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Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Lancaster latest

The Havel quote is excellent.

This tale of the general crappiness of UKHE and its management and of a principled attempt to stand up to it is depressing in every regard but one things stands out for me.  That is the decision of a couple of people within the dept and one 'critical friend' to grade a piece accepted by Past and Present at '2' (basically, for those unfamiliar with the labyrinth, a low score).  Now, the REF has said it will grade submitted pieces on their own merits and not according to where, or by whom, they are published.  As a general principle that is fine and it is the way things should be.  But I have always understood that there would be some parameters for this, just in the interests of fairness.  

As we all know, good journals publish (what we consider to be) bad articles, (what we consider to be) bad books get published in good book series, for all sorts of reasons - usually for simply saying what the great and good think ought to be said in the right sort of way, but sometimes for more nefarious reasons.  Be that as it may, though, Past and Present has one of the most rigorous refereeing systems in existence.  An article has to go through the hands of a lot of smart people before it is accepted and appears (this is one reason I have never published there...).  A volume accepted for a prestigious series like, say, CUP's Studies in Medieval Life and Thought similarly has to get past a number of (more or less) critical readers.  There are obvious reasons why prestigious journals and series don't publish rubbish, for their own sakes.  They don't always get it right, for sure, but whatever comes out at least has the merit of scholarly acceptance at a high level.

As a result of that I always assumed that the REF would temper its own views according to this.  Thus, whatever one might think of a piece, the very fact of its appearance in, say, P&P would itself argue for a de facto level 3 at least of significance.  I still like to hope that this will be the case with the actual panels.  The grading of such an article at 2 strikes me as an example of monumental egotism - that this person's view is so much better than that of the six leading scholars who read it and accepted it for publication in the country's leading academic historical journal.  That level of egotism and arrogance disgusts me.  It is sadly not atypical of the profession, though.

In more positive news, though, this has at least brought to my attention Derek Sayer's jointly-authored book on the early modern English state, which looks like something I should read.