publishing those who are less well-connected, who are not invited to be in colloquies or symposia, but who have thought-provoking and well researched ideas. The organizers of "Taruskinfest" and the JM editors are to be commended (and nothing here is directly specifically against them) for including younger scholars in their celebration and publications, but not every conference journal issue, especially Festschrift contributions, are so thoughtful.

The change also has the effect of squeezing out space for ideas and areas of work that are at present too obscure or new to be the subject of a conference or for interpretations that go sharply against those of the senior scholars who are in the position to convene these events. Musicology, and I suspect many other humanistic disciplines, is not yet at a post-publication, post-peer-reviewed-journal state; any changes that may make it harder for the brightest and newest of ideas to be shared in our journals should proceed cautiously and under the scrutiny of the field.

7 comments:

Anna MotetFace said...

Interesting post, Michael. And congratulations again on your "Newly tenured state"! I think it's worth pointing out that "Taruskinfest" did have an open call for papers (this was how I got in) and that although not all of the presenters were invited into the issue (I was not), I'm sure I'm not the only one who was encouraged to submit my conference paper to this journal nevertheless. I declined to do so, as I had something else I wanted to send to JM, but it is my impression that papers in conference-related volumes of this and other journals are as much subject to peer review as other papers in the same journals.

PMG said...

We've been having a conversation on Twitter on how out of six contributors, one editor, and one respondent, there's not a single woman. Problematic for any publication, and particularly not reflective of Taruskin's career as a mentor.

Jonathan Bellman said...

As far as no women, blame Anna MotetFace. She *declined* to send something in.

But seriously: Myke, can this be turned around? I think an argument can just as easily be made that this approach gives *more* access to newer, hotter, more worthwhile ideas than the traditional, more leaden journal approach. God knows I'm not going to argue for every round-table contribution in JAMS et alia, but such a structure does prevent an issue from being devoted entirely to, y'know, one article on one aspect of one specialty, done exhaustively.

Such journal issues (and I'm looking forward to this but have not yet read it) strike me as quick-release Festschriften. Surely most of us have a favorite article or ten that appear in such volumes, but they never really became part of the literature because no one knows them? Festschriften can have crucially important stuff in them, crafted and submitted with love, but they fall between Book and Journal and the contributions to them often find themselves off on sidings. (People can also bounce sketchy stuff into Festschriften too—responsibility met, hat duly tipped, but Your Good Stuff is still to be submitted elsewhere. I dislike that pattern intensely.)

My impression is that in Europe, sometimes international meetings are designed from the beginning to culminate in edited proceedings volumes. Years of delays (invariably) result, given the numbers of people contributing, etc. That, too, is a model that diffuses energy from the new-hot-ideas-getting-out-there goal.

So journal issues like this are Something Different. Not the usual random assemblage of what was submitted and survived the peer-review process, not something with a huge lag-time, but something where Names and Names-in-the-Realm-of-Becoming who are working on particular issues can, with minimal delay, Get Stuff Out There.

The Journal of Musicological Research, edited by the thrice-feared and always-obeyed Deborah Kauffman, does an anthology issue of this kind every year…maybe based on a preexistent meeting, maybe not. I think it's a great idea, honestly.

Anna Z. said...

Ha! I don't mean they invited me into THAT issue. I just mean that they encouraged me to submit to JM even though I wasn't going to fit into the themed volumes...

Jonathan Bellman said...

My main motivation with that remark was to retype "Anna MotetFace."

Michael Scott Cuthbert said...

I stand corrected and am even more impressed with the Taruskin Conference than I already was that they had an open call. I also should note that the Gamut special issues have had a refreshingly high number of music theory contributions by women. Taruskinfest is still, I believe but without firm data, unusual in being a conference turned into journal article that involved an open call for papers. I did not want the post to become a criticism directly of JM or the Princeton conference and it's good to have one more reason not to.

Michael Scott Cuthbert said...

By the way, the "excellent" with regards to the Berger article should in no way imply that I agree with anything written in it. In fact, I found myself disagreeing almost from start to end. But thoughtful disagreement is something to be cultivated in articles more than mindless acceptance of facts too banal to argue over. But it did take time away from my main fascination: Scandinavian video game music.