Thursday, 18 November 2010

Evidence of Impact, A Decade Later

Way back in August of 2000 (four years before I finished my PhD!) I contributed to a discussion on the C18-List prompted by an exchange between Ellen Moody and Betty Rizzo about whether Frances Burney ought to be called Fanny Burney today. To me, this is a simple feminist argument. We don't use familiar names for male writers (Billy Shakespeare anyone?), so why should we do so for female writers?

As one contributor observed "Questions on the meaning of Fanny in the 18th c. are central." So I passed a few of the posts onto my cousin James Lambert, a lexicographer with an encyclopedic knowledge of sexual slang. He replied at some length, but those who wanted to believe that Fanny had an obscene meaning in the eighteenth century remained unconvinced. The debate shifted to Fanny Hill (is the name a pun?), and the true believers cited more dubious scholarship.

Eventually, the debate wearied the list and it died out. James and I went away, read the articles mentioned, remained skeptical and—some months later—said so. But the debate was over. Nobody who believed that Fanny was an obscene pun in the eighteenth century was interested in debating the subject online.

Early in the debate, John Dussinger had asked: "Won't some brilliant person on this list write an essay on the use of 'Fanny' in our long period?" This seemed like an excellent idea, so James and I decided that is what we would do. The only problem was, we were both rather busy so … *cough* … it was March 2007 before I started working on my part of the article and March 2008 before the first draft of the article was ready for submission.

We sent it to Studies in Philology who sent it off for refereeing and in October 2010 they graciously accepted the article, agreeing to publish it in their first number of 2011. We have just sent off the final galley edits and, all going well, our article will be printed just over a decade after John posed his challenge.

When I was attempting to answer John's question, I realised that we needed to consult the original songbooks that provide the earliest evidence for the obscene use of the word Fanny (in the early nineteenth century). I was unable to do so because I do not live in London (the songbooks are in the British Library) and they have never been published in full.

So, I suggested to a colleague in musicology that we should propose to Pickering and Chatto a full edition of these bawdy songbooks. Pickering and Chatto were delighted with the idea, the proposal was accepted, work is now underway and this four-volume edited collection will be published in the first half of 2011.

* * * * *

A few months ago I filled in the final report for my ARC grant. I held off on doing this for as long as possible, because the central questions in that report concern "Research Outputs" and "Evidence of Impact." The only "Impact" that the ARC is interested in is the impact of your research on others, and so the "Evidence" and "Outputs" that the ARC are interested in take the form of published books, articles, chapters, reviews and citations of the same etc.

The ARC are not interested in anything that has been researched, written, submitted, or even accepted, only items that have been printed or are being printed now. All of which is well and good in its way, but you are supposed to submit this report on your global impact immediately, on the day your money stops!

When it can take a decade—as here—between the prompt for an article and its publication, and when it can take three years between the submission of an article and it being printed, there seems little chance that an ARC final report, submitted on the day your funding stops, will capture even a fraction of your "Research outputs" and, as for "Evidence of Impact," it could be years again before any of the arguments we have presented gain any traction.

Which is why questions like these seem so stupid. It is also why filling in reports, and answering questions like these, is so disheartening. I am terribly sorry, I only managed to get half a dozen conference papers presented, three articles published, an exhibition and an international conference organised, but according to the citation indexes compiled a day or two after these articles were published: nope, no impact.

This is also why, no doubt, it seems like anyone whose speech is not peppered with "affectless references to DEST points, citation indices, ERA rankings, ARC applications …" is either a failure or a radical who belongs to one of the "secretive cells of idealistic academics" that Joseph Gora and Andrew Whelan have written about here.

1 comment:

Doc-in-Boots said...

You might enjoy this article: http://www.boingboing.net/2010/11/30/should-wikimedia-fou.html