Just how important is the monograph for history ?

Back in January I posted about the visibility or otherwise of collections of edited essays, suggesting that whilst this form of publication may be as good as invisible in the sciences, we need to view the humanities (or at least history) differently.

In reply Dorothy Bishop (@deevybee) gave some intriguing numbers from an analysis of her citation patterns. In a recent review article in neuropsychology, she had cited 84 journal articles, 3 chapters, and one book. What’s more, she finds herself now very reluctant to cite anything that isn’t available online (which includes most books and edited collections.)

By way of a counter-example, I here extend the analysis of my own citation patterns that I began in that post. (For details of the data, read it here.) Here I’m interested in the balance between journal articles, books, and edited collections.

There has been much debate about finding a viable business model for Open Access monograph publishing in the humanities. Anecdotal evidence abounds, which chimes with my experience, that the ‘big book’ remains the Gold Standard for senior scholars; the once-in-a-decade intervention that changes the game. Lower down the food chain, the perception still rules that it is impossible for a young scholar to secure the vital first academic job without the book-of-the-thesis.

So much, so familiar. But there remains a real lack of data to back up this near-universal intuition, and to establish whether readers think as highly of the monograph as authors, publishers and research assessors think they do. And so, I looked at my own citation behaviour over the last few years, to answer the questions: how much do I cite monographs, as opposed to journal articles or papers in edited collections, and how old are those books when I cite them ?

The answer to the first of these even I found surprising. Here are the numbers:

Category Proportion of citations (%)
Books 59.4
Edited collections (and individual articles therein) 23.4
Journal articles 11.7
Theses 2.0
Other 3.5

I had expected the monograph to loom large, but not to the extent revealed in these figures. I was also very surprised that I cited more chapters in edited collections than articles in journals, which were an amazingly low proportion of the total.

It’s also interesting just how old some of these monographs I cite are. The mean age of a monograph (at the time I cited it) was 17.5 years, with a median of 14.5. Some, in specialist areas, are still current after 40 years. This would suggest that any embargo-based scheme of Green OA for monographs would have to include very long embargoes indeed to satisfy publishers, which suggests that Gold would seem the way to go.