Magazine article Times Higher Education

Disciplines Not Doomed by Digital

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Disciplines Not Doomed by Digital

Article excerpt

US academic says geography and history need to adapt to new ways of working. Matthew Reisz writes

A leading historical geographer has called on his disciplines to get better at "navigating the digital world".

William Cronon, the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas research professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was delivering the first in a new series of British Academy lectures at London's Royal Geographical Society on 7 July.

He was interested, he told the audience, in "the bridge between the academy and its many publics". But although history and geography ranked "among the greatest synthesizing disciplines" and could help "make the world more meaningful", academics were far too "old media" and risked "isolating [them]selves in a pay-wall universe".

"History has traditionally required long-form prose," he said, and it now counted as "the only academic discipline in the United States which still generally requires a monograph for tenure". At the same time, most students no longer "read for pleasure" and "a growing number of academic administrators come from disciplines which no longer have a use for books".

The increasing use of citation indices and impact factors, Professor Cronon went on, encouraged academics to write in the "smallest publishable units" to a specialised, elite readership. As journals have "preformed audiences", books have essentially been left behind. …

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