Field Notes: Re-thinking Academic Environments

An image of books from an academic exam list and a cup from Tim Hortons

As a graduate student at the tail end of my PhD, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future in academia. Will I even get a chance to stay permanently, and if I do, would I want to accept it? What kind of space is available for those of us who value different things?

On that note, if you are on academic twitter, you might have seen a recent meme about the publishing process in academia using bits from the now infamous interview: “Oprah with Meghan and Harry.” It expresses how ridiculous the entire process seems.

Tweet from Alan Allport [@Alan_Allport] (March 10, 2021), retrieved from

The meme panels state:
“So apparently you have to write the journal article for free, and other people review it for free and then the people who own the journal charge thousands for anyone to be able to read it”

Given the decline of permanent jobs in academia, the rise of contingent labor, the changes to how information is consumed, and the rise of multimedia, something has to change.

In short, it is my opinion that publishing in academia might be broken, but we don’t need to fix it. We need to acknowledge that it is not the only venue or metric of prestige in higher education. Here is the thing: I’m not out here advocating for or against the peer-review process either. Sure, peer-review has its place in academic scholarship, but I think it is only beneficial to submit to journals and go through the long process if you are tenured or able to give up free labor. I don’t have to re-hash how this process marginalizes certain communities from the onset. *cough cough reviewer #2*

Here is what I hope comes across from my thoughts:
Instead of looking at certain benchmarks of academic prestige, it is time to start valuing new and fresh ideas that are steeped in collaboration and collegiality and address on-the-ground issues of equity and social justice. While we have older systems of academic merit in place, it is important to acknowledge that things are changing. These changes are tied not only to revising the teaching or hiring process but also to reimage the role academic societies and spaces where those without permanent jobs, visa issues, financial issues, or disabilities often can’t participate in.

There is no need to start thinking about these things from scratch. There are some excellent models already in place. I would like to see my discipline, history of science, appreciate even more than they already are. Their many strengths include creativity, skill with multimedia formats, collegiality and collaboration, financial compensation, and acknowledging the many lived experiences of individuals.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If there are other projects, please do share them in the comments below!

*Contingent Magazine

From their website: Contingent is a non-profit history magazine. Their writers are adjuncts, museum workers, independent scholars—all people who work outside the tenure-track professoriate. They are an independent non-profit, not backed by any university or think tank, and pay all of their contributors for their work.

*Nursing Clio

From their website: Nursing Clio is an open access, peer-reviewed, collaborative blog project that ties historical scholarship to present-day issues related to gender and medicine. Bodies, reproductive rights, and health care are often at the center of social, cultural, and political debates. We believe the issues that dominate today’s headlines and affect our daily lives reach far back into the past—that the personal is historical.

The mission of Nursing Clio is to provide a platform for historians, health care workers, community activists, students, and the public at large to engage in socio-political and cultural critiques of this ongoing and historical dialogue regarding the gendered body, the history of medicine, popular culture, current events, and other issues that catch our attention. Nursing Clio provides a coherent, intelligent, informative, and fun historical source for the consideration of these topics.

*Lady Science

From their website: Editors-in-chief Anna Reser and Leila McNeill launched Lady Science on Ada Lovelace Day 2014. What began as a monthly newsletter written by Anna and Leila has grown into a monthly podcast and an independent magazine with more content between monthly issues, more writers and readers, and an editing staff. 

*Time to Eat the Dogs

From their website: Time to Eat the Dogs is a podcast about science, history, and exploration. The goal of this podcast is to broaden the conversation about these topics beyond the limits of the history of science. Lots of people—explorers, scientists, artists, anthropologists, literary scholars, and historians—have things to say about travel in extreme environments. Founded by Michael Robinson, his hope is that this podcast will serve as a clearinghouse of ideas about exploration that might connect people who come to the subject with different perspectives. 


From their website: Hazine is an online resource that seeks to function as a repository of writing on repositories. It was started by two Ottoman historians, Nir Shafir and Chris Markiewicz. Hazine was meant to help acquaint researchers, especially those stepping into the field for the first time, with archives and how to navigate them. Heather Hughes was brought onto the team in 2016 to provide a librarian perspective. Heather invited N.A. Mansour to join the team in 2018. Since ‘relaunching’ in 2018, Hazine has continued to provide the research community with archive reviews, but Hughes and Mansour have since reworked the website to be more broadly inclusive of cultural heritage workers and highlight their contributions to research, while also featuring research techniques that address some of the unique challenges to Islamic and Middle East Studies research.

*100 Histories of 100 Worlds in 1 Object

From their website: Our project 100 Histories of 100 World in 1 Object returns to the narrative of Neil MacGregor’s BBC Radio 4 programme and subsequent book A History of the World in 100 Objects of 2010. The project turns to the formerly subaltern stories museums in ‘the West’ have left out. How can previously excluded voices be empowered to tell their own histories about these objects? This dynamic, long-term and multiple format publication project hopes to achieve more than an alternative history of the British Museum. Instead we will work towards a fusion of object stories and present legacies in museums through and with scholars, curators, and artists in and from the ‘Global South’. Our ‘new histories’ must be not just different methodologically and multilingual, but also dynamic and open for additions and narratives that others might want to add in future.

*Electrifying Women

From their website: Our aim was to broaden public awareness of women’s diverse collaborative roles in engineering since the 19th century, showing the many precedents for women’s future roles in engineering. To support this goal, the Electrifying Women project complemented WES’s centenary activities by running a series of events, such as workshops and talks. This led to the production of a series of resources, including public lectures, videos, volunteer research guidance, blog posts, educational source packs, recommended reading, and creative writing materials. In addition to this we have produced enhanced Wikipedia coverage of past women in engineering.

Some concluding thoughts:
Recently, the British Society for the Philosophy of Science (BSPS) announced the launch of an open access monograph series. So we are seeing a shift (though very slow) in some publishing practices. While this is all well and good, I think it’s important to support and encourage collaborative and interdisciplinary projects. One of my favorite models is from Black Perspectives, the award-winning blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). “The Syllabus: A History of Anti-Black Racism in Medicine,” for instance, really caught my attention. Composed by Antoine S. Johnson, Elise A. Mitchell, and Ayah Nuriddin, the syllabus serves as a starting point for anyone interested in how “questions of race and racism should be central to studying the histories of medicine and science.” The authors selected texts from outside the history of medicine as well, and this really shows a brilliant model for pedagogical interventions. I hope others can follow suit!

Personally, I love learning and we need to bring that attitude to many of our academic spaces. Long gone are the days of hubris and singular academic genius. We need to create and support generative spaces where we can discuss, dismantle, and reassemble. If we’re not all in this together, then what’s the point of spending our lives in education anyway?

*Cover image: All the books from my comps list. Photo by author.

[*Cover image description: A large stack of books with two smaller stacks on the side. On the right stack sits a disposable coffee cup.]