RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Methodology vs. Name Chasing

Comment from Harold Henderson
James, you could be part of the solution by explaining the relevance of a particular peer-reviewed article in one of your blog posts. (If you yourself think they're irrelevant to your research, that would be a different issue!) Granted, that can't be the first lesson that new people learn but it will strike a chord with some of those a little farther along. We all need to learn that there is methodology involved and not just name chasing.
I had to think about this for a while before I decided how to approach this issue. Journal articles or what you could call "peer reviewed" articles are intended to be scholarly writings about a very specific topic. There are thousands of different "journals" on thousands of different subjects. If you would like to get an idea about journal articles, you can see a good selection at, an online collection of very diverse journals from around the world. See also Wikipedia: JSTOR.

In my experience as a graduate student, if you continue on in your education beyond a basic college degree, you soon learn that almost all of the interesting and useful information coming out of your colleagues is published in journals pertaining to your particular academic interest. If you wish to obtain a higher degree such as a Masters Degree or Doctorate here in the U.S., it is mandatory that you publish articles in these academic journals. Publications are your badge of legitimacy in the academic community. Sometimes publication is not required for a masters degree, but is almost universally required for a doctorate.

In most areas of academic interest, as you attend classes, your instructors (professors and other graduate students) will very likely give you specific assignments to read articles in academic journals because text books are usually not as up-to-date about the present issues. I was no different than any other graduate student and did my mandatory journal writing and reading for my degree in Linguistics. When I went into law, I found a similar situation. Each law school has its "law journal" and in the legal community, the top students, who chose to do so, were on the "law review" editorial staff. This was especially necessary for law students who wished to teach law or who wanted to be clerks for judges in the Courts of Appeal around the country.

OK, so you might get the idea here that journals are a big deal in any academic community. Professors live and die by their publications. Getting an article published is like joining a very exclusive club. The "peer review" part of the equation is that the editorial board of the journal can determine not only whether an article get published, but exactly how it is written down to every comma and period. Getting an article published is as much about form as it is about content. Journal editors are obsessive about punctuation and citation form. It is all about obtaining a level of accuracy and consistency that indicates that the potential journal writer not only understands the subject, but also conforms, to some extent, with the community standards. I could say a lot more here about getting academic degrees and the degree review process but I will only mention that so far, five of my 14 children and their spouses have gone through or are going through the Ph.D process. I am well acquainted with the process and the politics.

Now, there are a few exceptions to the publication rules. Some of the more scientific and technical areas require a research project that usually becomes the basis for a major paper that is published. In law, you get a J.D. (juris doctorate) degree for graduating from an accredited law school and there is no dissertation required. In most contexts, a J.D. degree is not usually considered to be a true doctorate degree by academics. If you really wanted to get ahead in the academic community, you would have to get a Ph.D. also.

 Now, perhaps you can see why some of those wrapped up in academics might disparage mere blog writers. Anyone can post a blog. There is no "peer review" before publication. Only your readers really care about how or what you write. If your writing and research are poor or even terribly bad, you are judged not by a board of peers, but by the marketplace. Not very academic at all.

Just as most students who attend a university and graduate with a B.S., B.A. or whatever, never really get into journal articles and journal writing, so most genealogists are probably unaware that there are scholarly genealogical journals. But one thing is missing in genealogy. Genealogy has yet to be accepted as an academic discipline. So, none of these journals are particularly part of any university or university program. The editorial staff of these journals are not necessarily professors at some university, they are usually, however, recognized experts in the genealogical community as it is defined by the journal writers themselves.

So, if I an not really able to get a Ph.D. in genealogy anywhere in the United States, why do the journals exist? Well, that is a really complicated question that involves the issue of academic acceptance of the study of genealogy as a degree program in universities. Notwithstanding this lack of academic acceptance, the genealogical journals aspire to a high degree of academic accuracy, consistency and other formal requirements.

What it boils down to is this. Serious genealogy, done by real professionals, involves producing a genealogical product that is consistent with academic standards and those standards are set, to a great extent, by the genealogical journals. The peer review process here is almost exactly the same as it would be for any other journal in the world. Likewise, there are journals that are accepted as establishing credibility and others that are not so well accepted.

So, if you really, really want to know how genealogy is done and what the more educated and dedicated genealogists are expecting, you can write for one of the genealogical journals. Oh, I should say, try to write for one of the journals. Before you get to that point, I would suggest reading a whole lot of journal articles. Who publishes these journals if there are no university programs? Usually, in the genealogical community, the larger and older genealogical societies have a peer reviewed journal. The first step in publishing would be to join the society and become an active, participating member. The next step would be to investigate and work on certification or accreditation. At the same time it might also be a good idea to read the journals again and again. Then start doing genealogy consistent with the level of professionalism you will see in the articles. About then, you just might try writing.

Here is a short list of genealogical journals to get you started selected from Cyndi's List. See Cyndi's List for a more extensive list of journals.
Now, you can probably get a glimpse of why someone such as a mere blog writer like me, does not carry much weight in the academic/scholarly genealogical community, since I am only James Tanner, B.A., M.A., J.D. and am missing all the other letters. 

1 comment:

  1. The editorial staff of these journals are not necessarily professors at some university event study methodology.