From the News column of the May 2012 issue of Perspectives on History

AHA's Professional Division Issues Statement on Online Publication of Dissertations

Debbie Ann Doyle, May 2012

Many universities are now requiring electronic publication of theses and dissertations, but not all graduate students and advisers are aware of the extent and implications of this new development and of the impact it will have on subsequent publication of a revised version.

To find out how many universities require such electronic publication of dissertations, the AHA's Professional Division recently polled history department chairs and directors of graduate studies. The responses to this survey revealed that policies vary widely by institution.

While there is no conclusive evidence that electronic publication can make it more difficult to publish a revised version of a dissertation, the division feels that students and their advisers should be aware of the possibility. Editors who had spoken about the topic at a 2011 annual meeting session and had subsequently been interviewed for an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education were divided on whether electronic publication differs significantly from older methods of making theses and dissertations available through interlibrary loan or on microfilm. Some editors stated that they would be more likely to publish a dissertation that had attracted interest online.

In this context, the Professional Division has drafted the following statement to alert students and advisers to issues they should consider:

  1. Graduate students and their advisers should be aware of specific policies at their institutions governing the dissemination of history MA and PhD theses. In the past, theses were made available either through hard copies deposited in the home institution library (and made available for interlibrary loan) or through microfilm. Today, some universities require that theses be published online or on their library website. At the same time, there is evidence to suggest that some university press editors are reluctant to consider for publication those studies that have been posted online and made generally accessible to the public.
  2. Policies governing online publication of recent theses vary widely among institutions. Some universities allow students to embargo the publication of their thesis for a year, or for an indefinite amount of time. Other places do not allow any kind of embargo. In most cases where students have the embargo option, they must make such a request within a stipulated window of time—for example, no later than a month before the defense. Students and advisers should take note of these deadlines as part of their general preparation for the defense.
  3. The American Historical Association urges universities that have no policies at all on this issue to consider developing one that strikes a balance between, on the one hand, protecting the recent graduate's right to maintain control over his or her work product, and, on the other, promoting the interests of the historical profession to disseminate scholarship as widely as possible.

Debbie Ann Doyle is the AHA's coordinator for committees and convention assistant. This article has been adapted from a blog post of March 27, 2012, on AHA Today.