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The conversation with chairs of graduate art history departments in the northeastern United States took place onFriday, December 2, 2005 at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. Seventeen chairs took part in the discussion.

Among art history chairs, there was general consensus that tenure requirements in the field of art history donot square with the realities of current practices in art history publishing. At most institutions, tenure review committees stillrequire the publication of a book in order to qualify for tenure, even as opportunities to publish in art history are seen asdiminishing. Art history chairs feel that presses publishing in art history are increasingly out of step with the field and moreconcerned with reaching wider audiences than with advancing scholarship.

While some art history departments are exceptions to the “book required for tenure” rule, most insist uponthe publication of a book to be considered for tenure. Articles are generally not substitutable for books, and at some universitiesbooks must have received reviews in order to be considered. Dissertations, no matter how distinguished, are also notsubstitutable for books.

While one chair characterized the current situation facing younger art history scholars as the “age-old issueof wanting a recipe for how to achieve tenure,” most of the chairs described a number of ways in which the current tenure system is,in effect, breaking down. Changes in publishing practices at scholarly presses have made it harder for younger scholars, inparticular, to find outlets for scholarly monographs, while universities have been slow to accommodate these newrealities.

One art history chair put it this way, “As we push our departments toward the idea of the ‘transformative work,’at the same time we want the time [it takes for students to achieve a]degree to be reduced.” Another chair nodded in agreement, and said that she was hoping to have a discussion at her institutionregarding the expected length of time students should be taking prior to exams, as well as other aspects of the program.

One chair said that more postdoctoral opportunities are needed so that young scholars will have time tocreate better manuscripts for potential publication. A couple of chairs said that their institutions had begun to implement newpolicies allowing younger scholars to have time off or possibilities for extending the time to tenure. One spoke of ahumanities foundation that guarantees a year off with pay to all junior faculty at a particular institution in order to work on abook. Another said that policies such as this are very helpful in attracting both students and younger faculty to aninstitution.

The pressure to publish a book early in one’s career has resulted in “terrible manuscripts” being submitted touniversity presses, because insufficient time has been allowed to let manuscripts grow and develop into serious larger works.Needless to say, publishers are not happy with the situation either. One chair was told by the head of an academic press, “Tellyour committees to stop requiring a first book! University presses feel like they are sacrificing quality in order to publish booksfor tenure purposes.” He went on to say that this comment was meant not only for first books in art history, but for first bookspublished across all fields, in general.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, The state of scholarly publishing in the history of art and architecture. OpenStax CNX. Sep 22, 2006 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10377/1.2
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