About Behind the Seams
In Behind the Seams, the editors and authors reflect on the oft-hidden path from initial submission to published piece. This feature centers on a recorded audio conversation—not an interview, but an open-ended discussion—built around observations and recollections of what stands out in the process of developing, editing, and publishing an article with JITP.
Behind the Seams Video Transcript
Benjamin Miller and Joseph Ugoretz in conversation with Issue 2 author Brian Beaton.
BM: All right, so: after some technical difficulties, here we are, having a conversation, starting our inaugural Behind the Seams project to look at the path that one article has taken from its origins to publication in the journal which we refer to as JITP.
BB: I’m Brian Beaton; I’m an Assistant Professor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.
JU: And I’m Joe Ugoretz. I’m the Associate Dean of Teaching, Learning, and Technology at Macaulay Honors College—
BM: —and also an editor of The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, as am I. My name is Benjamin Miller; I am a Ph.D. student in the English Department at the CUNY Graduate Center. And so the article that we’re looking at is by Brian. Brian, do you want to just say the title for the record?
BB: Yeah, sure. The article is called “Other People’s Digital Tools: Adaptive Reuse, Cold War History, and the GSA’s Real Property Utilization and Disposal Website.” It’s a short, catchy title.
BM: [laughs] But it says what it does, and that’s a thing that titles have to do.
BB: It’s been retitled as it went through the revision process, and so, you know, it does connect up with our conversation a bit. The real key part of the title, I think, is this idea of other people’s digital tools. And the sort of quick history of this piece: I originally wrote this piece thinking that it would go in the Tool Tips section of JITP, and I originally had this idea of a review of an electronic resource, explaining how it can be used in a classroom for teaching purposes and research purposes, but I wanted to write about a resource that wasn’t designed for that. I initially wanted to produce a piece that was more a kind of act of exposure or flagging a resource that maybe isn’t immediately obvious as a resource, and point out that there’s this electronic resource that’s been developed for property developers to acquire these surplus properties that actually contains—inadvertently—a whole lot of information about sites that we don’t know a lot about. So that was kind of the original idea for the piece.
BM: Right. I think one of the reasons that I thought, you know, this should really be a full-length article in Issues, rather than kind of the shorter, “Here’s a Tool Tip,” is that it’s not a tool that’s designed specifically for scholars and students, right, so Tool Tips I think of as being, “You may have heard of this. Here’s how to use it well.” But to say, “Here’s this thing that is not designed for this,” that to me needs more attention.
JU: Yeah, so let’s zoom in a little bit on the process of going through the editing and getting it through the steps of getting it into JITP. Is this an article that you kind of had ready to go and were shopping it around? ’Cause that’s generally what I will do. I have an idea for a piece, and I’ll sort of write it, or at least a major draft of it, and then look for a home for it. Or did this work in a different way?
BB: No, this worked in a slightly different way. I originally had done field work, which I think is referenced in the article. I was doing field work a few years ago, actually trying to document the physical disassembly of these military installations, and I used that as an example. So that work was obviously done, and that was work [that] for lack of a better phrasing, was just on my laptop; I hadn’t really done much with that. Sometimes you do fieldwork, and you think it’s part of one research project, it doesn’t sort of connect up with where that project goes, and it ends up in a folder somewhere.
JU: Let me open up to a kind of argument that says, in the genesis of JITP . . . why have a journal today, why not just blog about this, why not just make a website with the photos from your fieldwork, and invite people to comment, and—
BB: I think it’s about being part of a larger conversation, and part of a larger community. For me I was really drawn—it had never dawned on me, you’re right, now that you say that, I was thinking, why didn’t I just blog?
BM: [laughs] Too late, too late.
JU: Too late. You can’t use it on a blog now.
BB: It never dawned on me. And it never dawned on me because I think that these fields—particularly Cold War Studies is a good example, it’s a really lively field, where a lot of work is coming out right now, and so I also think it’s a field that for whatever reason has not yet very closely linked up with conversations in say digital humanities, digital history, these kinds of things. There are a few projects I can think of that are quite good, but for the most part you don’t see a real interest in using technology to have these conversations or to talk about the Cold War in any particular way. So I guess, I mean maybe—I think it’s about being part of [a] scholarly community, you know, and I think also about again trying to update and innovate these conversations and how they happen, like we’re doing right now.
BM: Yeah. Can I just ask for my own curiosity: so you’ve got this archive, you’ve got your photos from having been there, you’ve got the website: you want to be part of a scholarly community. At what point does JITP come in and crystallize for you [that] these two things can go together?
BB: Yeah, okay, a couple of things. I would say I was really drawn initially to the Tool Tips section, even though this is not where this paper is ending up. It’s that section that caught my attention, I’ll be quite honest. I was—I thought it was a really good idea for a section, you know? I think right now, journals, academic publishing, academic journals, they tend to have these stock sections that have been developed . . . for the lack of a better term, in the analog era. You know, they have book reviews, they have scholarly articles, they sometimes have obituaries and memorials and those kinds of things. They have, sometimes, job announcements. I liked what JITP was doing in terms of trying to rethink stock sections, if you will. So not getting rid of having sections, but reimagining them for this particular moment in scholarly communication. The kind of renamings and regroupings that JITP was doing, in terms of using and misusing, and like you say, I think taking some risks in terms of the kind of academic work that you’re soliciting, it just seemed to be a good match to me.
BM: But you started saying that was your initial idea. So did that change, and if so, when?
BB: It changed through the process. So I submitted a piece, and I think if you go back, and in fact I was looking at it earlier today, you can see that there’s a little note that I’ve put that says, “I am not sure where this goes within the journal.” There’s like a little warning on the front, you know? And what happened was I got it back, I got the paper back, and the reviewers picked up on these tensions. And so you know there’s this part in the first version of this paper, and even when I was writing it, you know, I felt this, where I’m like, I’m saying, “. . . Isn’t this an interesting resource that can be borrowed or appropriated, oh but by the way it’s really hard to navigate and to use.” And so I think the reviewers picked up on that. And so their comments initially—you know, they wanted me to flesh out both of those things.
BM: Yeah . . . I’m seeing Ryan Cordell in his review saying, “At the moment the article notes that this website ‘inadvertently grants intimate access to cold war [sic] sites’ and lists a few possible studies that would find such a resource interesting. I would love to have seen a few more paragraphs outlining precisely how a teacher might incorporate this resource into a classroom discussion or project.”
BB: And so I got these comments back, and thought, oh, okay, yes. I mean, they’re spot on in terms of flagging I think what’s an interesting sort of tension or what’s lurking here in the piece, and also flagging that problem of why point out a resource that people don’t know about if it’s also not particularly easy to use or navigate? And so I actually was forced to sort of grapple with that, or use it as an opportunity to think about it in response to their comments. And in thinking about it, I realized that that was the very point: the fact that it was so hard to use wasn’t something to sort of skirt around and kind of be nervous about as an author. Instead, I decided to run with that and say, “Okay, you know, this is something that is hard to use—maybe that’s the whole point—and what students can do, and the value in this idea, is having them remake it.” And I started thinking more about this kind of [as] not just digital making, but remaking, and not just tooling, but retooling.
JU: So Brian, you went pretty smoothly through the process. You submitted, you had some comments from the reviewers, and from Ben and me, and you were able to revise in a way that kind of really addressed those, but strengthened the piece. Or at least, did it strengthen the piece in your eyes?
BB: Absolutely, yeah. I think it’s when I was willing to defer, or to think with the reviewers and the editors, you know, and take it as an opportunity to develop the piece. It’s gone from something being kind of fringe in my own sort of research program, to, through this process, [it] has now moved very much to the center. You know, this is something I want to continue thinking and writing and talking about—or at least this idea of “adaptive reuse.”
BM: I do think that we’ve been doing some really good collaborating and thinking alongside! After this initial round of reviews you send us back a revised draft, significantly revised, and then what happened was we sent back another set of comments, but from me and Joe. And we said, “Here’s what’s really great about this; here’s where we can push you more.” Was that a surprise? Part of the JITP ethos or mindset here is we are deliberately pairing experienced faculty with Ph.D. students in the editorial process, so for me, as a Ph.D. student, I’m not sure what the normal is. And one of the reasons that we are able to take risks and push boundaries is ’cause we don’t really know yet. So we just throw ideas out there. And so to me it was perfectly normal, and what I would do, you know, if I were in a teaching situation, is: you get the draft; you say, “Here is what is working well, here’s where I think your further opportunity is.”
BB: I was really struck by it, in some ways. It seemed really generous to me. I thought, “Wow. Okay.” And what happened is it started to turn really workshoppy, where I felt like, and I’m being sincere, this is the first paper that I’m publishing where I wish we actually could just keep doing this: I wish we could just keep doing this back and forth, you know, for like another two years, because I would love to see the paper that emerges two years from now in doing this.
BM: That is really great to hear [laughs]. In talking about the kinds of workshoppy-ness of the comments and the transformations that the text has gone through, I notice Brian that you’re focused (reasonably) on the ideas, right? But as I was marking up the .pdf version in August, which was the second revision, I would suggest a paragraph swap, or dashes, or these really minute things just to bring out what I saw as those ideas in a clearer way, just ’cause of my background—I’m a compositionist—and so I’m totally interested in whether that was invasive, whether it was useful, whether it was some combination of those things. Even just for myself moving forward as an editor, that style or that sentence-level control of emphasis, is that something that was useful?
BB: Yeah, it was. I mean . . . you’re making me realize that I think one of the things that editorial boards could have is a style editor. You know, we always—we farm out papers and we say, you know, “Reviewers, can you review this paper? Here’s the deadline.” And it’s usually subject specialists, you know, who might find some grammar stuff, some clarity stuff, but for the most part it’s usually content-based reviews. The idea of adding in to the peer review process, you know, actually institutionalizing or formalizing a style person, would be really, really, I think, interesting, provocative, useful.. . . I appreciated those comments, immensely. They worked. I tried them out, like I remember, where it was “put dashes,” or whatnot, and I thought, okay, you know, I’ll try it. I did it and was like, “Oh, yeah, he’s right; this sounds better.” And I mean, in some ways what you saw, I think, you saw a really compliant author . . . I’m not, actually; I don’t self-identify as particularly compliant in that way normally.
BM: Yeah, and I mean I was very conscious, and self-conscious even, of not making the changes, but of saying, “Here’s a place where this strategy might work: try it out and let us know.”
BB: There’s a couple of things that got dropped out of the piece, tiny phrasings or words or that kind of thing. You know, this phrase “trespassitory ethnography” that I sort of coined in the first version of this paper. It got dropped, and you—it got dropped from the second version, and you flagged that again, and you said, “Hey, where did that phrase go?” and it’s actually still not back. It’s very—it’s very helpful to have that kind of feedback, and to have this kind of back and forth. I mean, I can’t think of another example in working with editors where someone has asked me, “Hey where did that go?” That exchange right there really captures this kind of workshop element that I think that you somehow have been able to set up, and I think is really effective and really improves people’s work.
JU: So just as a way of wrapping up, is there something that we’re missing, something that we really should get in here about the process, or about the piece?
BB: I sincerely wish there was a way to tell other authors, other scholars, you know, if you’ve been burned by your experiences in the past with other journals, or the process of scholarly writing and publishing. I don’t know. I only have positive things to say. This paper got better.