Welcome to the launch issue of Alluvium, a new online journal of literary criticism that is dedicated to 21st-century writing as well as 21st-century approaches to the literary canon.
As we were beginning work on building Alluvium’s website and academic contributor network, a heated controversy was rapidly growing over the question of access to peer-reviewed journal articles in a wide rage of disciplines: from maths and medical and biological sciences, to agriculture and food sciences, chemistry and environmental studies (see the Directory of Open Access Journals). The debate reached a critical moment in April 2012, when more than 10,000 academics joined a boycott of the Dutch publisher Elsevier, to protest against its access policies and the rising cost of academic journals, estimated at a 380% hike since 1986. Weighing into the controversy, Harvard University sent a leaked memo to staff in April 2012, encouraging them to publish their research in freely available, open-access journals and resign from publishers’ paywalls. The university stated that it could no longer afford the price hikes introduced by several established publishers (who, by some estimates, make profits of 32%-42% of revenue).
Harvard’s decision sparked a flurry of online debate and in May 2012, David Willetts wrote of “a seismic shift for academic publishing,” citing the Wellcome Trust as an example of a leading organisation that offers its funded research online for free. Willetts argued that we are now moving beyond “an era in which taxpayer-funded academic articles are stuck behind paywalls.” Meanwhile, as Mike Taylor writes in the Guardian this month, campaigners have set up the Access2Research campaign, demanding free access over the internet to journal articles that are supported by taxpayer-funded research in the US. The campaign has already received over 20,000 signatures in one week alone for its Whitehouse.gov petition, urging President Obama to “implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research.”
Julia Lohmann’s Co-Existence: The Wellcome Trust leading open access [Image by slimmer_jimmer under a CC-BY-NC-ND license]
However, there are several caveats to this tipping point for open access. Firstly, if so-called “green” open access is adopted, whereby pre-print copies of articles are deposited in institutional repositories, the financial problems for our libraries are not solved. Secondly, merely exposing our intra-disciplinary, often jargon-laden research to the public will not be enough. If we are truly to demonstrate our impact, public engagement should reach out and be as much a part of academic life as teaching and research, as Birmingham’s Professor of Public Engagement in Science, Alice Roberts, argues in this video. We need a “deeper, wider culture change within universities,” says Roberts, which means readjusting the balance of academic work and funding priorities to remove the onus on publishing in established, paywalled journals alone, and to “mak[e] sure that public engagement is something that all academics are supported to do.”
We need to unlock access to publicly-funded academic research [Image by Kevin Dooley under a CC-BY license]
It is against this background and to address these issues that we have set up Alluvium. There is a gap in online literary scholarship between those established, peer-reviewed journals that require subscription or library access and the healthy profusion of publishers’ blogs, literary review sites and writers’ own websites. Alluvium publishes short academic articles written by leading academics and early career researchers that are intended to be accessible to all, and reflect upon key issues and emerging trends in literature and literary criticism, as well as opening up discussion through the site’s message boards accompanying each piece. The journal is thus able to publish up-to-the-minute scholarship through freely available articles that act as a gateway to peer-reviewed scholarship, offering a platform for established and emerging academics and providing links to their published works and collaborative projects. Archived in the British Library’s ISSN electronic store and catalogued by the UK Web Archive, Alluvium is one of a growing number of online journals committed to sharing scholarly content for free (in both monetary and re-use terms), and we are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License
We passionately believe that Alluvium’s accessible format offers a new way of disseminating academic research beyond the “ivory tower,” and is a fantastic testament to the breadth of exciting and illuminating scholarship currently being carried out by scholars across the UK and beyond. This is evidenced by the provocative articles we have commissioned for our launch. In “Shakespeare and Lady Gaga,” Sarah Olive (University of York) offers her thoughts on the merits of approaching canonical dramatists like Shakespeare through contemporary media texts and icons as a way of engaging undergraduate students – citing techniques she uses in the University of York’s BA degree English in Education. Meanwhile, Michael J. Collins (University of Nottingham) traces the “newly emergent, ebullient, and controversial area of scholarship” of literary Darwinism in his article “On Literary Darwinism,” arguing that such developments are offering valuable contributions to twenty-first-century cultural and literary studies.
Daniel O’Gorman (Royal Holloway) is similarly concerned with the twenty-first century in “Empathy after 9/11,” in which he interrogates the rhetoric of empathy – specifically “empathic over-arousal” – in political and cultural texts, arguing that we need to distinguish a variety of empathic responses within post-9/11 critical theory. Finally, Mark P. Williams (Wellington) offers a rich overview in “Alternative Fictioneers” of the culture of experimental British fiction that has emerged since the 1980s within different strands of alternative publishing – borrowing and adapting aesthetic forms from comics, avant-garde experimentation, New Wave science fiction and the sample cultures of Hip Hop and Drum n Bass.
These articles represent some of the latest research that Alluvium’s contributors are working on, in their respective duties as academic lecturers, postdoctoral researchers and freelance journalists. We believe that these articles demonstrate the intellectually dynamic range of material that the field currently has to offer for both academics and those outside the academy.
Dr Caroline Edwards (University of Lincoln), Founding & Commissioning Editor
Martin Paul Eve (University of Sussex), Online Editor
CITATION: Caroline Edwards and Martin Paul Eve, “Editors’ Introduction,” Alluvium, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2012): n. pag. Web. 1 June 2012, http://dx.doi.org/10.7766/alluvium.v1.1.01.
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