Saturday, 26 February 2011

It is my fault that all the local bookshops are folding

It is true. And I feel guilty about it. As an out-of-the-book-cupboard bibliophile it is only right that I should make this public confession.

I have been buying about three hundred books every year for at least the last two decades. Some years more, some less. In some years the money I spent was pretty close to my annual income, the money that I lived off coming from buying and selling more books. And living off apples that grew in the back yard of the house I lived in.

When I started collecting books, many of the books I bought were new. But it doesn't take long before you have all the ones that you want—at least, all the ones that you want that are available new at your local bookshops. So I came to rely on local second-hand bookshops, which have a much, much wider range than new bookshops. They also have older books obviously, and I liked old books, just for being old.

When I started travelling interstate, I started hunting out and visiting bookshops, which I would trawl on massive book-buying binges. Then I started buying from the catalogues from these bookshops, and others I heard of, but could never visit. Then catalogues from overseas. Then I joined societies like the Early English Text Society and the Malone Society, so I could get my hands on reprints of obscure titles I would never find or afford second-hand.

And then, may the techno-gods be praised, the internet was born! Tim Berners-Lee might have invented the World Wide Web in March 1989, but I first used a computer with internet access in the early 1990s—using Telnet and then Eudora for email. The first web browser didn't come into existence until 1993 either. Imagine, I had been using a Mac since 1987, but had to wait six or seven years before it was any more useful to me than a typewriter.

In 1996 AbeBooks.com started. Apparently, it went live and "immediately began to transform the world’s used book business by making hard-to-find books easy to locate and purchase." It wasn't the only search-engine for books. BookFinder.com was launched in 1997 and Alibris was founded in 1997. So, by the end of 1997, online bookselling was everywhere.

Looking back over my journal of purchases, in 1996 I bought 225 books, but only three from overseas. In the following years the number slowly but steadily increased: 3, 8, 21, 15, 28, 36 etc. And since I was working at a large antiquarian bookshop and most of my money was spend at the shop I worked, this last figure represents a very significant proportion of the money I was spending on books outside of the shop.

And now, and for the last few years, almost all my book spending is overseas. And the books that I am buying locally tend to be less and less significant: these days it is pretty much only sci fi pulps with pretty covers. Stuff I could easily do without. Some are almost pity-purchases and nostalgic book-tourism.

Obviously, some of this change is the result of my increasing specialisation as a collector, but I have only been able to specialise as a collector because it has been possible to do so by buying from overseas dealers. After all, it wouldn't have mattered how many shops I visited in Australia, I would never have found a single book by Haywood. As so I have only been able to buy as many works by Haywood because I was able to buy from overseas dealers.

All of which means that, every time a local second-hand bookshop goes broke, or shuts its doors to go online only, I feel guilty. There was a time when my money was propping up these local bookshops, and there was a time when there were a lot of local bookshops for me to spread my money around. Now, there are few shops and those which are still open aren't getting any help from me.

And this is true of new books too. I probably buy more new books now than I have for years, decades even. Once I started lecturing I found that I needed a lot more new books—highly specialised academic titles which are not in any local bookshop—ones I could not simply wait to turn up at a good price. Books that I wouldn't find, even in academic bookshops like the old Oxford and Cambridge Bookshop in Sydney (now Abbeys). Some of these books I am still picking up second hand, but increasingly I am buying them new from Book Depository and Fishpond.

(For a while there, I was relying on Amazon, but their postage rates have become more and more painful—especially since there is no discount for multiple titles. Partly, I assume, because the whole system is automated. Now, it is Book Depository—which is post free—or, if I am in a hurry and they have it in stock, Fishpond.)

Not surprisingly, Book Depository was one of the sites mentioned recently as the reason why A&R and Boarders have gone belly-up. These big bookshops cannot compete with online sellers either on range or price—not by a long shot. And, for a specialist collector like me, places like A&R and Boarders had nothing to offer in terms of knowledge and advice either. Of course, I thought they were surviving on bestsellers and general-interest readers. It looks like they weren't! It looks like they needed me. Rats!

So, every other day a parcel arrived from overseas and every other day another local bookshop closed. And, once again, it was my fault and I feel guilty about it. But I won''t be changing my book-buying habits any time soon. Sorry.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Robert Burns Day, somewhat delayed

I was saving this up for Robert Burns Day (January 25), but forgot to post it. Better late than never I guess. (More silliness here.)

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Secret Life of Books: Eliza's Betsy Thoughtless

Not Eliza Haywood's Betsy Thoughtless, but Eliza St. Aubyn's rather battered copy of Ab.67.5 Betsy Thoughtless, 3rd ed. (1762). Eliza who? Let me explain.

Elizabeth Wingfield, daughter of William Wingfield of Durham, County Durham, married, on 4 June 1756, Sir John St. Aubyn, fourth baronet (1726–72). Elizabeth had six children; 1. Elizabeth (1757), 2. John (1758), 3. Catherine (1760), 4. Robert (1761?), 5. Anne (1762), 6. Dorothy (1769). When her husband died, her eldest son, then 14yr old, inherited the baronetcy. Elizabeth remained her son's guardian until he turned 21 on 17 May 1779. Three and a half years later, on 5 October 1782, she married John Baker of Orsett, Essex. She died fourteen years later on 28 August 1796 at Orsett, Essex.

According to Wikipedia, the Baker estate at Orsett centred on the eighteenth-century Orsett Hall. In 1827, the house and estate passed from the Baker family to a nephew, William Wingfield (one of the children of a brother of Elizabeth's), who changed his name to Wingfield-Baker. The estate was inherited by his son, Richard Baker Wingfield-Baker and in turn by his son, Digby Wingfield-Baker.

In 1884 the estate was inherited by Thomas Whitmore as a "debt of honour." (Apparently, it was won in a game of cards.) The house was then passed on to Colonel Sir Francis Whitmore (1872–1962) in 1907. By this time the hall was described as "an uninhabitable shell, without light, water or sanitation"—not optimal conditions for people or books. The Colonel refurbished it—and Orsett Hall was the Whitmore family home for more than fifty years. The estate next passed to Sir John Whitmore who decided to sell up the estate six years later (in 1968).

The Hall then passed into that twilight world of "conference centre, hotel and wedding venue" before being burnt to the ground—the result of a kitchen fire. (Which was caused by "wooden beams, exposed for several years to heat from a grill, often for as long as 16 hours a day," which had turned the beams into charcoal—a great fire-starter.)

* * * * *


So, what of all of this. Well, this set of Betsy Thoughtless must have been bought and signed by "Eliza St. Aubyn" between 1762 (when they were published) and 1782 (when "Dame Elizabeth St. Aubyn, Clowance, widow of Sir John St. Aubyn, bt. decd., guardian of Sir John St. Aubyn, infant under 21," remarried), most likely they were bought new between 1762 and 1768 when a new edition of Betsy Thoughtless was published. She must then have taken them to Orsett Hall, where they remained until at least 1962, more likely 1968.

During their two hundred years (give-or-take) at Orsett Hall, this set of Betsy Thoughtless passed down with whatever remained of Eliza St. Aubyn's library, and the library of her descendants until Digby Wingfield-Baker (aka Dingbat Wit-less-barking-mad) lost it (the Hall and the library) in a game of cards! The aptly named Whitmore family then restored the Hall (and the library it would seem, the Colonel pasted his bookplates into Eliza's Betsy Thoughtless) and passed the baton on until this family descended into imbecility as well (the final Whitmore used the grounds for go-cart and car racing and as a landing-strip his plane, before cashing in the Hall and the library).


* * * * *

I have mentioned that this set of Betsy Thoughtless is rather battered. Actually it has suffered at the hands of an biblioclastic egomaniac. Because, someone—probably someone after 1968 (though it could have been the witless Whitmore who flogged off the Orsett Hall library)—has torn out all the title-pages, and at least one or two leaves either side, in their rush and impatient haste to destroy the evidence of their ownership. That is, having first scrawled their name into this set, they then tore their name out of the set, by grabbing a fist-full of pages and heaving. I am imaging them sitting cross-legged and probably cross-eyed and dribbling with a pile of centuries-old books on one side and a pile of title-pages, frontispieces and contents leaves on the other.

* * * * *

But to return to Eliza St. Aubyn. This member of the aristocracy bought her copy of Betsy Thoughtless six years after Eliza Haywood died, so she may not be representative of her original audience, but she is close to being a contemporary. And, although I haven't been able to discover when Eliza St. Aubyn was born, it must have been about 1740, and so she certainly grew up in Haywood's world.

I have long been interested in Haywood's readers. We really don't know that much about them. In 1891 Edmund Gosse claimed that "Eliza was read by servants in the kitchen, by seamstresses, by basket-women, [and] by ’prentices of all sorts" and that Haywood’s novels were "very cheap"—all of which is pretty-much hogwash. In 1915 George Frisbie Whicher suggested "that no one of scanty means could have afforded Mrs. Haywood’s slender octavos at the price of one to three shillings" and in 1966 Robert Day agreed, concluding that this audience "would most naturally come by novels like Mrs. Haywood’s when they were discarded by the gentry, rather than by purchase."

The argument over the social and financial status of Haywood’s readers can only really be answered by a survey of the price of her books (which I examined in "Appendix I" of my Bibliography), through reception studies of individual titles (which I undertook for The Female Spectator in 2006), and through provenance research (such as I do here on this blog—inconclusively here, more conclusively here and here). The problem with provenance research is, as I said before, that it can end up focused on the few well-known or famous owners of not-so-ordinary books for the simple reason that we can rarely identify genuinely “ordinary” owners of books.

I am only able to trace Eliza Wingfield/St. Aubyn/Baker's set of Betsy Thoughtless thought two hundred years because (1) she recorded her name in the books, (2) her name was sufficiently unusual that I could easily identify her, and (3) because she was married to a member of the aristocracy, (4) her estate remained intact for two centuries, and (5) a late descendant also recorded his name in the books and (6) his name was sufficiently unusual that I could easily identify him.

Also, we can probably find out a good more deal about Eliza St. Aubyn because her first husband and her son fill out the record of baronets and MPs, and the St. Aubyn family were the sort of affluent patrons who tend to be recorded in archives, paintings, memorials and so on. (If this post wasn't already hugely long I would rehearse some of this information about Eliza, but this might have to wait for another day.)

Of course, it is possible that Haywood was largely read by well-known and affluent people, in which case a record of her readers will be a record of her well-known and affluent contemporaries. But we will only know if this is he case by investigating the provenance of as many copies of her works as possible, something—it appears—I am doomed to do.

[UPDATE: 2 July 2016: After all my pictures disappeared again I decided to give up on external hosts for large versions (1000px) of my image files and, for now on, will stick with the smaller images (500px), which Blogger is prepared to host.]

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Dark Hero Texts


I chose the editions—and some of the texts—for my new course, The Dark Hero [ATS2914/ATS3914] on the KISS-principle (i.e., keep it simple). So, they are all from the OUP World's Classics series. The upshot is, as you can see, that they make a very neat and pretty display.


The only problem is, I am already reconsidering this decision because Doctor Faustus and Other Plays (front text above) isn't very good. No doubt I am biased. I wanted to use Doctor Faustus: The A-text, ed. David Ormerod and Christopher Wortham (University of Western Australia Press, 1985), which is an excellent edition, but it is out of print.

Having re-read the play in the Ormerod and Wortham edition yesterday, I turned to the World's Classics edition this morning to see how it compared, and it compared poorly. I chose this edition, edited by David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen, because it contains both the A- and B-text versions of the play, which promised to be great for comparison, and other plays by Marlowe, which might encourage students to read others plays by Marlowe.

The problems is, the editors are pretty cavalier with the text, modernising, moving chunks around and imposing a 5-Act structure on both versions of the play, though there is no textual authority for doing so in any quarto. (See, the "Note on the Text," p. xxv and xxvii (here)). The introduction, to the life and times of Marlowe is wildly inadequate for a student, with gaping omissions, and the introduction to the plays in Marlowe's canon is brief and very uneven (excellent on Tamburlaine I and II, pretty good on The Jew of Malta and Faustus and pretty pathetic on Edward II).

And so, I have now ordered the New Mermaids edition (here), Norton Critical Edition (here) and the Revels Plays, New edition (here). The last of these is edited by Bevington and Rasmussen, but there is supposed to be a substantial introduction in this edition.

These three student editions of Doctor Faustus are all in the same price range as the World's Classics edition, though you get a lot fewer pages for your money. I am hoping that at least one of them is at least as good at the Ormerod and Wortham edition, demonstrating more respect for the text and including an introduction that compensates for the absence of Marlowe's other plays. We'll see …

[UPDATE: 2 July 2016: After all my pictures disappeared again I decided to give up on external hosts for large versions (1000px) of my image files and, for now on, will stick with the smaller images (500px), which Blogger is prepared to host.]

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Cui bono?

My colleague in English at Monash, Dr Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario, asks in her blog (here): "Should academics blog?" and what is "the importance of - and drawbacks of - having an online presence"? I am not a big fan of questions including the word "should" but I liked some of her answers (they bring together information relating to your research, help communicate with students, and exert some control over your online presence), but I was particularly struck by this comment: "my blog … helps me to think about what I'm doing and what it means in terms of the wider community."

It set me thinking: cui bono? (To whose benefit, or for the benefit of whom, does his blog operate?).

On my Script and Print blog (here) I explain that "Blog is the contraction universally used for weblog, a type of website where entries are made (such as in a journal or diary), displayed in a reverse chronological order"—but my understanding is that early blogs were made up of links and summaries of online content, combined with journal or diary content, which acted as an aide-mémoire to remind the blogger of where they had been online and what they had found interesting: like a reading journal. That is, a log of web activity, like a beefed up session history on your web-browser.

Obviously, blogs have evolved, but for me this is still a major function of academic blogs. They bring together material that relates to your research, specifically the material you want to share. And this is where it gets interesting. Because many academics hold their positions and get promotions based on their publications. And for the most part, you only get published when you can convince an editor that you have something new to say. So, if you have discovered a previously unknown Shakespeare play, you wouldn't blog about it. You would make damn sure you wrote an article and had it published in high-profile peer-reviewed journal before you casually mentioned it in a blog-post.

And this is where Rebecca's second point comes in: you share material you think will be of use to your students, to other students and other academics. For the most part this constitutes casual reviews of what you are reading, thought relating to doing research and teaching, information on resources for research and teaching, or thoughts on and information about research topics you have either already published on, or do not intend to publish on. Oh, and griping about administrivia. (See below.)

Rebecca's third point was that a blog helps you exert some control over your online presence. Maintaining a blog is pretty liberating when your institutional web presence is heavily mediated and restrictive, and when you have to battle to have the smallest changes made to any information relating to you or the course you run.

Unfortunately, Monash does not encourage blogging; in fact it is not too much to say that they are obstructionist: they do as much as possible to discourage staff from establish a Monash blog, and they do as little as possible to publicise blogs maintained by staff elsewhere. The blogs that they do allow—and there were very few until quite recently—have to be approved. The application for contains an endless series of questions and warnings such as

Purpose of the blog (Mandatory field)
Intended/target audience (Mandatory field)
Intended no. of bloggers (Mandatory field)
Frequency of updates (Mandatory field)
Duration of blog (Mandatory field)

A series of moderators have to be approved ("staff member who is in charge of watching and approving blog content"), fees paid ("initial setup cost of $100 and an ongoing yearly fee for technical maintenance of $70"), and waivers signed ("ensure that the blog adheres complies with relevant ITS policies, state and government laws, statutes and guidelines as outlined in the Blog guidelines")

These guidelines were extraordinary. Each faculty has a distinct colour palette "and a modified sub-brand" which must be used. Images must have the following characteristics:

1. Strong, single images—not a collage.
2. Natural light and open space.
3. Incorporate people—not clip art.
4. Convey confidence and optimism—no negative imagery.
5. Natural images—no coloured lighting, contouring and coloured backgrounds.
6. Represent the university's key attributes—international, influential, innovative, engaged, substantial, dynamic, broad, accessible and full of integrity.

Oh, and they must be approved by the Marketing Division.

In earlier versions of this document it is specified that photos are to be taken "with a long lens that allows the foreground and the background to appear blurred—the main subject matter (the people) should be sharp or in focus." Photographers are also told to "avoid cliche compositions and images that are overly posed."

So, of course, what you actually get is a series of predictable and near-identical images of carefully posed groups of happy, aesthetically-pleasing students—representative of the desired cultural diversity—in well-lit open spaces with muted fore- and back-grounds: which is, of course, corporate clip art and very, very clichéd.

Not surprisingly, few individuals either want to or are capable of complying with these restrictions, so the few sites and blogs actually undertaken by my colleagues are elsewhere: on Blogger, Wordpress etc.

Elsewhere, apparently, universities have realised that they benefit from having all the academic creativity, and the diversity of opinion and self-representation, available under their umbrella. Which brings me to Rebecca's fourth point: "my blog … helps me to think about what I'm doing and what it means in terms of the wider community."

A blog is a way of communicating with the wider community, of articulating what you are doing as an academic in an interesting and accessible way, of engaging with, and in, ever-changing international intellectual debates. It helps present and prospective students understand your position on these debates and helps model how we expect our own students to engage in intellectual debate. In keeps you in touch with others, and others in touch with you.

It is hard to see how a university can be international, influential, engaged, dynamic and accessible without embracing the sort of communication facilitated by blogs like Rebecca's and—I hope—mine.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Eliza Haywood Biography, Texts, Links etc

[The 1725 portrait of Haywood by James Parmentier
as it appears on a recent work of scholarship]

[For Eliza Haywood Texts, Links etc, and criticism of the same, see here. For William Hatchett links see here.]

The Wikipedia entry is here.

Ruth Facer's Chawton House biography here.

George Frisbie Whicher's The Life and Romances of Mrs. Eliza Haywood (1915) is downloadable as text here; as a pdf here.

Contemporary Biographical notices of Haywood

1747: [John Mottley], "Mrs. Eliza Heywood" in "A Compleat List of All the English Dramatic Poets, and all the plays ever Printed …", in Thomas Whincop, Scanderbeg, or Love and Liberty. A Tragedy (London: W. Reeve, 1747), 246.

  This Authoress is now living, and made eminent by several Novels, called Love in Excess, etc. wrote by her, which were much approved of by those who delight in that Sort of Reading and had a great Sale; she is likewise distinguished by Mr. Pope in his Dunciad, who proposes her as one of the Prizes to be run for, in the Games instituted in Honour of the Inauguration of the Monarch of Dulness. And the note upon that Passage says, "This woman was Authoress of those most scandalous Books, called The Court of Caramania, and The New Utopia, etc.   She has published two Dramatic Pieces.
  I. The Fair Captive; a Tragedy, aced in the Year 1721, at the Theatre Royal in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, with no success.
  II. A Wife to be Let; a Comedy, acted at the Theatre Royal in Drury-Lane in the Year 1725, in the Summer-Season, in which the Author performed a Part herself, with little Success.
  Mrs Heywood was also concerned with another, one Mr. Hatchet, in turning Mr. Fielding's Tom Thumb into a Ballad Opera, which was set to Music and performed at the Little Theatre in the Hay-market, with good Success.
.


1752: William Rufus Chetwood, Mrs. Eliza Heywood in A General History of the Stage (1749); repr. as The British Theatre (London, 1752), 171. [See below for the text.]
  ¶ This bibliographical part of this text reappears here in Theatrical records: or, an account of English dramatic authors, and their works (London, 1756), 114; also here in An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber … With an Account of the Rise and Progress of the English Stage, 4th ed (London, 1756), 282.


1764: David Erskine Baker, "Mrs. Eliza Heywood" in The Companion to the Play House, 2 vols. (London, 1764), v.2, Q1r, col.1-Q1v, col.2.
  ¶ This text reappears here in Biographica Dramatica; or, A Companion to the Play House … brought down to the End of November 1811 … by Stephen Jones, 3 vols. (London, 1812), 1.319-21.

* * * * *

The two most important of the early biographical accounts are those by Chetwood (1749) and Baker (1764)—for whom Hatchett was the likely source.

The first of these is not online so I included the transcript here. See, William Rufus Chetwood General History of the Stage (Dublin, 1749), 57 note b:

Mrs. Haywood has made herself eminent to the polite World by her writings; she is still alive. Her numerous Novels will be ever esteem'd by Lovers of that Sort of Amusement. She is likewise Authoress of three Dramatic Pieces … As the pen is her chief means of Subsistence, the World may find many Books of her Writing, tho' none have met with more Success than her Novels, more particularly her Love in Excess, &c. Her Dramatic Works have all died in their first visiting the World, being exhibited in very sickly Seasons for Poetry. Mr. Pope has taken her for his Goddess of Dulness in his Dunciad; but she need not blush in such good Company.


* * * * *

Contemporary Death notices of Haywood

Obit. in The Whitehall Evening Post 24–26 February 1756: 3c (here).
Obit. in The London Magazine 25 (February 1756): 92 (here).

[Last updated 28 December 2016.

NB: After all my pictures disappeared again I decided to give up on external hosts for large versions (1000px) of my image files and, for now on, will stick with the smaller images (500px), which Blogger is prepared to host.]

A Long Time Before Gutenberg

Gutenberg is credited with being the first European to use movable type in printing, and the first person (anywhere) to establish a printing press using movable type. This achievement is dated to 1439.

But the first book printed using movable metal type is thought to be the 백운화상초록불조직지심체요절 (aka Jikji Simche Yojeol), a Korean work that dates to July 1377. This is an anthology of the teachings of the the most revered Buddhist monks. The full title translates as The Monk Baegun's Anthology of the Great Priests' Teachings on Identification of the Buddha’s Spirit by the Practice of Seon. The work was in two volumes. The surviving copy, held by the National Library of France, contains only 38 sheets of the second volume.

* * * * *

On 1 September 2010, a Korean academic announced that he had found the world's oldest movable metal print, which predates the Jikji Simche Yojeol. According to this story in The Chosun Ilbo [Daily News from Korea] the newly found letters "are possibly 138 years older."

Prof. Nam Kwon-heui of Kyungpook National University said, "After analyzing around 100 movable metal letters that were in the private collection of a Korean, we have confirmed that 12 of them were made in the early 13th century."

The owner of the movable type was quoted as saying he bought them around 10 years ago and was told they were discovered during Japan's occupation of Korea and that a Japanese collector smuggled them out of Korea after World War II.

The only other movable metal type presumed to date back to the Koryo Kingdom is in the National Museum of Korea and the Kaesong Museum of History, which have one sample each. The type used to print the "Jikji" has yet to be discovered.



Another article, by Claire Lee in The Korea Herald, quotes Nam:

"I have confirmed that these blocks are from the 13th century Goryeo Kingdom period, and had been used for the printing of Nammyeongcheonhwasangsongjeungdoga (Sermons of Buddhist Priest Nam Myeongcheon)," Nam said.

A copy of the same sermons printed using wooden blocks from the Goryeo Kingdom period, designated a national treasure, is currently owned by Samseong Museum of Publishing. Nam, after about three years of extensive research, confirmed that the newly found blocks and the print of the treasure match with one another. “I’d like to call the blocks ‘Jeungdoga-Ja,’ naming them after the treasure,” Nam said.


As Lee goes on to explain:

If the newly found relics are confirmed to be the world’s oldest movable metal type, they will rewrite history. However, researchers at the National Museum of Korea said it is difficult to confirm the year of origin of metal relics because of their lack of carbon substance which is crucial for the carbon dating process.

“It would possible to find which era they were from if the types were made out of wood,” she said under condition of anonimity. “But metals are diffirent and they are easily affected by rust as well.”



* * * * *

Obviously, dating is an issue here. In The Korea Herald Nam is quoted as dating the type to "the 13th century" and in the The Chosun Ilbo it is claimed that they are from the "early 13th century." But the statement elsewhere in The Chosun Ilbo, that the "letters are possibly 138 years older," is clearly a kick at Gutenberg. These 138 years would date the type to the year 1239—exactly two centuries before Gutenberg's 1439. A bit too neat.

The bottom line is: movable metal printing type from anywhere in the 13th century is pretty amazing, and even if the type dates to 1299, this is still a long time before Gutenberg's 1439.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

ERA: Damned Lies and Bibliometrics

The Australian has a series of articles on the ERA report that was released yesterday. The titles tell the story Most unis below par on research, Scattergun sector needs some diversity, Elite eight head uni research ratings, No link between discovery and teaching, Uni research report a blow to big-noters etc.

The first of these articles is the most useful one because of the chart it includes, with the ERA results. The second one starts: "The release of the Excellence in Research for Australia report yesterday will give a few university bosses cause for introspection."

Not just university bosses. And this is why. The same article continues

While talk of teaching-only universities gets silenced as soon as it's raised (the teaching-research nexus is sacrosanct to the idea of a university), there is definitely a rising swell of voices suggesting the ERA results will be used to compel institutions into focusing their research efforts.

That is, if you are research active and you have the misfortune to be in an institution that has not performed well in your broad area of research, Canberra or your own administrators may decide that it is pointless you continuing to do research. You should just give up on research and only do teaching.

Of course, your broad area of research may not have performed well in the ERA exersize because the ERA has been so poorly conceived, so poorly adapted to your particular broad area of research, that it has utterly failed to take an accurate measure of the performance of that area.

Julie Hare writes (in Uni research report a blow to big-noters)

… performance in the arts, humanities and social sciences was overall pretty dismal. One reason may be the amount of research funding these areas attract … Another reason may be that because the HASS disciplines were subject to peer review: human judgment can tend to be harsher than the clear, crisp picture thrown up by bibliometrics, publications and the like.

Another way to put this is, one reason is the amount of research funding these areas are allocated (which is determined by Canberra), another reason is that no allowance has been made for the fact that the peer review process is faulty/biased/poorly conceived/poorly executed.

As for "the clear, crisp picture thrown up by bibliometrics"—hardly. Bibliometrics offers a distorted and incomplete picture, based on a fundamentally flawed logic. So, no …

Undoubtedly, for the first time we have a clear picture of not just where research activity is, but how good it is..

… we don't. And this post is an example of why:

Julie Hare's Uni research report a blow to big-noters is wrong. Julie Hare's Uni research report a blow to big-noters is misconceived. Don't, under any circumstances read Julie Hare's Uni research report a blow to big-noters.

Right, that is three times that I have mentioned the author and title: according to the present practice of bibliometrics, this is identical in value to me writing

Julie Hare's Uni research report a blow to big-noters is a work of unsurpassed genius. Julie Hare's Uni research report a blow to big-noters will remain the foundation-stone for thinking in this area forever. What would we do without Julie Hare's Uni research report a blow to big-noters?

Which is another three citations of the author and title.

Only a poorly-programmed computer thinks that these two paragraphs are identical: and only a poorly-informed administrator (or reporter) thinks that these citation-counts can tell you anything about reasearch excellence.

Which is why it is unfortunate that …

Innovation Minister Kim Carr said the results of the evaluation … would inform government about resource allocation and would be a key measure of performance in funding agreements with universities.

[UPDATE 20 May 2011: Check out this very amusing response to journal ranking madness: increase your journal's ranking by rejecting everything!]