New AAA Guidelines on Valuing Public Scholarship
It is well known within academia that the value of public scholarship has long been passed over in favor of inter-scholarly or popular modes of dialoguing. Yet, the importance of creating avenues for scholarly and non-academic audiences to engage one another in a broader pursuit of correcting biases and un-truths has never been clearer; the political environment today partially subsists on the divide between the expert and the layperson. In some ways, the relationship between them has begun to be characterized by animosity. It is in this climate, in which people are more increasingly feeling empowered by their hostility to the truth, that it becomes evident how important an inclusive conversation has become.
In the past, this trend has not been corrected by academia's overall attitude towards academic blogs, such as Diwan and Maydan, which both have professed goals of bridging the public-academic gap. As this article points out, such pursuits have been critically undervalued for their usefulness. Professors and other academics who create these public venues are not usually recognized for their work to an equal level as they would for publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, participating in academic conferences, and pursuing insular, academically-oriented research projects. In other words, they are not rewarded with a tenure for their work in engaging new and different audiences. Bringing their work "down to Earth," as Alisse Waterston phrases it, is barely valued by the institutions they're affiliated with. Making scholarly work readable and fun for the general public is seemingly less important than impressing and engaging other academics.
Recently, however, members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) have pushed the scholarly community to consider new ways to evaluate public scholarship. Listed below is a brief overview of the AAA's new guidelines:
1. Acknowledge the value of public forms of communicating, writing and publishing as scholarship.
2. Articulate what counts for excellence in anthropological scholarship, as well as expectations for communicating research with different publics, including the community of one’s scholarship (where relevant and appropriate).
3. Develop approaches for assessing quality and impact of public forms of scholarly communication.
4. Seek out qualified reviewers for public scholarship, as necessary.
5. Connect with other departments on campus in order to create institutional guidelines for valuing public forms of writing and scholarship, and assessing their impact.
6. Engage a full reassessment of tenure and promotion requirements to ensure a fair balance of expectations across all forms of academic work.
Of course, these resonate strongly with Tadween's goals of presenting academically rigorous work -- work that challenges preexisting thoughts and frameworks in publishing about the Middle East -- and making this research accessible and available to anyone who is interested in learning. These guidelines would help that goal extend even further, by normalizing it throughout academic departments and assigning it qualitative and quantitative value. It is our hope that this new era of public scholarship marks a watershed on the institutional bias that would have universities and the public remain in separate spheres of knowledge, and will bring us all together in order to publish, learn, and flourish.
For more information about the AAA Guidelines, check them out here.