Academic journal article Kritika

Failing the Grade: The Craze for Ranking Humanities Journals

Academic journal article Kritika

Failing the Grade: The Craze for Ranking Humanities Journals

Article excerpt

The period since the end of the Cold War has been called by some a second era of "globalization"--the first one having been cut short by the outbreak of World War I--when markets have become increasingly competitive across ever larger areas. Higher education and scholarship have benefited immensely from this trend. In the United States, top universities now routinely seek out undergraduate applications from across the country and graduate applications from around the world. In our own field, e-mail and the disappearance of the Iron Curtain have helped knit together the various Russian Studies communities of the world. The "globalization" of goods, services, and ideas has brought benefits ranging from better coffee in America to more access to electronic publishing in Russia. There is, however, a cost, as the recent news of financial meltdowns and trillion-dollar bailouts reminds us. Like the first age of globalization, the current one has inevitably created concentrations of power so vast that they lose the human touch and rely instead on abstract assessment metrics with a serious potential for error. One such unwelcome development currently causing headaches to historians of Eastern Europe and Eurasia is a highly problematic scheme for ranking scholarly journals called the European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH).

First, some background. ERIH is a product of powerful forces that have for some years been reshaping higher education around the world. Anyone applying to competitive American colleges knows that overworked admissions offices rely on a few quantitative measures to help them with their case loads, thereby spawning an entire test-preparation industry to produce--and hence distort--those scores. The metric thus ends up skewing the reality it was designed to measure. In North American graduate programs, relentless competition for external funding and for "top" faculty or graduate students generates similar forces and a similar concern for "objective" metrics. The tremendous success of the most competitive U.S. universities in attracting researchers from around the world, including Europe, has generated a wrenching debate about whether Europe's own universities need to learn from their trans-Atlantic competitors' seemingly more aggressive competitive techniques. (1) One of the aims of "Europe" as a political project--for example, the European Union or the Council of Europe--is to ensure that a distinctive European voice continues to be heard in a globalized world often dominated by North Americans. Accordingly, Europeans have pooled their resources to create Airbus as a competitor to Boeing, the European Space Agency as an answer to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) as an answer to U.S. big science; similar efforts are underway in other areas of intellectual life as well.

A recent extension of this phenomenon facing our European colleagues-and, indirectly, scholars worldwide--is ERIH, an initiative by the European Science Foundation (ESF). The core of ERIH is the classification of humanities journals into three categories--"A" ("high-ranking international publications"), "B" ("standard international publications"), or "C" (journals with "important local/regional significance in Europe"). The ESF website explains the need for this initiative with reference to the paucity of effective "bibliometric frameworks" that measure the quality of humanities research as one measures "other sciences." Factors contributing to this state of affairs include, for example, the low visibility of publications in "minor national languages" and the diversity of media (conference proceedings, refereed journals, text editions, and so forth) in which humanities research is published. Addressing the problem is particularly urgent, the ESF writes, because "in the view of funding bodies such as the ERC"--that is, the European Research Council, the EU's equivalent to the U. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.