Points to Remember about JDH and the Recent “Kerfluffle”

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I work at the RRCHNM alongside the editors for JDH and the PressForward staff. I do not, however, work on the PressForward or JDH projects. Furthermore, I cannot comment on their whereabouts or vacation time.

In the past two days, the Journal of Digital Humanities has been criticised for their recent negotiations with Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam about a special section in the journal. On Thursday, Koh posted an account of these proceedings, which began with a proposal for a “special section on the postcolonial digital humanities (#dhpoco).” The results of their negotiations were deemed unsatisfactory by Koh and Risam, which prompted the post and an ensuing debate.

I’ll not rehash the entire conversation here, and assume that readers will use the original account and subsequent comments to get up to speed. My intent is to offer a few simple points about the nature of the JDH and the conversation that has flared in response to Koh’s post:

  1. The JDH editors have not yet acknowledged or replied to the post, stating to Koh and Risam that they are unavailable until September 3rd. Any information about the JDH decisions has been offered by Koh and Risam.
  2. To the best of my knowledge, the JDH staff are employees of the RRCHNM and under the supervision of the PressForward project. As such, they would conduct JDH business during paid hours of employment. Unlike potential authors, whose non-paid time can be spent writing or revising their work for the journal, JDH editors are limited to business hours as defined by the center.
  3. The JDH has a workflow for the articles that they select for publication. That flow is built upon the DHNow aggregator system, which I’ve described here. As such, their primary model for selection, solicitation, revision, and publication is designed to highlight the articles that rise to the top through the system. Concerns about that process are not the issue here, because…
  4. Koh and Risam acknowledge that, to their knowledge, “this is the first time [JDH] were approached by editors wanting to do a section and that’s why a kerfluffle ensued.” The proposal of a special section by guest editors does not fit into the existing model as defined on the JDH site. Current evidence indicates that any review process for this proposal was not a switch from the incompatible model, but an entirely new model.
  5. The initial process for the special section is defined in an email posted by Koh; the email suggests that the process was negotiated by the JDH staff and the guest editors. With this as our only evidence, it seems that the JDH editors would accept the submissions, “review them for JDH and provide feedback.” Neither email explicitly defines the nature of this review and feedback. If such definitions exist, we’ve not seen them.
  6. Koh cites an email in which the JDH insists on a blind peer review. All reasons for that decision aside, we’ve not seen that email, nor any of the communications that prompted Koh’s post and the discussion.
  7. The major call from many people has been for more transparency from JDH, yet the debate and all comments have only two (2) emails and the statements of one group from which to draw conclusions.

These points suggest to me that the best policy is to await an official response from the JDH editorial staff. If that is not possible, at very least request further evidence that makes their position and statements more visible. We should avoid trying to find reasons or biases for the JDH decisions and/or questioning their integrity without hearing their side of the conversation.

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