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Romantic Textualities and Open Access

With the recent publication of the RCUK revised guidelines on Open Access publication of publicly funded research, set amidst the broader (and often polemical) debates surrounding open access in general, I thought it would be particularly apposite to publish the first blog post of the revamped Romantic Textualities on this topical issue.

When we launched the journal in 1997, I was a green-eyed and eager graduate student just finishing the first year of my doctoral project under the supervision of Peter Garside. As it then was, Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text, was more a kind of digital newsletter that sought to achieve two things:

  1. to publicize our acquisition of the Corvey Microfiche Edition, a massive analogue archive that had been prepared in  the late 1980s, based on the collection with which Peter had been with to compile his magisterial bibliography of Romantic fiction, The English Novel, 1770–1829, which he was compiling with James Raven and Rainer Schöwerling;
  2. to capitalize on an emergent culture of online publication as a means of drawing attention to the various projects we were or planned to work on in light of this acquisition.

Subsequent issues followed in the succeeding years to showcase research being undertaken in Cardiff University’s fledgling Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, which Peter and I had founded. Before long, however, the nature of what we were doing began to draw some attention, and contributions for new material in the form of essays, and then reports were offered. Our first ‘outside’ piece appeared in Issue 3 (Sep 1999), an article on the relationship between English and Swedish translations of a German author with a French surname. 

This model continued for a while, with submissions coming mainly from researchers working in Romantic studies at Cardiff, along with the occasional piece by external (mainly international) contributors. By Issue 5 (Nov 2000), that model had been inverted, and we were now publishing mainly external content, with a few submissions here and there that provided snapshots of ongoing research, such as that on our incipient Database of British Fiction, 1800–1829. The ‘newsletter’ was becoming a journal …

By 2005, it was clear that Cardiff Corvey wasn’t really the most accurate moniker for what the newsletter-journal-website was: it was issuing material that was peer reviewed, mainly by an editorial board that comprised the leading scholars in the field, and other specialist readers; it provided reports on research projects that were taking place outside the Centre; it was receiving contributions from across the globe. It was time for a rebranding exercise, and so Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840 was born, more accurately reflecting the niche we began to occupy.

At this time, perhaps the only other online scholarly journal on Romantic studies that was taken seriously and given due weight was Michael Eberle-Sinatra’s Romanticism on the Net, a real heavyweight periodical founded in early 1996. Alongside this was Romantic Circles, less a journal than a born-digital web resource, which anchored together a plethora of materials in various contexts.

Despite the wonderful endeavours of these projects, and others like them, I remember that the idea of running an online, open-access journal was often treated quite sniffily. The assumption was that making scholarly material freely available to readers would somehow diminish its rigour; that running a journal online out of a research centre was a form of vanity publishing, which lacked the framework and seriousness that was the purview of commercially printed journals.

Well, some a decade and a half later, it’s very interesting to see how traditional print periodicals are now incurring the ire of scholars worldwide, while academia is looking to online publication as the principal mechanism for disseminating scholarship to a readership freely and in the spirit of knowledge-sharing. To still be running an online journal that has been committed to open access and that still survives (despite the various frustrations and claims on time that such a project entails), at this particular moment in time, mitigates much of the disenchantment of those early online-unfriendly years!

But now, we’re faced with an entirely new set of debates: ‘green’ or ‘gold’ standards of material? what is the role of institutional repositories? what about embargoes? and perhaps, most significantly, who pays? Well, publishers—as commercial enterprises—are pursuing new ways of recouping the potential loss of revenues that will be the inevitable consequence of this shift towards open access. However, what is essentially being undertaken is the commensurate shifting of cost towards the producers of this academic material way from the consumers. Charges in the thousands of pounds/dollars will generate a new set of economic anxieties to replace those that regularly populate departmental boards of studies across the higher education sector: how can such costs be carried? the publication of whose work will be supported financially by an institution and whose won’t? Lots of large imponderables are looming, iceberg-like, before us as the tide turns (excuse the awful maritime metaphor) …

In this new world of open access, Romantic Textualities has always been a free publication, committed to the principles and standards of open access. At the same time, we have always ensured that our academic standards are of the highest quality, and that the material we publish is interesting, significant and original. In addition, the principles of open access mean that authors do not sign away their rights to the work: it remains their own intellectual property, to reuse and remix as they will. All we ask is an acknowledgement. (In fact, we’ve done better than that, and approaches by college textbook publishers of essays we’ve published has generated some decent remuneration for our authors.)

Being free means it doesn’t cost readers anything to access our material; neither does it cost authors anything to contribute their material. Of course, it does have a cost: that of the editorial team, its readers and its contributors, who do spend their time in preparing this material. And, of course, zero income means that some is paying: in time, electricity, server-space; sometimes, this can result in delays that are frustrating and we would wish to avoid, but having full-time careers alongside running an international, peer-reviewed journal, means we can’t always hit our stride as we’d like. However, the shift to this new platform, with an expanding editorial team, and various other benefits from social media, make the task less onerous, and the labour of love more fruitful.

To this end, this new chapter in the life-story of Romantic Textualities presents an exciting new opportunity for a more vibrant, more prominent profile in the field of Romantic scholarly study, and I’m looking forward to watching this new chapter being written.

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