Posted on September 18, 2012

Great Zimbabwe Ruins in Masvingo 2006 by ctsnow
Having just got back from yet another conference in this Olympic summer of conferences I started reflecting on the point of conferences and where to publish my latest piece of work. One of my papers speaks about the development of integrated management strategies for tangible and intangible heritage. One of the problems in this field remains a relative lack of communication between the management-oriented literature and practice and the critical heritage studies literature. I've just presented on this topic at the African Studies Association meeting in the UK where there was a good conversation developing between historians and heritage studies people. Frankly, I was not sure where to place myself in this dichotomy.

Robertson (2008:144) says that: " The heritage discourse is centred around a number of critical (in both meanings of the word) dualisms: between those who take a pessimistic view of the turn to heritage in the last quarter of the twentieth century and those who take a more optimistic view; between the professional practitioners of the heritage industry and the professional academics; between the past deployed in the service of identity-making at a national level and at other spatial scales."

This is a problem in the broader field of museums, archives and heritage, as some recent American work has demonstrated. The Archival Platform was discussed in this context at the American Historical Association meeting in January 2012.

As a historian, I should really consider writing a book, because this kind of publication is most highly valued in that field. However, given declines in academic library budgets and the lack of access by cultural heritage institutions to academic libraries, I have to ask how many people would read it, and whether it would simply be other historians. This graphic from the Eigenfactor project ( demonstrates how little historians (who tend to publish more books) are being cited in other humanities fields that tend to publish in journals. This is important because the heritage field is multidisciplinary, and I'd like archaeologists, cultural heritage managers, and others to read what I write.
As someone living on the dark fringes of the academic world, maybe I should consider writing a journal article, perhaps submitting it to one of the best journals for heritage studies - the International Journal of Heritage Studies. However, figures released by the journal's publishers suggest that while citation of articles in IJHS are going up, citations by other prestigious journals are going down. Does this mean that the conversation about critical heritage studies is becoming more insular? Not necessarily, as the data used for these figures probably underestimates citations in books.

A more serious problem is reaching heritage practitioners who do not generally have access to academic databases, however.
One way of doing this is by publishing works open access and online. The reach is limited of course to heritage institutions that allow their staff to use internet access for research, and provide such access. Some of my most cited work has been published free online by the HSRC Press. One problem I have with articles published by smaller presses is that in academic circles these publications are often not considered of as high a quality as ones accepted by the major international presses. This is without any actual perusal of the contents of such publications, and in spite of the fact that they provide quick, free and accessible access to research. It's a good enough reason for someone like me to use smaller, independent and free presses as a matter of principle but one pays the price in academic jobs.

I do like the solution offered by the blog, though - a friendly, expansive hint of work that is published elsewhere in greater detail. I think academics and practitioners should make greater use of it to start speaking across the many walls that divide their conversation.

Next time I'll write about the approaches that can divide us as surely as the spaces in which we publish.

Harriet Deacon is the UK correspondent for the Archival Platform.


1. ArchivesNext blog, 19 Jan. 2012, 'Antoinette Burton's perspective on the 'archival divide:' remarks delivered at AHA',