2013-02-22

Studia Patristica

Amazingly hard-working Markus Vinzent of the University of London has just announced that the proceedings of the 2011 Oxford Patristics Conference are likely to appear in print this summer. This will not be a nice tidy bound book that one can use to press flowers or thump a burglar: it will be an entire bookshelf of "around" twenty volumes, according to the announcement.

Over the past year, Professor Vinzent has edited hundreds of conference papers to create something the size of a major encyclopaedia. This enormous thing will emerge as volumes 53 to 72 of Studia Patristica, a journal that commenced in 1957. The fact that the cumulative run of a journal can increase by 38 per cent as a result of a single conference is alarming confirmation of the fear that we now entering an age when writers may soon outnumber readers. All of this excellent research will no doubt vanish into the shelves of research libraries and will be summoned by the occasional (wealthy) researcher from Peeters Publishers' full-text database, but how many of the articles will achieve a total global readership of even ten or twenty or thirty? A sobering thought.

 My own paper, "The Great Stemma: a Late Antique Diagrammatic Chronicle of Pre-Christian Time", will appear in the Historica volume alongside papers by four eminent historians which I found among the most interesting of the entire conference:
  • Guy Stroumsa's "Jerusalem, Israel, Athens, Jerusalem and Mecca: The Patristic Crucible of the Abrahamic Religions," which was a provocative exploration of how Islam, Judaism and Christianity are equal heirs of Late Antique intellectual debates; 
  • Josef Lössl's "Memory as History? Patristic Perspectives," which was a justification of his revisionist approach in his new textbook, The Early Church;
  • Hervé Inglebert's "La formation des élites chrétiennes d’Augustin à Cassiodore," which told the interesting story of advanced education from the fourth century;
  • Pauline Allen's "Prolegomena to a Study of the Letter-Bearer in Christian Antiquity," which lays the groundwork for an interesting book she is writing about Late Antique travellers who deliver letters.
As far as I can tell, Peeters does not have any kind of open-access arrangement for this journal, which is a pity.

It would appear that Martin Wallraff's discovery that Eusebius of Caesarea wrote another, previously unnoticed set of canon tables, which he made public at the 2011 conference, will not be written up in Studia Patristica, but in the Dumbarton Oaks Papers. The reason, I believe, is that this annual US journal is able to include high-quality colour reproductions of the new-found tables. Presumably that journal's moving firewall will allow the Wallraff paper to be downloaded for free from the year 2023.

6 comments :

  1. Dear Jean-Baptiste,
    thanks so much for your kind words. With regards to publishing policies and the question of open access arrangements, I am really undecided yet. I have always advocated that as scholars write (mainly) for scholars, we should have access to our own products for free. However, life is often more complex than that. I have learned over the past years that a rigorous publishing process (though, I believe not an anonymous, but a transparent one), helps to improve the quality and reliability of published works. For this, however, we need professional help in forms of publishers and the private trade. And this has to be paid for. So how to square the circle? I think, Peeters is a fantastic publisher who is trying to do this, for years now. Publishing a series like Studia Patristica (even with the hundreds of subscribers to the series) is still a risk, but the publisher has also taken other risks (so he started with me the new series Eckhart: Texts and Studies) without charging the authors or funders a penny (something rare in the trade), but entirely relying on the success of the series in the scholarly world (meaning that colleagues ask libraries to subscribe to it).
    Perhaps, it is possible, to add to these paid for books and databases a free open access branch of publications, either after a few years of publication or, without the rigorous publishing process - at the cost of less reliability.
    Life is complex, but I am happy with the circles that are not always round,
    yours Markus

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  2. Hello Markus,
    The rigour of the publishing process is highly appreciated, and we would all agree that rigour cannot be obtained for free. But it would I think be desirable to have a moving-firewall policy with fine journals such as Studia Patristica, putting the material on open access after the recovery of the initial investment.
    Roger Pearse recently pointed in a blog post to the disturbing case of De Gruyter demanding 126 dollars for offprints of a 1926 monograph.
    I find it scandalous that access should remain blocked generations later. The rewards for rigour should be calculable, and I would think that few publishers would count on returns beyond the first decade. A return nearly 90 years after publication is not an incentive: it is a gambling windfall.
    Of course a moving firewall does require planning, ideally with copyright releases by the authors, editors and publishers at the time of publication. We would need to consider it now simply to see the fruits mid-century.
    Regards,
    Jean Baptiste

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  3. Peeters are undoubtedly an excellent publisher who do much for the scholarly community.

    The situation still is a crazy one, tho, as J.B. says. How to square the circle?

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  4. Interesting that we all agree on the basics that we need the private publishers to help us scholars with quality and to move after some time to open access. You will be pleased to know that the UK funding bodies have decided that everybody who applies for government funding in the future has to make sure that the output will be published in places which allow for open access after an initial paid for period, so we are all on the same track.

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  5. Just to let you know that Studia Patristica 53-70 were released today, have a good read,
    Yours Markus

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  6. Wonderful news! Congratulations on a job well done. I will be looking out for my volume ...

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