Roy Christopher was one of the best writers who I got to edit at the website Disinformation in the early aughties. His first book Dead Precedents: The Hacking and Haunting of Hip-Hop (Repeater Books) is out on 19th March 2019. Amazon Australia preorder here.
Disinformation alumnus Roy Christopher kindly included me in his annual Summer Reading List. It’s become a kind of snapshot over the past 15 years of different periods of my life. What else I’m reading at the moment:
Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx’s Lost Theory by Mike Davis (New York: Verso, 2018). 21C and World Art former publisher and editor Ashley Crawford turned me onto Davis in the mid-1990s. I’m just into this new book and Davis already frames Karl Marx’s political economy theories and 19th century reportage in new ways.
Turning To Political Violence: The Emergence of Terrorism by Marc Sageman (Philadelphia, PA: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017). Sageman is a forensic psychiatrist and an incisive critic of terrorism studies research. In this book he uses process tracing to document the social identity formation of terrorists in the late 19th and early 20th century. I’m reading this book as a model of how to do process tracing in terrorism studies: the research methodology of my in-progress PhD dissertation.
Return Of The Barbarians: Confronting Non-State Actors from Ancient Rome to the Present by Jakub J. Grygiel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). One of the major themes to what I call (post-2002) fourth generation scholarship on strategic culture is the re-emergence in a multipolar world of violent and persistent non-state actors. Although not strictly part of the strategic culture camp Grygiel has emerged as an important scholar on emerging security threats.
Dead Right: How Neoliberalism Ate Itself And What Comes Next by Richard Denniss (Carlton, Australia: Black Inc, 2018). An incisive long-form essay on the troubled state of Australia’s political economy in 2018.
I have some book suggestions in Disinformation alumnus Roy Christopher’s Summer Reading List 2015.
The emergent theme in my list this year is: the wealth extraction strategies of oligarchical elites and how to Become them.
Here is some bonus material I wrote that you might find useful:
Lasse Heje Pedersen Efficiently Inefficient: How Smart Money Invests & Market Prices Are Determined (Princeton University Press, 2015). Lasse Heje Pederson is the John A. Paulson Professor of Finance and Alternative Investments at the New York University Stern School of Business. Perdersen’s “efficiently inefficient” theory of financial markets focuses on active investors who have a comparative advantage. This book examines six economically motivated investment styles and eight hedge fund strategies. It contains one of the best descriptions I have read of how active management works. Pedersen also interviews influential hedge fund managers and investment managers including James Chanos, Cliff Asness, George Soros, Myron Scholes, Ken Griffin, and John A. Paulson. For a history of hedge funds see Sebastian Mallaby’s More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite (Bloomsbury, 2010).
Han Smit and Thras Moraitis Playing At Acquisitions: Behavioral Option Games (Princeton University Press, 2015). Han Smit is a Professor in the Faculty of Economics at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Thras Moraitis was Group Head of Strategy and Corporate Affairs at Xstrata. Playing At Acquisitions offers a synthesis of three business strategy methodologies: behavioural economics, game theory, and real options. An in-depth case study on the company Xstrata is also provided. Smit and Moraitis provide a personal synthesis that will enable you to perceive your own cognitive biases, to understand others, and to make more effective decisions under uncertainty. For a conceptual understanding of business strategy see J.C. Spenders Business Strategy: Managing Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Enterprise (Oxford University Press, 2014).
Lauren A Rivera Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs (Princeton University Press, 2015). Lauren Rivera is Associate Professor of Management & Organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Pedigreefollows in the footsteps of Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca in examining how the processes of elite reproduction and social stratification occur in elite firms who hire students from elite schools into entry-level jobs. Rivera uses interviews and participant observation to discover how employers use a range of filtering mechanisms to reproduce elites in a way that is reminiscent of ancestral heritage and cultural transmission. This book also offers novel insights on the sociological study of contemporary elites and elite circulation. For a micro-study on elites, non-elites and economic stratification see Robert D. Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2015).
Karen Dawisha Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (Simon & Schuster, 2014). Karen Dawisha is the Director of the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies at Miami University. Putin’s Kleptocracy was originally under contract at Cambridge University Press before potential libel concerns led to Simon & Schuster publishing the book. Dawisha uses archival, internet, interview, and other sources to show how Putin rose to power and how he and a small oligarchical elite succeeded in extracting economic wealth from post-Soviet Russia. Dawisha’s research informed the PBS Frontline documentary Putin’s Way (13th January 2015). Putin’s success at wealth extraction can be compared with Thor Bjorgolfsson’s Billions to Bust – and Back (Profile Books 2014) and Bill Browder’s Red Notice (Simon & Schuster, 2015) in which self-styled ‘adventure capitalists’ and emerging market financiers were not so lucky. On Putin’s use of sociological propaganda to restructure post-Soviet Russia see Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible (PublicAffairs, 2014) and Jason Stanley’s How Propaganda Works (Princeton University Press, 2015).
Collaborator Roy Christopher has released his annual Summer Reading List for 2013, with contributions from danah boyd, Janet Murray, Richard Kadrey, Howard Rheingold, Mark Amerika, Matthew Kirschenbaum, Gareth Branwyn, Peter Lunenfeld, RoyC, myself, and others.
My contribution this year is a mix of books by allies, PhD research, and trading system development.
Firstly, think of it as reading, rather than writing. Lehrer is a wide-ranging polymath: he is sent, and stumbles across, all manner of interesting things every day. Right now, I suspect, he files those things away somewhere and wonders whether one day he might be able to use them for another Big Idea piece. Make the blog the place where you file them away. Those posts can be much shorter than the things Lehrer’s writing right now: basically, just an excited “hey look at this”, with maybe a short description of why it’s interesting. It’s OK if the meat of what you’re blogging is elsewhere, rather than on your own blog. In fact, that’s kind of the whole point.
Secondly, use links as shorthand. Kouwe and Lehrer were both brought down by the fact that they felt the need to re-write what had already been written elsewhere. On the web, you never need to do that. If you or someone else has already written something well, just link to that, rather than feeling the need to repeat it.
Thirdly, use the blog to interact with your peers, rather than just primary sources. There are hundreds of great science and ideas blogs out there already; start reading them, and be generous about linking to them. Your readers will thank you. When you see an article you wish you’d written, link to it and say so. When someone finds a fantastic paper and writes it up in a slightly incomplete way, credit them with the great find, and then fill in the blanks. When two or three people are all talking about the same thing, sum up what the debate is, and explain where you stand.
Fourthly, iterate. Lehrer is a big-name journalist at a major publication: when he writes stuff, people respond, often on their own blogs, and often with very keen intelligence. Link to those people, learn from them, converse with them via the medium of blog, and use that collaboration and conversation to hone and further develop your own ideas. Treat every blog post as the beginning of a process, rather than as the end of one.
I’ve previously argued that today’s academics should blog. My reasons why mirror Salmon’s observations:
1. Blog to capture initial ‘seed’ ideas. Some academics struggle to get ideas for journal articles. They may follow the route of turning old conference papers into articles or relying on old data-sets. In contrast, I have enough article ideas for the next five years. I looked over unreleased material from the past 10 years and found possible ideas for 80-100 potential articles in various fields: media, foresight, counterterrorism, and technology. In some cases, I have fragments and outlines of these potential articles. In other cases, my online work dwarfs the number of published articles I have. Blogging regularly provides a way to capture these initial ‘seed’ ideas and to see over time whether or not they are worthy enough to become articles or if they just remain fragments. It provides a way to test and play with ideas that can be discarded quickly. Try and ‘fail fast’. It allows further thought than the 140 characters of a Twitter tweet. I sometimes have to remind people that Sir Tim Berners-Lee envisioned the World Wide Web as a communications medium for researchers to share information and not just to share Facebook posts.
Some academics have two counter-arguments that are relevant. First, blogging wastes valuable writing time and has little impact. Second, blogging usually involves half-formed or fragmentary ideas. I argue below that blogging helps academics to write more and can have specific impacts that are not yet measured by promotions committees but that are very real and observable. As a developmental editor the problem I encounter with academics is not the workloads model but rather their lack of a regular writing regimen, time management, and project management skills. I know this is the case because academics with these skills can still work within the constraints of the workloads model to achieve the outputs required by their Minimum Standards of Academic Levels criteria in their job contracts. I suggest that blogs are treated as part of the ideation process — and that the drafting and re-editing of doctoral dissertations and journal articles is treated as a separate, parallel process.
Some academics still don’t take this view seriously. Their focus is on A* and A level journals and perhaps major book publishers. I respect that view and I know how much hard work goes into that material, and the high standards of research design that are required. Unfortunately, some university administrators use this focus as a performance goal without understanding the time and effort involved. I see a big gap between the rhetoric and the academics who can actually achieve these goals. For example, I have seen CVs with many publications that, on closer examination, turn out to be vanity book publishers and questionable international journals: a sucker’s game. I also disagree with the ‘scarcity’ view that underpins some academic publishing. I’m comfortable with showing the ‘messiness’ of research as it unfolds. Academics can still have a minimalist blog or social media presence to alert other researchers and the general public to their work. Many people do not have access to institutional journal subscriptions but might read and value an article version that is deposited in a university repository.
2. Blog to monitor a discipline or epistemic community. Tufts University political scientist Dan Drezner recently joked that political scientists were now more ‘relevant’ because they blogged. Zammit’s own site has an extensive blogroll and interesting articles such as one on jihadism datasets that I wouldn’t probably have known about had he not taken the time to write about them. I now scan Tadas Viskanta’s blog Abnormal Returns on a daily basis when assessing market conditions for my portfolio. I have learned from the Research Whisperer and Thesis Whisperer blogs. I have dialogued with friend and colleague Roy Christopher on writing, rewriting, and how academia can kill writing: an important discussion for professional self development. Spending an hour a week means that I’m across what these experts and communities are up to. Their blogs also capture different kinds of information than the searches I do on the Scopus and Web of Science databases, and in the relevant academic journals in my fields of research.
3. Blog to control your public expertise and also to raise the visibility of published articles. I’m a research administrator so my employer university hasn’t given me a public webpage on their site. Instead, I’ve cobbled together a web presence through this personal site; profiles on Twitter, Academia.edu, Google Scholar; and sites like The Conversation. I comment about research in-progress and post relevant news items. I try to turn each article’s publication into a personal ‘release’ event similar to music and film. Blogging has led to several productive collaborations, to higher article citations by international research teams, and to the opportunity to do blind peer review for several international journals. It enables me to comment on new developments not covered in an article. This is a ‘work around’ for the significant delays in journal publishing and also maintains the ‘currency’ of individual articles.
4. Keep your major projects separate. I try and blog several times a week or spend 10-15 minutes compiling a daily links list. (I did that for eight years at Disinformation — see the 1998-2003 site archives — so I can do so very quickly.) I also have several articles and a PhD draft that are in-progress. For me, the blog serves as a daily exercise to get writing and to capture relevant information that won’t necessarily be included in the articles or PhD. I found that drafting, re-drafting and understanding quality scholarship in a field is pivotal to the PhD, whilst understanding current debates and editorial formats is crucial to journal publishing. It’s OK to keep your major projects separate or ’embargoed’ if it helps you to complete this research. Just use blogging and social media as a tool to develop your writing prowess and to self-promote your expertise and research outputs.
Roy Christopher‘s annual Summer Reading List is a snapshot of “the salient texts of the zeitgeist.” RoyC’s 2012 list continues the tradition: rich insights from netizens, ethnographers, cultural luminaries, mentors and critics on the authors, ideas and frameworks that inform their work. An Edge or Iconoclasts-style dialogue/trialogue between some of these people would be very interesting to witness.
I spent a lot of the past year reading about Wall Street, writing draft zero of a political science PhD, and trading a small portfolio. My suggestions this year reflect this personal journey and are different to what I would normally contribute to RoyC’s list (and what other list contributors would probably read and sympathise with). There are books on geopolitical risk and salary negotiation, PhD texts on social science methods, and guides to investment, hedge funds, the visceral feel of trading, and institutional money management. Brenda Jubin’s awesome blog Reading The Markets informed some choices and Tadas Viskanta’s blog Abnormal Returns is now a daily visit. Hopefully, you’ll get a sense of how I approach and attempt to understand a knowledge domain on its own terms, even if some of the material is a very dry read.
The joys of this list include uncovering new things, and seeing things you are familiar with from a different vantage point. RoyC pointed out ethnographer and sociologist Tricia Wang‘s contribution to me: Brian Eno and Manual De Landa have also influenced me, and I will be checking out several of her banking and finance ethnographies. Likewise with RoyC, the cultural anthropologists Victor Turner and Arnold van Gennep are influences; I studied Aaron Wildavsky on risk; and I bought a secondhand copy of Anthony Wilden’s Systems and Structure from an old secondhand book shop in Melbourne.
I also participated in RoyC’s Summer Reading Lists for 2011, 2010, 2008, and 2007 (I missed 2009). You’ll see how my in-progress PhD project and other interests have evolved over the past five years. RoyC’s annual summer reading list now has a quality like Michael Apted‘s Up series: an unfolding, longitudinal journey through some interesting ideas of the early 21st century.
I first encountered the TED Effect whilst on a university research team in 2004-05. A research consortium had tasked the team to consider what the internet of 2010 might resemble. We struggled to develop a methodological framework. The team eventually settled on covering trends that could already be read in Businessweek, Fast Company or The Economist. Interviewees were often taken at face value rather than probed or contrasted with contestable viewpoints. Presentation sound-bites replaced theoretical frameworks. The team’s rising academic star subsequently left to pursue a more lucrative career as a Web 2.0 consultant.
Richard Saul Wurman‘s Technology, Entertainment, Design conference is now the benchmark for academic presentations. TED has turned academic researchers and public intellectuals into internet superstars and social media phenomenons. It rivals Austin’s SXSW conference and John Brockman’s Edge salon in promoting the Faustian creative dynamism of culture, science, and technology. Ridley Scott tapped TED 2023 to promote his science fiction film Prometheus. Yet the influential conference also has critics. Hip-hop and cultural media theorist Roy Christopher observed, “A once visionary site of Big-Idea exchange has become the Starbucksification of public intellectualism.”
TED originally aimed to strengthen viewers’ “understanding of the world” beyond their personal experiences. It echoed the utopian CNN effect which media theorists postulated after the 1990-91 Gulf War: Ted Turner’s television network could positively influence political decision-makers about international humanitarian events. A decade later University of Manchester’s Piers Robinson carefully evaluated the CNN effect’s record during humanitarian crises in Somalia, Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo. Robinson’s book The CNN Effect (London: Routledge, 2002) concluded that, “the media coverage manufactured consent for official policy” (p. 121). The original media theory sound-bite hid a darker institutional truth.
Christopher suggests that TED now suffers from a “gate-keeping function” failure and an obsession with “Big Names”. “One person spends years developing idea X and then one of The Chosen mentions X in a TED Talk™, and then it’s their idea. That is a problem,” he writes. This was in part one of the problems that the research team I was on failed to confront in 2004-05. ‘Hot topics’ and ‘hype cycle’ events were an easier sell during TED-style public talks than rigorous research designs. The debate made for lively internal meetings. Christopher points to the reality that the ‘winner-takes-all’ pressure for aspiring, emerging academics to become a Big Name can create its own perverse incentives and moral hazards.
There’s a place for cross-pollinators and boundary-spanners in academia. The Conversation blog now fills the gap for Australian academics who want to promote their expertise in the research sector. Many more people will learn about 10,000 hours in Malcolm Gladwell‘s Outliers (New York: Penguin, 2008) than who will read K. Anders Ericsson‘s original research on expertise and deliberative practice. Popularisers like James Gleick, Steven Johnson, Kevin Kelly and Douglas Rushkoff can bring engagement, fresh insight, and a narrative arc to academic research that is dry and boring in its original form. But many like Seth Godin or Timothy Ferriss are also closer to effective self-marketers than academic researchers.
TED’s success blurs this distinction between effective self-marketers and academic researchers. This is the TED Effect in a more negative form. Academics now need to treat each published journal article as a major release event like a film or a music album. They need to create buzz around their research to attract external competitive grants and partner organisations. They should have a social media presence – at least on Academia.edu and Google Scholar. But this doesn’t replace the craft and journeyman facets of academic research. Citation, communities of practice, constructive yet critical peer review, and other scholarly practices remain important.
Christopher cites Alex Reid and Ian Bogost that many academics write in order to get tenure and to satisfy promotions committees. Perhaps these academics now write to get on the TED talks circuit. I have pointed out elsewhere that this establishes the wrong institutional conditions to become a self-motivated, productive, intrinsic writer. Over time this subtly destroys ‘the edge’ that an academic may have cultivated and impacts negatively on their original, authorial voice.
Universities provide selection pressures which provide varied solutions to different academics who don’t get to give profile-raising TED talks. Some have a productive period during and initially after their PhD and then settle into a mid-career plateau of administrative and overseas teaching work. Some discover the pedagogical joy of teaching-based research. A small core gain institutional incentives and resources to get promoted to Associate Professor or Professor. They may then get promoted into university senior management. However, this also means that Christopher’s problems about academic publishing are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, in the absence of a coordinated institutional response. The conservativeness of promotions and tenure committees will likely trump individual boycotts of academic journal publishers.
I reached a similar conclusion to Christopher about post-TED academic life which we jointly discussed during lunch a month ago at SXSW. It involves a self-funded research program, conference travel and resources modelled on self-managed artists. I have the freedom to choose who to collaborate with; what institution to publish with; and where to publicly archive research outputs. Although there are financial limitations it also means I can side-step the institutional mechanisms that take up a lot of potential research time for others. Robert Fripp‘s experience with Discipline Global Mobile was one important influence on my decisions. Trent Reznor‘s experience with The Null Corporation was another.
I don’t expect to hear from TED anytime soon: I’m not a Big Name yet.
I am sympathetic to all of these conditions, but I have found it important to cultivate the ability to write at any time, in any circumstance — even if it’s just collecting thoughts about something. I keep a pen and paper in my pocket at all times, pen and pad by my bed, notebook(s) in my backpack and all over the house. I do find that I need large chunks of uninterrupted time to surmount larger writing tasks, but the ubiquity of computers, portable or otherwise, makes writing anywhere a much more viable option. [emphasis added]
Christopher’s insight led to an email exchange on the barriers that academia poses for writers. I think about this a lot in my current university gig as a developmental editor. I also work with a talented copy-editor. Here are six ways that academia kills writing:
1. Perverse incentive structures. Christopher and I are both intrinsically motivated writers who approach it as a craft. We blog, write journal articles and in-progress PhD dissertations, and Christopher has several book projects. In contrast, some academics I know write only for performance-based incentives. They play games such as writing fake conference papers, sending book manuscripts to vanity publishers, and publishing in obscure international journals. This leads the university research administrators to change the incentives structures. It also introduces scoping problems into competitive grants: the journal article(s) only get written if the money is awarded. It’s very rare that I find an intrinsically motivated writer: maybe an Early Career Researcher who has just finished their PhD, or a senior academic intent on making a contribution to their field or discipline. I wish academics had a more hip-hop or punk sensibility and just did the work, regardless of the institutional incentives.
2. Misuse of university research metrics. The Australian Research Council‘s Excellence for Research in Australia shifted the research conversation to performance and quality-based outputs. This also lead to games such as poaching academics who had ERA publishing track records. However, it also sometimes led to a narrow focus on A* and A-level journals without changes to the workload models or training investment for academic skills and robust research designs. Not everyone is Group of 8, Harvard or Stanford material, or at least not at their career stage. Metrics use must be counter-balanced with an understanding of intellectual capital and development strategies. To-date the use of ERA and Field of Research metrics is relatively unsophisticated, and it can often actually de-value academic work and publishing track records.
3. A failure to understand and create the conditions for the creative process. The current academic debate about knowledge creation swings between two extremes. On the one hand, budget-driven cost-cutting similar to GE’s Work-Out under Jack Welch or private equity turnarounds. On the other, a desire to return to a mythical Golden Age where academics are left alone with little accountability. Both views are value destructive. The middle ground is to learn from Hollywood studios, music producers, and academic superstars about the creative process, and to create the conditions for it. This means allowing time for insights to emerge or for academics to become familiar with new areas. It means not relying on conferences and being pro-active in forming collaborative networks. It means treating academic publications as an event and leveraging them for maximum public impact and visibility. Counterintuitively, it can also mean setting limits, stage gates, and ‘no go’ or ‘abandon’ criteria (real options theory can be a useful tool). This is one reason why Christopher and I sometimes exchange stories of the strategies that artists use: to learn from them. This is a different mentality to some university administrators who expect research publications to emerge from out of nowhere (a view often related to the two barriers above).
4. Mystifing the blind peer review process. What differentiates academic research from other writing? Apart from the research design, many academics hold up the blind peer review process to be a central difference. Usually, a competitive grant or a journal article goes to between two and five reviewers, who are often subject matter experts. The identities of both the author(s) and the reviewers are kept secret from each-other. Supposedly, this enhances the quality of the review process and the candour of the feedback provided. Having studied the feedback of 80 journal articles and 50 competitive grants, I disagree. The feedback quality is highly reviewer dependent. Blind peer review provides a lack of transparency that allows reviewers to engage in uber-critical reviews (without constructive or developmental feedback), disciplinary in-fighting, or screeds on what the reviewer wished had been written. Many academic journals have no rejoinder process for authors to respond. These are problems of secrecy and can be avoided through more open systems (a lesson from post-mortems on intelligence ‘failures’).
5. Being set up to fail through the competitive grants process. A greater emphasis on research output metrics has prioritised success in competitive grants. Promotions committees now look for a track record in external grants for Associate Professor and Professor roles. Australian universities do not often have endowed chairs or institutional investment portfolios — so they are more reliant on grant income. Collectively, these trends translate into more pressure on academics to apply for competitive grants. However, success is often a matter of paying close attention to the funding rules, carefully scoping the specific research project and budget, developing a collaborative team that can execute on the project, and having the necessary track record in place. These criteria are very similar to those which venture capitalists use to evaluate start-ups. Opportunity evaluation, timing, and preparatory work is essential. Not meeting this criteria means the application will probably fail and the grant-writing time may be wasted: most competitive grants have a 10-20% success rate. Some universities have internal grant schemes that enable new academics to interact with these dynamics before applying to an external agency. In all cases, the competitive grant operates as a career screening mechanism. For institutions, these grants are ‘rain-making’ activities: they bring money in, rather than to the individual academic.
6. A narrow focus on A* and A-level journals at the expense of all other forms of academic writing. The ARC’s ERA and similar schemes prioritise peer reviewed journals over other forms of writing. (This de-valued large parts of my 18-year publishing history.) The 2009 and 2010 versions of ERA had a journal ranking list which led many university administrators I know to focus on A* and A-level journals. I liked the journal ranking list but I also saw it had some perverse effects over its 18 months of use. It led to on-the-fly decisions made because of cumulative metrics in a publishing track record. It destroyed some of the ‘tacit’ knowledge that academics had about how and why to publish in particular journals. It de-valued B-ranked journals that are often sub-discipline leaders. It helped to create two groups of academics: those with the skills and training to publish in A* and A-level journals, and those who did not. It led to unrealistic expectations of what was needed to get into an A* journal like MIT’s International Security: a failure to understand creative and publishing processes. The narrow emphasis on journals ignored academic book publishers, CRC reports, academic internet blogs, media coverage, and other research outputs. Good writers, editors and publishers know differently: a high-impact publication can emerge from the unlikeliest of places. As of April 2012, my most internationally cited research output is a 2009 conference paper, rejected from the peer review stream due to controversy, that I co-wrote with Ben Eltham on Twitter and Iran’s 2009 election crisis. It would be excluded from the above criteria, although Eltham and I have since written several articles for the A-level journal Media International Australia.
Awareness of these six barriers is essential to academic success and to not becoming co-dependent on your institution.
I’m taking a sabbatical over the next 10 days to visit Austin, TX for SXSW Interactive 2012 with Rosie X. I’ll be meeting University of Texas at Austin professor Jeremi Suri about his work; and having face-to-face chats with Disinformation‘s publisher Gary Baddeley, and Austinites Roy Christopher and Don Webb. I’m looking forward to the session with Stratfor founder George Friedman: read my analyses of the Wikileaks leaked emails and the planned hedge fund StratCap. In the meantime, you can read my body of work to-date.
At home, I have three bookcases that take up a large room at the back of our house. I’ve run out of book-space — in part because I built up collections from doing different postgraduate degrees over the past 8 years. So, I’m going through my collection and honing it down, and buying what I can on Amazon Kindle to save space.
In an email this week to Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis, I mentioned how in 2001, I went through the archives of La Trobe University’s Borchardt library, looking at Soviet journals on the Cold War’s genesis. LTU recently got rid of an entire floor of print magazines and journals — in order to have more space for computers and collaborative group meetings. This material is unlikely to be in databases. So, an entire legacy of print history has gone. This means that today’s students won’t have the library experience of searching through old print archives and discovering material through serendipity.
Several years ago, I discovered that RMIT University’s Swanston St library was planning to get rid of its 21C Magazine print collection. As you know, I had written for them: the print editions are now collector’s items. I requested contact, to buy the collection. Instead, RMIT just got rid of it.
Digital publishing is currently inconsistent regarding new books and back-lists. For instance, I can get University of Texas at Austin historian Jeremi Suri’s Power and Protest (2003) on Amazon Kindle. I also have his 2001 PhD that the book is based on — thesis title ‘Convergent Responses to Disorder: Cultural Revolution and Détente among the Great Powers during the 1960s’ (PDF) — because Monash University subscribes to the expensive Proquest Dissertations database [my employer Victoria University does not subscribe]. I can’t get Suri’s Henry Kissinger and the American Century (2007) or Liberty’s Surest Guardian (2011) on Amazon Kindle. I can get The Cold War (2006) and Strategies of Containment (2005, revised edition) by Suri’s PhD supervisor, John Lewis Gaddis, on Amazon Kindle, but not We Now Know (1997) – a book large and dense enough that the Amazon Kindle version would need page references for academic citation. I bought the print edition of Gaddis’s George F. Kennan: An American Life (2011) because I need the print version to write reviews for Australian political science journals. I got the Amazon Kindle version of Richard K. Betts’ new book American Force (2011), which didn’t have citable page numbers, so I then bought the print edition. This wasn’t a problem with Adobe’s Digital Edition — a ‘failed’ e-book format — as it had PDF pages of the book’s print edition. In Amazon Kindle’s case, the design factors for e-book usability were more important than retaining the print edition’s feature