Refereed Electronic Journals and the Future of Scholarly Publishing

by Eyal Amiran, Elaine Orr, and John Unsworth

Advances in Library Automation and Networking, (1991)


Electronic publishing, formerly an idea whose elegant utility one could only admire in the abstract, has in recent years become possible. Several electronic journals are now published regularly, in science, business management, the humanities, and the social sciences. In this essay we describe the current state of electronic publishing in the humanities and outline the possibilities it offers for the academy. The promises of this medium challenge librarians in particular to take an active role in the field by encouraging new electronic publications and by developing procedures and norms for handling these publications. Humanists and librarians must familiarize themselves with the electronic-mail environment and train themselves to use it, because this technology seems certain to become a standard academic and intellectual tool in the near future.

Electronic journals require the subscriber to have access to a computer with a modem (or a terminal), and to have an electronic mail account (a computer mailbox, in effect). These accounts are usually on mainframe computers, but commercial telecommunications companies (AT&T, MCI, Sprint) also supply electronic mail services for a fee. Most academic institutions will provide a mainframe account for electronic mail at no cost to the user and charge no fee for sending or receiving messages.

The journal we edit and publish, Postmodern Culture, is stored on an IBM mainframe at North Carolina State University and is published through the Revised Listserv program, a program which is widely used to keep mailing lists and to distribute authorized submissions automatically to all of a list's subscribers. When an issue of the journal is published, subscribers receive a mail message containing the masthead and table of contents for that issue: this message includes abstracts of the works in the issue and identifies each work by author, title, filename and filetype. Subscribers request the items they want to read -- or the whole issue as a package -- and once they receive them (usually within an hour or two), they can read the journal on-line or download its contents to their own computer. If they download files they can import them into whatever word-processing software they use, and then print the works or read them onscreen. Journal files can also be printed and read without the use of any special software whatsoever. Subscribers can respond immediately to what they read (via electronic mail), can ask for automatic updates on any item that is revised, and can request items from back issues at any time. All of this is available at no cost to the e-mail user.

Electronic Publishing and the Library Crisis

Electronic journals have an obvious rationale. . . . Many libraries cannot afford new journals: library subscription prices in the early 80s have risen at about 10% per annum, substantially above the rate of inflation, while the number of scientific and technical journals doubles every 30 years (Lambert, 1985). Electronic publishing would be faster for authors and cheaper for libraries and readers.[1]
As William Gardner points out, libraries and academic institutions in general have a very good reason for supporting the in-house development of electronic publications: it will save them money. Librarians are well aware of the rapidly rising prices forcing cancellation of journal subscriptions. Electronic publishing, which avoids the built-in costs of printing and mailing a paper journal, offers a solution to this crisis. At present, electronic publishing is in its infancy -- there are only a handful of electronic journals -- but new electronic journals appear all the time. Economic and technological factors make it a virtual certainty that this trend will continue, and make it more than likely that print journals will begin to move in the direction of electronic publishing as well.

Commercial database distributors could easily become the publishers of these projects, as could non-profit networks and organizations. In fact, the OCLC and the AAAS are already developing an electronic Science journal, for which hookup and download fees will be charged -- but there is no reason that commercial distribution of research must become the norm in this new medium. Electronic publications such as Postmodern Culture can be extremely inexpensive to produce and distribute, and universities already have much of the equipment and facilities necessary to support them. Much of our success at North Carolina State University has been related to the pro-active strategizing of library and university staff who are aware that we must invent new solutions in the wake of the publishing crisis. If academic institutions do not take a leading role in developing and supporting electronic publishing ventures, they will continue to pay twice for research -- once to produce it, and once to buy it back (at a rate that will probably be at least as high as what they now pay to purchase print journals) from for-profit middle-men.

Electronic Publishing in the Humanities

Electronic publishing is developing on practical, theoretical, and technological fronts simultaneously: while publishers of electronic journals gather practical experience and develop ad hoc procedures, the premises and possibilities of such journals are also being investigated in more methodical ways, and research is underway to develop standardized procedures, text-handling options, and software that might benefit such publishing. Projects both large and small are in the process of storing text in electronic formats -- often scanning books that are only available in print -- for archiving and research purposes, while other projects are producing texts that originate in electronic form.

Several academic and governmental bodies have already seen the need to prepare for the electronic text's coming of age. The ACH (the Association for Computers and the Humanities, in the US), in conjunction with the ALLC (the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing, in the UK) and the ACL (the Association for Computational Linguistics) are directing the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), with substantial funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the European Economic Community. With working committees concentrating on text documentation, text representation, text analysis and interpretation, and syntax definitions, TEI aims to develop standards for tagging and formatting machine-readable texts. TEI is now circulating a draft document describing its computer-oriented tagging language, SGML (the Standard Generalized Markup Language), intended to identify structural, physical, morphological, and possibly even thematic elements in the text. (For a new book on using SGML see Eric van Herwijnen, Practical SGML (Geneva, Switzerland: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990.) Critics of SGML worry that

This language does not so much translate the text into etext which can only be read by computers, as it does additions to the etexts, which point out various points of interest to an army of scholars who are the target audience for such things as a general rule. SGML does not remove anything from etext but it adds so much that it makes it difficult or impossible for the normal reader to scan the material . . . .[2]
Proponents of the project argue that once SGML is in use, there will be readers (i.e., software) and word-processing programs either designed or modified to hide the tagging information from the eye, or to represent it in a conventionally readable way.

In addition to TEI, there are a number of smaller projects addressed to such questions. The ISO has for several years had a working group devoted to setting standards for the citation of electronic texts. (In this context, see S. Kulikowski, "Network Reference and Publication," Educational Technology archives; EDTECH LOG9010; LISTSERV@OHSTVMA; Bitnet [1990], on reference conventions for network publications.) Several professional associations, including the Modern Language Association and the American Academy of Religion, have established committees to study the subject. New professional associations have also been established in the field of electronic publishing. The Association of Electronic Scholarly Journals (AESJ) met for the first time in October 1990 at NC State University to compare publishing methodologies and to discuss issues of copyright, marketing, standards of citation, and professional reception. Even more recently, Willard McCarty, the founding editor of HUMANIST (one of the first network discussion groups in the humanities), has set up ARACHNET, a discussion group which helps electronic publications get started and helps their editors resolve technical and procedural problems.

There are also several projects underway to archive and index texts in electronic form. For the past few years, the Georgetown Center for Text and Technology in Washington, D.C. has been gathering information about archives and projects in electronic text throughout the world; their list currently runs to more than 300 entries. The American Psychological Association is sponsoring research into on-line archives and journals for the social sciences, and the American Philosophical Association's Subcommittee on Philosophy and Electronic Texts has prepared a list of electronic texts in philosophy. Comserve, an electronic publisher at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, provides access to extensive bibliographies of articles in Speech & Communications journals, as well as to many other services. And Project Gutenberg, based at the University of Illinois at Urbana, describes itself as "a national clearinghouse for machine readable texts." In England, Oxford University has founded the Oxford Text Archive, a storage and retrieval facility housing several hundred books scanned into machine-readable form. In France, a larger project is being sponsored by the Bibliotheque Nationale to scan all the works held by the Bibliotheque and to archive them electronically. (For further information on these archives, see Appendix B below.)

Until recently, humanists have used the electronic networks and the Listserv program primarily for e-mail discussion groups: these discussion groups are not "bulletin boards" in the traditional sense, in that the connection with them is by e-mail rather than by an interactive telecommunications link; they are generally moderated but not heavily edited, and range from general-topic groups such as HUMANIST and public-interest groups such as KIDS-91, to much more specialized groups on the works of single authors (Shakespeare, for example) or even on single works (on Finnegans Wake, for example).

In the last few years humanists have begun to use these same channels for the transmission of edited, scholarly materials. There are now more than a dozen electronic periodicals on-line. Some are newsletters such as ArtsNet Review (an Australian journal of the arts) and the newsletter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (concerned with legal and ethical issues of the electronic medium). Others are scholarly peer-reviewed journals comparable to print publications in their professional fields. A partial list of these includes EJournal (devoted to the theory and praxis of electronic text), Synapse (a literary quarterly), Erofile (reviews of recent French and Italian critical literature), Public Access Computer Systems Review (examining issues related to public-access computer systems in libraries); the Electronic Journal of Communication (a bilingual journal in Communications, distributed through Comserve); Psycoloquy (distributing abstracts in psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience); New Horizons in Adult Education; Journal of the International Association of Hospitality Research (a hotel management journal); and Postmodern Culture (see below for a detailed description).

An Example of a Current Electronic Publication

Postmodern Culture is a peer-reviewed electronic journal which publishes essays on contemporary literature, theory, and culture, as well as fiction, poetry, and works in progress. It shows how one may organize and produce an electronic journal, but its methods and procedures are not the only ones worth considering, so as we discuss them we will try to point out the alternatives and explain our decisions.

The first issue of Postmodern Culture appeared in September of 1990, the second in January of 1991, and the third in May of 1991. The journal will continue to appear three times a year. Each issue contains about six essays, one or two creative works, one or more medium-length book reviews, a column on popular culture, and a file of announcements and advertisements. Our subject-matter, the postmodern, has been variously defined as an era beginning after World War II, as the self-referentiality characteristic of certain works of art from Cervantes to Acker, and as the disintegration of the Enlightenment's ideals and assumptions. The journal's content is of secondary interest in the context of this essay, but it is worth considering the way that certain subjects may be well-fitted for the electronic medium. The field of postmodern studies may be especially suitable for an experiment in electronic publishing, for a number of reasons. First, there is a widespread interest among scholars of postmodernism in the moral and aesthetic dimensions of technology, as we can confirm from the interest of our subscribers; a practical result is that many in the field have familiarized themselves with computers. Second, there is interest among those same scholars and critics in the questions posed by poststructuralism, and particularly in questions about the nature and authority of text -- questions that take on new significance when one begins comparing electronic text to the spoken and printed word. Third, an electronic journal which raises questions about the nature of scholarship and which offers the opportunity to experiment with the editorial process benefits from the emphasis in postmodern studies on formal experimentation, even in academic writing, and on questioning the assumptions of traditional scholarship.

When we first discussed the possibility of an electronic journal, in January of 1990, we focused on the format in which we might distribute the journal. We considered various models for what we wanted to do, including interactive software such as electronic bulletin boards, hardware- or software-specific journals such as Tidbits (a hypercard, Macintosh-based journal), and network discussion groups (such as HUMANIST). We decided that restricting ourselves to the lowest common technological denominator -- creating text that could be distributed for free and read by any word-processing program running on any computer hardware -- would increase our accessibility and make us available to a wider pool of subscribers. For these reasons we settled on ASCII text transmitted by electronic mail as our format. Our next logistical decision was to set up PMC-Talk, a discussion-group which supplements the journal with an open channel for critique, information exchanges, and the publication of nonjuried submissions. As a separate list, PMC-Talk requires a separate subscription, and though subscribers to Postmodern Culture are notified of PMC-Talk's existence, they are not automatically subscribed. This decision was made to accommodate those who might want to receive only the journal and not the daily mail from a discussion group. Finally, we elected to make the journal available on disk and microfiche, so that libraries that could not make the journal available to patrons in its electronic-mail form (because they did not have the necessary computer equipment, for example) could still subscribe, and so that individual users who had no access to electronic mail could still have access to us.

An electronic journal such as Postmodern Culture needs to consider which aspects of the present, print-based system of scholarly communication could be translated to the electronic medium, and which should be discarded in favor of new possibilities. It seems likely that many of the traditional activities of humanistic scholarship can be profitably transplanted into this new environment -- we come out in "issues," for instance, and have a professional editorial board which reviews work for publication. Other journals, such as Psycoloquy, have felt that "issues" make no sense in this medium, and have decided on "streaming" publication, numbering individual items and sending them out as soon as they are ready.[3]

Another difference between Postmodern Culture and some other electronic journals (such as EJournal, for example) is that we have accepted editorial board members who are not themselves on-line, and that we do accept submissions that are sent in forms other than electronic mail. While we understand the reasons for restricting oneself to e-mail (it speeds up the review process and simplifies the production of issues), one of our goals was to encourage humanists to use e-mail. Over time, we have seen this happen: while at first only half of our editorial board was accessible by e-mail, now about three-quarters of the board is on-line. We've also received an increasing number of e-mail submissions, sometimes from authors who originally sent us disk or hard copy and then learned how to use electronic mail. In other ways, too, Postmodern Culture has leaned toward an established and recognized editorial process. When a submission is received, the two editors screen it; if both feel that the submission is appropriate for the journal then it is sent on to two members of the editorial board and to one self-nominated peer-reviewer. If a work receives at least two readers' recommendations for acceptance, it comes back to Postmodern Culture to be edited for publication. If major revisions are required, the editors re-submit the work to readers upon receipt of the revised manuscript. Minor revisions are approved by the current issue editor in consultation with the other editor. Final verification of bibliographic citations is the responsibility of the author, but the journal staff check citations as part of the editorial process, and other readers may provide assistance in this area as well. These standard procedures are meant to guarantee the rigor of the scholarly evaluation process and to assure both authors and the profession of the validity of publication in the electronic medium.

At the same time, Postmodern Culture has tried to experiment with the editorial process in a number of ways. We are unusual among academic journals in that we expose more of our editorial process to the scrutiny and comment of our readers, both in the interest of fairness and because we feel that our editorial process is itself a work-in-progress. As mentioned above, we integrate our readers into the editorial process by using self-nominated peer-reviewers in addition to our editorial board. These peer-reviewers are journal subscribers who explain their qualifications to review a particular submission when they nominate themselves. So far this procedure has been surprisingly helpful and the reviewers have been thoroughly professional. PMC-Talk, too, the associated discussion group set up and sponsored by the journal, offers an experimental channel which adds another interactive dimension to the journal. Here readers can write their comments on published essays and help authors with their works-in-progress, authors can respond to criticism, and subscribers as a group constitute a sizeable pool from which information on a wide variety of topics related to postmodernism may be drawn.

The response we have had at different stages of the project has been positive. When we set out to assemble our editorial board (in the Spring of 1990) we contacted artists, scholars, and critics in a wide variety of fields, and our letters were remarkably well received. The editorial board for Postmodern Culture includes researchers and writers in literature and literary theory, film, history, feminist studies, cultural theory, African-American studies, Latin American studies, religion, and architecture. Members were chosen because of their own performance in their field (or the promise of it-we chose some younger scholars who were highly recommended by their colleagues) and because they offer special knowledge of diverse disciplines, genres, and cultures. As for interest in the journal from writers and essayists, there was enough response to allow for the production of two issues within twelve months (these back issues are available free of charge by writing pmc@ncsuvm.bitnet or Although the discussion on PMC-Talk has so far been less focused than we had hoped, the discussion group has hosted interesting exchanges on postmodern science, networked art, contemporary politics, and other subjects, and has distributed a number of essays, bibliographies, translations, and creative works. Postmodern Culture itself now has over 1300 subscribers: humanists are prepared for the advent of electronic publication, and are eager to learn more about the possibilities of the medium.

Electronic Mail as a Medium:
Who Uses It, and How

At the heart of the new possibilities for the appropriation of formal systems is the computational object, on the border between an abstract idea and a concrete physical object.[4]

In our culture computers are associated with a construction of science that stresses aggression, domination, and competition. The cultural construction of science leads to a conflict that considerably complicates our story of how women appropriate technology. In the case of computation, this conflict is particularly acute.[5]

Electronic mail is a mode of communication which falls somewhere between conversation and print, in that it is more quickly produced and distributed than the latter but can be more carefully considered (and is better stored in a computer's memory) than the former. In the broadest sense, a project such as Postmodern Culture represents a scholarly effort to exploit the power of the modem. The particular advantage of the modem to scholarly inquiry is its capacity to engender dialogue and to create a context for epistemological pluralism. Within the present system of publishing, journals present articles as "finished" works of scholarship; even if a reader takes the time to respond to an essay, her or his response doesn't appear for months. More often, essays are not responded to at all; certainly readers do not often write an author to encourage further development of a work in progress and to assist the writer in thinking about her or his topic. With electronic journals, a subscriber can retrieve, read, and respond to an essay in a matter of hours. If humanists begin to think of our journal and others like it as laboratories rather than as showcases, we may draw in more writers and produce work which addresses a wider audience in a new way. We have already had to face difficult but very interesting questions about the type of essays that might best suit this medium. Is the "finished" work more appropriate in the print medium while works in progress, collaborative essays, and interviews are more appropriate for an electronic journal? Or is there room for both in this medium? Might electronic publishing alter or do away with our very ideas of the finished work, the authoritative text, the final product?

Theoretically and philosophically, Postmodern Culture and other such journals can shift the emphasis of scholarship from the product to the process and from the single author to the corporate author (writers and their readers). We can begin to make clear to ourselves the rootedness of knowledge in conversation. Furthermore, because the medium makes possible and even encourages updates and revisions of articles, we both illustrate and theorize about the mutability of information and knowledge and the open-endedness of scholarly pursuits. Thus the dynamic nature of e-texts allows us to recognize contradiction, change and difference as the standard features of complex thinking, rather than fearing them as inimical to thought. As a fundamentally dialogic instrument, the modem may become a carrier not only of electrical but also of pluralistic impulses, especially with respect to our notion of how knowledge is constructed, and in that way it may prove to be a catalyst for cultural change.

The dialogic nature of Postmodern Culture makes it a particularly suitable space for writing by a variety of contemporary thinkers. Feminist writers, for example, have criticized a number of the dualities which structure academic discourse -- first and foremost, the split between personal and professional writing, but also the division between collegial conversation and serious or authoritative writing. At the same time, most feminist journals, like all print journals, are limited in their interactive capacity. In creating Postmodern Culture, we hoped to make possible the kinds of experimental writing (more collaborative work; work which invites response) some feminists have advocated.

And yet, our experience indicates that women writers in particular may be less likely than men to send their work to an electronic journal or to participate in e-mail conversations. Some research explains this phenomenon by suggesting that women have not been the chief audience for technological developments (hence software, some argue, is geared for male rather than female users), and that women are simply not encouraged to use computer technology as strongly as men are. Some research goes further, to suggest that women's less aggressive and more relational mode of work is at odds with cultural ideas about the computer, and/ or that men are exposed to programming, while women are expected to use the computer for word processing and clerical skills.[6] Though the images we form in response to technology may be false (for example, the idea that only men use computer technology extensively), they may still be very influential. By making Postmodern Culture as accessible as possible (because the journal does not require any special software and because it provides clear instructions for reading the journal to all subscribers), we hope to draw more women into the field. The Autumn, 1990 issue of Signs, titled "From Hard Drive to Software: Gender, Computers, and Difference," indicates that many feminist investigators are thinking both about the latent sexism that informs dominant computer practices and about ways to deploy the computer and the modem for feminist work. Postmodern Culture provides an ideal space for such questioning and experimentation.

Being an electronic journal at this point in history means that we do draw in large part from a "modem-ed" audience, and although this may restrict our readership in some ways, it also makes it more diverse in others. We have had subscriptions and submissions from the United States, Canada, Latin America, most of Western Europe (and some of eastern Europe), the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the Far East. And because our journal is free and readily available, we have many subscribers from fields outside the humanities and from outside academia altogether. Our audience is unusual in another respect, too. Most people subscribe to a print journal because of its content, but many of the subscribers to Postmodern Culture seem to have subscribed because of our medium. This presents a challenge to the editors in terms of content. The specialized vocabulary which makes up the discourse of postmodernism can be daunting even to scholars in related fields. What about a lay reader in Argentina? Will the essays in Postmodern Culture be accessible to her? Though it would be a mistake to over-emphasize the power of any single project such as Postmodern Culture to influence future changes in computer technology-what uses it is put to and by whom -- it is certain, as Andrew Ross argued in our first issue, that we can have no effect on this technology and on the direction in which its potentials are developed if we remain computer-illiterate. 38 EYAL

So far, our reader and writer profile tends to be predominately Western, male, and academic. At present (March 1991) only about 200 of our subscribers are women. But the medium itself, while perhaps encouraging a certain audience, can be useful in helping us to expand it. For example, we can raise questions about gender and nationality on pmc-talk and re-think editorial policy in relation to response from readers. We can invite those who consider themselves newcomers either to postmodernism or to e-mail to respond to a particular essay or to an issue. While other journals could do the same, our diverse audience and medium make such conversations more likely.

Institutional Factors in Electronic Publication

We've been discussing some of the features that electronic journals can offer to writers and readers, and have sketched ways in which users have (and have not) made use of those features. However, it is already clear that technological potential is not the only factor that determines our modes of intellectual production and consumption; the system of institutional rewards is at least as powerful a factor, and probably a much more powerful one. Where institutional rewards are concerned, there are three principal issues to consider: the legitimacy granted to electronic publication by tenure committees and university administrations, the incentives or disincentives for authors to experiment with using electronic media in new ways, and the incentives or disincentives for readers to do the same.

Until and unless colleges and universities recognize electronic publication as having the same legitimacy as publication in print media, there is little likelihood that academic writers will feel it is worth contributing to electronic journals. Interestingly, many of our essays have come from well established authors who can "afford" to publish in this medium: they already have tenure. But part of our incentive in creating Postmodern Culture was to encourage less established writers and to provide a forum which would provide encouraging and critical response to work in progress.

Institutional legitimation is a matter of the peer-review process and not a question of the medium in which peer-reviewed work is distributed. An electronic journal that uses methods as careful and reviewers as qualified as those used by responsible print journals ought to be considered a valid form of professional publication, more or less automatically. As Abraham Bookstein and Mike J. O'Donnell say in their current proposal to establish a juried electronic journal to be called The Chicago Journal of Computer Science,

The crucial point that distinguishes scholarly publication from other forms of communication is that the readers have a high confidence that they are all reading precisely the same article created by the author and accepted by the editor, and that this acceptance is an accurate certificate of the value of the article.

The basic protocol of publication in a scholarly journal-the author freely chooses to submit an article, the editor takes the advice of several independent and anonymous referees, insists on revisions if appropriate, then accepts or rejects the article-is independent of the medium. There is no reason to change that highly successful protocol in converting from print to electronic network publication.[7]

However, we've found many who either express or expect a good deal of uncertainty on this question. They wonder whether work published electronically will "count" towards tenure and promotion. Perhaps the problem is as simple as the immateriality of electronic text: there may be a sort of superstitious faith in "hard copy" and a similarly superstitious dread of "virtual text." As Bookstein and O'Donnell explain it, "Partly because of the costs and delays inherent in printing and distribution of journals, such publication is usually taken very seriously . . . . Significant value is added to a work by its publication in a journal." Certainly a printout of an essay published electronically looks and feels more provisional, less authoritative, and less certified than a typeset offprint or a bound volume. Another problem may be that, although humanists are increasingly computer literate, it is by no means certain that most of the senior faculty and administrators making tenure decisions today are themselves computer-literate and interested in reading and evaluating electronic publications.

Even authors who do publish in the electronic medium may be reluctant to take advantage of its possibilities, for similar reasons. Authors in the humanities have traditionally adhered to the model of the individual producer who works, thinks, writes, and publishes in isolation. This is not the case in many scientific fields, and needn't be the case in the humanities, especially when the networks provide an ideal tool for collaborative authorship among researchers at remote sites, and for productive exchanges among researchers who may never meet one another at all. And as we have pointed out, many contemporary theorists have recommended that we exploit other writing models and that we de-mystify the image of the isolated scholar. But if there are no institutional rewards for collaborative and/ or dialogic work done in the electronic medium, then electronic publishing is going to produce work that looks exactly like its counterpart in print -- monologic, single-author texts presented as finished products rather than as works in progress. Likewise with reader response: it takes considerable effort to write a carefully reasoned and well-informed response to an essay-length argument, and in the absence of institutional recognition of the value of such responses, readers may well decide that the sensible thing to do is either to remain silent or to write their own monologic texts and submit them for professional credit.

On the other hand, our experience in starting Postmodern Culture indicates that electronic journals can benefit from their unusual position in the academy. They draw on institutional resources that are generally under-utilized by Humanities faculty. We have received financial and technical support from N.C. State's Computing Center, several computer labs in the University, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Libraries, among others. The reasons for this support vary: academic computing staff are happy to show how they can help the Humanities: doing so broadens their institutional base and gives them increased visibility in a portion of the university that, until recently, hasn't seemed very interested in what they do. The computing center here has been involved in our project from the earliest stages, helping us to design the journal's operating methods, providing technical assistance, and subsidizing our use of the University's Listserv facilities.

For the economic and professional reasons already outlined above, the libraries at NC State and also the national Association of Research Libraries have supported our initiative, providing us with office space, technical assistance, advice on fund-raising and library relations, and facilitating our contacts with other interested parties by organizing conferences and symposia (such as the one held here in October of 1990 for the editors of juried electronic publications). At higher levels of the university administration, the novelty of electronic Publishing and its emphasis on the use of computer technology seem to increase the credibility and attractiveness of humanities research projects. This does not solve the problem of legitimating electronic publication in a professional context, but for some, the use of computers seems to give tangible evidence that real work is being done. In a difficult economic atmosphere, we've been able to get modest university grants for basic equipment and operating expenses, stopgap funding when needed, useful legal advice on questions of copyright, and cooperation in establishing the ownership and institutional status of the journal. Outside the university, we've been able to establish ad-exchange agreements with a number of print journals in related fields.

Finally, though, in order for publication in electronic media to succeed in serving even the most traditional purposes, such publication obviously needs to be available to the public -- to students, to researchers, and to interested readers. An electronic publication can keep its back issues on a filelist where network users may retrieve them, but not everyone has access to the networks, and there is no guarantee that a filelist will always be there. If a journal moves to another institution or ceases publication, how will readers have access to the essays published by the journal? Libraries should provide that access, in the same way they do for print journals. How libraries will choose to do that is an important and unanswered question. Many libraries have local area networks and can make electronic publications available to patrons on those networks; many more libraries have on-line card catalogues, and might use some of those terminals to provide access to electronic texts. Mainframe facilities in general will undoubtedly continue to become integrated with library operations and systems, and patrons will learn to use these facilities as they become available. It makes sense for libraries to use mainframe resources to deliver publications which originate as electronic text, since computerized access brings with it powerful capabilities for searching, indexing, and analyzing texts even from remote sites, but as an intermediate step electronic journals may consider making themselves available on microfiche (as Postmodern Culture does) as well as by electronic mail. Unlike printed copy, microfiche is not expensive or difficult to produce from computer tapes; fiche also lasts for a long time, almost all libraries already have the equipment necessary for reading it, and library patrons are likely to be familiar with it. Even as libraries develop mainframe resources and begin to make on-line text widely available, microfiche or the tape used to produce it may be a useful format for archiving text. Until most libraries have the facilities to present full text on-line and most readers have the skills to use such services, it is important that electronic publications be available in several formats.

The Present Future of Electronic Publishing

The exponential increase, over the last few years, in traffic on the networks and in the diversity of purposes and users for network facilities indicates that a major shift in the mode, and perhaps the nature, of scholarly activity is not far off. While our own immediate goal for Postmodern Culture has been to explore and demonstrate what can be done with existing technology, we expect the journal to evolve in form and method as the technology of data transfer changes. On the technological front, a number of imminent developments in hardware, software, and text-formatting could significantly increase the usefulness of the networks for text and graphics applications. For example, fiber-optic lines for network data transmission will dramatically increase the possibilities for on-line graphics and for new interactive programs that might run across the networks. In conjunction with these hardware improvements, the advent of SGML and of programs to read and manipulate text formatted in SGML might provide electronic text with a visual appeal on par with print, and would certainly give e-text advantages over print from the point of view of the researcher. It is likely that as electronic publication becomes more sophisticated, many print-based ideas about text will gradually drop away. "Journals" with "issues" containing "articles" may be replaced with electronic archives containing huge databases, navigable along an incalculable number of search paths and in the informational equivalent of multi-dimensional space.

Since what is possible in the field of computers seems to change and expand so quickly, it is difficult at times to distinguish between present realities and future possibilities. William Gardner's essay, "The Electronic Archive: Scientific Publishing for the '90's," and others responding to that essay,[8] have discussed the electronic archive/database as a future possibility, but it may not be far from being a present reality. Ted Nelson's Xanadu, a "worldwide open hypertext-publishing network," is under development by AutoDesk, a company which has already invested several million dollars in the project; the first Xanadu stands are scheduled to open in California in 1993 (see Engst, Adam C., ed., TidBITS#30/Xanadu--text; Machine Readable Texts Email List (GUTNBERG LOG9011; GUTNBERG@UIUCVMD; Bitnet, 1990), a special issue devoted to Xanadu). Present technology already allows users to search library card catalogues and existing text databases via a Telnet connection. The recently announced SPIRES facility at Syracuse University, for example, permits remote users to search a complete archive of all of HUMANIST's mailings, sorting the database by author, volume, subject, date, or text strings in the body of the messages. These searches can be combined and restricted in various ways, using a full range of boolean operators. Stodolsky and others have also discussed ways of re-organizing the methods of research evaluation that electronic publishing will make possible -- not only faster review, but much broader participation by members of the profession in the review process and, in consequence, a possible "democratization" of that process.9 At this point, the barriers to these changes are not technological or practical but rather institutional and habitual.

For similar reasons, it remains to be seen whether electronic publishing will develop into a competitor or a cooperative adjunct to print publishing. One imagines that the relationship might well become a cooperative one, because each medium has different strengths, but the answer to other questions will have a bearing on the answer to this one -- for example, questions about copyright, republication, and audience. Ted Jennings, writing to the Association of Electronic Scholarly Journals, parses many of these concerns:

I think the deepest issue we all have to face, over the long haul . . . is the "intellectual property problem. Who "owns" data? Every "bit" of it? When does it become "Information?" "Information" is any bit that reduces an uncertainty. "Up" a layer from "raw information" come chunks and clumps and clusters -- data that have been arranged, organized, maybe even "interpreted." Then we're off and climbing ladders of abstraction and generalization toward conclusion and judgment. When can one claim "possession?" . . . . Details aside, it's pretty clear that the [copyright] law followed the technology and -- and here's the key, I think -- the technology had begun to produce thoroughly unpredictable effects in society and social institutions before the clear need for laws protecting intellectual property became evident. I think that we are in the midst of an analogously radical shift in technology, and cannot hope to predict thoroughly what the feed-forward ramifications will be. In the meantime, . . . [don't depend on adjustments and adaptations of copyright to serve the needs of the nets.
These questions of intellectual ownership immediately involve institutional questions:
The immediate question, in academe, has to do with the culture of priority, discovery, originality, and (note the fiscal/ commercial term) "credit" toward promotion, pay, consulting, and a place in the record books. . . . Can [electronic publishers] record and document and certify "you heard it here first" and at the same time disseminate what passes through our conduits without restriction as to later use?[10]
Jennings also raises the question of plagiarism, which "is connected with 'frozen' print accompanied by one 'owner's' name." These questions are not as troublesome in connection with electronic journals as they are regarding electronic mail in general, however, as Charles Bailey cautions: "Perhaps the situation is worst for electronic communications that bear the least resemblance to traditional printed forms, such as e-mail messages on computer conferences. . . . In the context of ejournals, things should be less hazy, since we can copyright these works explicitly and they bear some resemblance to traditional print journals."[11] Some print publishers are already moving into electronic text, and if they become a major force in this medium (or if software companies do), then some of these questions might eventually become moot or meaningless. At some point, the printed volume -- expensive and unwieldy -- may have more aesthetic than practical value, and reading it may be an idiosyncratic leisure-time activity. One thinks of Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation, the retro-reader who thumbs print copies of great literature in his rare moments of relaxation.

Here on earth, too, there will be many more electronic texts in the near future -- serials, primary and secondary texts for scholarly use, and archives of texts -- such as the discussion on HUMANIST -- for which we still have no settled generic term. Economic pressure and the possibilities of the medium will hasten the migration of text from print to pixels, but whether that migration changes the way we understand and approach authorship, texts, and knowledge in general depends to a large extent on institutional, legal, and ideological pressures. In other words, the future of electronic publishing depends on the active involvement and shaping participation of human beings-readers, writers, and archivists. What is possible depends on what we want, and on who "we" turn out to be.

Appendix A: Instructions on Using Listserv Commands

(Excerpted from Postmodern Culture's "Preface for New Users," adapted from material distributed by HUMANIST.)

In order to use these commands, you will need to know what kind of operating system is running on your mainframe, and what network you are connected to. If you do not know either of these things, contact your local mainframe consultant, systems programmer, or postmaster. In all the following examples, the commands you should type are represented by capital letters, and the variable information (for example, the filename and filetype of the file you might request) are represented in lower case. Note that addresses expressed as "userid AT nodename" may have to be entered as "userid@nodename" on some systems. Note also for instructions pertaining to "interactive procedures" that if at any particular time you cannot get through to NCSUVM [our node] from your site you will have to try again later; interactive commands are not preserved by the various systems, nor are they automatically retried. Finally, where you see the lower-case variables "fn ft" in these instructions, you will want to substitute the filename and filetype for the file you want; in the file listed as ACKER 990, for example [a work published in the September 1990 issue of the journal], "ACKER" is the filename and "990" is the filetype.


Getting A List of Archived Texts

Note that the filelist can be retrieved as a piece of mail by adding the command F=MAIL to the end of any of the command lines specified below.

A. If you are on Bitnet/NetNorth/EARN and use an IBM VM/ CMS system send the interactive command


As an alternative, send a mail message to LISTSERV AT NCSUVM containing the one and only line


This should be on the first line of the mail message -- in other words, there should be no blank lines and no salutation preceding this line.

Getting An Archived Text

Essays and creative works: these will usually have a filename consisting of the first eight characters of the author's last name, and a filetype consisting of numbers denoting the month and year of the issue in which that item was published. For example, Kathy Acker's fiction, published in the September, 1990 issue, has the filename ACKER and the filetype 990; Greg Ulmer's essay, published in the January, 1991 issue, has the filename ULMER and the filetype 191.

Regular features: these always have the same filename from issue to issue: for example, NOTICES 191 (the file of advertisements and announcements), REVIEWS 990 (the book review section), POP-CULT 191 (the popular culture column), and POSTFACE 990 (the editors' postface). In addition, the table of contents for each issue (which contains authors' names, titles, filenames and filetypes, abstracts, a list of the editorial board, journal policy, and information on subscription and submission) always has the filetype CONTENTS (so, for the first issue, the file is CONTENTS 990, for the second issue CONTENTS 191, etc.).

Package files: If you would like to retrieve an entire issue all at once, you can ask for the "Package" file which represents that issue: the package for the first issue (v. 1, n. 1) is named PMCVlN1 PACKAGE. To retrieve the whole issue, you would issue the command GET PMCVlN1 PACKAGE (or, to receive the issue as a series of mail messages rather than as a set of files, issue the command GET PMCVlN1 PACKAGE F=MAIL). Subsequent issues will be represented by files named according to this same formula, e.g. PMCV1N3 PACKAGE, etc.

NOTE: before you ask to receive a whole issue all at once, you should make sure you have at least half a megabyte of storage space into which to receive it.

NOTE: any file can be retrieved as a piece of mail by adding the command F=MAIL to the end of any of the command lines specified below.

A. If you are on Bitnet/NetNorth/EARN and use an IBM VM/ CMS system send the interactive command

As an alternative, send a mail message to LISTSERV AT NCSUVM containing the one and only line


This should be on the first line of the mail message. In other words, there should be no blank lines and no salutation preceding this line.

B. If you are on Bitnet/NetNorth/EARN and use a Vax VMS system, type

You may also be able to use the following interactive procedure:


you should get the prompt:


then type:


If neither the SEND command nor the interactive procedure produce the desired results, use whatever command you have to send a file- e.g., SENDFILE-to LISTSERV AT NCSUVM, the first and only line of the file you send being


Note that any file can be obtained in UUENCODEd format by giving the command


as part of any of these procedures.

C. If you are on Bitnet/NetNorth/EARN but don't use an IBM VM/CMS system, or if you are not on Bitnet (e.g., JANET, arpa, uucp, etc.) use your mailer -- of whatever kind, e.g., MAIL -- to send an ordinary message to LISTSERV AT NCSUVM and include as the one and only line


For The Frustrated

If, after experimenting with the appropriate instructions you are unable to get the files you want, ask for help locally first (because you may need special information only your local computer wizards can provide). Failing that, try adding F=MAIL to the end of your GET commands: this will result in the requested item being sent to you as mail, rather than as a file-something which may bypass problems with incompatible file formats. If none of the above works, write us at the journal's editorial address (PMC@NCSUVM on Bitnet, PMC@NCSUVM.CC.NCSU.EDU on Internet) and we will try to help.

Appendix B: Electronic Publishers and Archives

(Taken in part from a list compiled by Tharon Howard, editor of PURTOPOI, a rhetoric discussion group at Purdue University.) An extensive directory of electronic publications and academic discussion groups is now available in print: Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists, compiled by Michael Strangelove and Diane Kovacs, ed. Ann Okerson. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, July 1991.)

Artcom. An online magazine forum dedicated to the interface of contemporary art and new communication technologies. Send submissions to

ArtsNet Review. An Australian magazine dedicated to Contemporary Cross-Cultural, Arts & Electronic Networking issues. Pegasus address is suephil. APC address is peg:suephil. UUCP address is DIALCOM address is (DE3PEG)suephil! Send print mail to PO Box 429, EAST- WOOD 5063, South AUSTRALIA.

The Society for Critical Exchange's "College of Electronic Theory." For Information and application forms, send e-mail to (gxsl There is a subscription fee.

Communication Research and Theory Network. A moderated group for scholars interested in human communication, speech, rhetoric. Edited by Tom Benson (T3B@PSUVM); List address: CRTNET@PSUVM.

Comserve at RPI. Subscription to any one of Comserve's many communication groups (contact COMSERVE@RPIECS) automatically allows you access to Comserve's services, including their extensive bibliographies of articles in Speech/ Communications journals. This service is free.

EFF News. EFF News will present news, information, and discussion about the world of computer-based communications media that constitute the electronic frontier. It will cover issues such as freedom of speech in digital media, privacy rights, censorship, standards of responsibility for users and operators of computer systems, policy issues such as the development of national information infrastructure, and intellectual property. Editors are Mitch Kapor ( and Mike Godwin (

NEJCREC: Electronic Journal of Communication/ La Revue Electronique do Communication. Ed. James Winter and Claude Martin. Contact COMSERVE@RPIECS.

EJournal. An all-electronic, Bitnet/Internet distributed, peer-reviewed, academic periodical focusing on the theory and praxis surrounding the creation, transmission, storage, interpretation, alteration and replication of electronic text. Inquiries to ejournal@albnyvms.bitnet or

EROFILE: Electronic reviews of French and Italian Literary Essays. Timely reviews of the latest books in the following areas associated with French and Italian studies: Literary Criticism, Cultural Studies, Film Studies, Pedagogy, Software.

HUMANIST File-Server Functions. You must be a member of HUMANIST to search and retrieve its collection of hardware and software reviews, bibliographies, notebooks, etc. To subscribe, write the editors at EDITORS@BROWNVM. To get an index of these files, issue the following command to LISTSERV@BROWNVM: "GET HUMANIST FILELIST HUMANIST" (without the quotes). There is no charge for this service.

Journal of Distance Education and Communication. Contact JADIST@ALASKA.Bitnet

Journal of Interactive Fiction and Creative Hypertext. Contact Gordon Howell at Scottish HCI Centre, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh ( Fee for this service is unknown.

Oxford Text Archive. The new short list of texts available from the Oxford Text Archive (announced in Humanist 4.0584) is now on the Humanist fileserver in two forms:

OXARCHIV SHRTLIST -- An SGML tagged version
OXARCHIV FORMATED -- A formatted version To retrieve these lists send mail to either LISTSERV@BROWNVM or with the following lines as the body:


Questions about the OTA or requests for texts should go to:
Lou Burnard, Oxford Text Archive

Philosophy: Version 6 of the APA list of electronic texts in philosophy has been forwarded to Humanist by David Owen (University of Arizona) and placed on Humanist listserv as PHILOSFY ETEXTS. This list is prepared by Leslie Burkholder (Carnegie Mellon University) for the American Philosophical Association's Subcommittee on Philosophy and Electronic Texts. You may obtain a copy of this list by issuing the command GET PHILOSFY EXTEXTS HUMANIST either interactively or as a batchjob, addressed to ListServ@Brownvm.

Postmodern Culture. E-mail subscription to the list is free; there are charges for microfiche or diskette copies. Contact the editors at PMC@NCSUVM.BITNET for more information.

Project Gutenberg. (GUTNBERG@UIUCVMD.BITNET) Directed by Michael S. Hart (HART@UIUCVMD.BITNET). A national clearinghouse for machine readable texts. There are several hardware requirements and fees involved in this service.

SPIRES. To access the SPIRES database of HUMANIST postings, telnet to; once connected, type "suinfo" on the command line at the bottom of the screen; once logged in, enter "HUMANIST" on the line asking for "your response?" Follow screen instructions for searching the database. There is no charge for this service. Synapse. A new electronic literary quarterly published by Connected Education, Inc. Synapse will be issued on MS-DOS and Macintosh diskettes, and over networks. Subscriptions: $15/year. (Please state format preference.) William Dubie, Editor, Synapse, 150A Ayer Road, Shirley, Massachusetts 01464. CompuServe address: 715713323.


  1. Gardner, William P., "The electronic archive: Scientific publishing for the 90's," [Abstract form] PSYCOLOQUY vol. 1, no. I (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990). The full text is available from Gardner; write An expanded version of the piece appeared in Psychological Science. Back
  2. Hart, Michael S., "Text Encoding and Decoding," Machine Readable Texts Email List (GUTENBERG@UIUCVMD; Bitnet, I Oct, 1990). Back

  3. Harnad, Stevan. "Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication Continuum of Scientific Inquiry." Psychological Science 1: 342-343, 1990. Back
  4. Turkle, Sherry, and Seymour Papert, "Epistemological Pluralism: Styles and Voices within the Computer Culture," Signs v. 16, n. 1 (Autumn, 1990), pp. l28- 157. Back

  5. Loc. Cit. Back

  6. Perry, Ruth, and Lisa Gerber, "Women and Computers: An Introduction," Signs v. 16, n. 1 (Autumn, 1990), pp.70-101. Back

  7. O'Donnell, Mike J. and Abraham Bookstein, Copy of a proposal to found TCJCS (GARGOYLE.UCHICAGO.EDU; Internet, 4 February, 1991). Back

  8. Mani, Ganesh, "Electronic archival of scientific journals: The MEGAJOURNAL," PSYCOLOQUY vol. I, no. 2 (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990). Back

  9. Stodolsky, D., "Consensus Journals," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 1, no. 15 (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990); Stodolsky, "Consensus Journal," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 2, no. I (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990); Stodolsky, "Archives and organization: Response to W Gardner," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 1, no. 15 (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990); Stodolsky, "Comments on Gardner's Electronic Archive," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 1, no. 8 (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990).

    See also the exchange in PSYCOLOQUY 1.1-2.1 by Becker, G, "Reply to D. Stodolsky's Consensus Journals," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 2, no.l (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 3 January, 1991); Becker, "Response to D.S. Stodolsky's 'Consensus Journals'," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 1, no. 16 (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990); Dane, F., "Electronic Journals: Alternative to Pickering," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 1, no. 14 (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990); Gardner, William P., "Response to Stodolsky by Gardner," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 1, no. 8 (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990); Gardner, "Reply to David Stodolsky (, Archives and organization: The social potential of electronic publishing," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 1, no. 12 (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990); Jansen, R., "Thoughts on Electronic Journals," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 1, no. 14 (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990); Jansen, "Electronic Journals," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 1., no. 15 (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990); and Pickering, Dr. J.A., "Electronic journals," PSYCOLOQUY vol. 1, no. 13 (PSYC@PUCC; Bitnet, 1990).

    Note that one is to use anonymous ftp to retrieve items from the PSYCOLOQUY archives. To retrieve a file by ftp from a Unix/ Internet site, type:


    When you are asked for your login, type:

  10. anonymous

    For your password, type:


    then change to the PSYCOLOQUY directory with:
    cd pub/harnad

    To show the available files, type:


    The PSYCOLOQUY archive lists volumes and issues according to the formula psyc.arch.[vol.#].[no.#]-for example, vol. 1, no. 15 is named psyc.arch.l.l5

    Next, retrieve the file you want with (for example):

    get psyc.arch.[v].[v]. [fn.ft]

    where [fn] is the filename and [ft] the filetype that the file will be given when it is transferred to your filelist. So, for example, to get vol. 1, no. 15, you could give the command

    get psyc.arch.1. 15 psyc. 1-15

    When you have the file(s) you want, type:


    The above cannot be done from Bitnet directly, but there is a fileserver called bitftp@pucc.bitnet that will do it for you. Send it the one-line message


    for instructions (which will be similar to the above, but will be in the form of a series of lines in an email message that bitftp will then execute for you). Back

  11. Jennings, Ted, "Electronic publishing," Association of Electronic Scholarly Journals: AESJ (AESJ-L@ALBNYVMI; Bitnet, 30 Dec, 1990). Back
  12. Bailey, Charles, "Intellectual Property Issues," Association of Electronic Scholarly Journals: AESJ-L LOG9101 (AESJ-L@ALBNYVMI; Bitnet, I Jan, 1991). Back