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Crowdsourced Book-Review Project Puts Critiques Online

The traditional academic-publishing industry moves slowly, and scholarly book reviews can take a long time to get printed. So one group of students is trying to speed up the review process and make it more interactive by putting a crowdsourced book review online for anyone to critique.

The reviewers are members of the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory’s scholars program, which is made up of undergraduates and graduate students. Their book of choice is Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White’s Race After the Internet, a collection of essays published last October. Hastac scholars wrote reviews of the book’s 14 chapters, and their contributions have been published on the Web for readers to evaluate and add their own takes. The project went live last week.

“These are not just reviews existing on their own in a print journal,” said Fiona Barnett, a doctoral candidate at Duke University who directs Hastac’s scholars program. “They’re active at the moment, with other students and other academics responding to them instantly.”

Ms. Barnett said the group split the review into chapters because each reviewer has different specialties and may not be an expert on the entire collection. Also, for many graduate students who have jobs and dissertations to worry about, “writing an entire book review is actually pretty daunting,” she added. Some of the reviews are personal engagements with the text, and others are grounded in theory, Ms. Barnett said.

It’s not unprecedented for scholars to outsource reviews of their work to the masses—a University of California at Santa Cruz professor once put his book on an academic blog for commenters to critique while he published it through MIT Press. But this review is different, because Hastac’s scholars organized the review, rather than Race After the Internet’s editors. And unlike the academic-blog experiment, which put its text online free, the Hastac reviewers either read the printed book or accessed the e-inspection edition for teachers, according to Ms. Barnett.

Before the new critiques were published online, one student asked if the group could exchange their reviews with each other in private. But the group decided not to, and instead chose to offer suggestions to each other in public, on the Web, Ms. Barnett said.

There’s still a need for less immediate, careful responses to academic work, Ms. Barnett said, but it’s important for scholars to have a space where they can engage with each other quickly and directly.

“There’s room for both,” she said.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by Robert Couse-Baker]

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