Open Access and Renaissance Studies: where are we?

January 20, 2014
By Jennifer Richards

The debate about Open Access (OA) over the last year has been quite fierce at times. Now things seem to be calming down.  But is this the calm before another storm? In this post I want to share my perspective as editor of Renaissance Studies and say a bit about how we have responded to the two consultation exercises about OA.


What is OA all about?

A recommendation of The Finch Report, published in 2012 was that all published research funded by the tax-payer should be openly accessible. This is obviously a good idea and nobody in the academic community, so far I can tell, is opposed to it. There is agreement among academics that the principle of more Open Access is a good one.

The debate, though, centred on what form Finch OA should take (Gold, Green, a mixture), and how quickly it should happen.

Just to recap:

Gold = Research is available free online immediately on publication. An author (through their university) would pay an ‘article processing charge’ (APC) to the journal.

Green = No fee is paid by the author to a journal. Instead, the article is made freely available on line after an embargo period. If gold access is not offered by the journal, that period could be as little as 6 to 12 months.

Why have we been so concerned?

A rushed and ill-considered move to Open Access, we worried in 2012, would adversely affect: (a) the international standing of the journal, (b) the income of the Society.

Renaissance Studies publishes the best scholarship submitted, regardless of where its author lives in the world or what their academic status is. Many of the authors who submit are based outside the UK: in the US and Australia; across Europe, including in Ireland, Greece, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and elsewhere. Some of our authors are independent scholars (postdoctoral researchers without fixed-term posts, emeritus professors etc.), many are unsalaried early career researchers and postgraduates. Would all of these authors be able to pay for Open Access publication?

Plus, a learned society like ‘The Society for Renaissance Studies’ is dependent on the income generated by its journal to do its charitable work promoting all things ‘Renaissance’. This money (about £30k a year) is put to good use. It funds, among other things, prizes; postdoctoral fellowships (crucial at a time of austerity); conferences (both small and large grants, with priority given to postgraduate bursaries). And much more.

We were not alone in sharing these worries. We joined with other history journals, led by the editors of Past and Present, making known our views. We wrote in support of Green Open Access with an embargo period of 36 months, and we also argued strongly in support of a creative commons license that would protect the integrity of our work.

What is the situation now?

We welcome the opportunities we have been given to be part of a national consultation exercise on OA. Happily, the lobbying of journals across the humanities (and in other fields) means that for now, Green Open Access is acceptable, with an embargo period of 24 months. Hooray! Concerns have not gone away, though, and we want to maintain this agreement until we have a better understanding of how OA will affect funding for learned societies and jobs in the publishing sector. But Open Access is a reality in the UK publishing world. Journal outputs submitted to REF2020 will need to be published OA (if published after 2016). And there is currently a working party, which includes the British Academy and the AHRC, looking at models of OA monograph publication.

While I welcome Open Access, and while I am really pleased that we were listened to in the first consultation exercise, I remain vigilant. In our response to the second consultation we flagged the following principles:

  1. We want to remain ‘open’ to budding authors too, regardless of their ability to pay. We want to nurture scholars who do not have, as well as those who do have formal institutional ties and/ or employment rights.
  2. We want to continue to offer authors a choice between licences (acknowledging that most humanities scholars support the license that allows for the re-use of content through download and text-mining). We regard this as essential for the advance of knowledge in the humanities.

What happens next?

Watch this space!

Jennifer Richards

Editor of Renaissance Studies

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