NEWS/CONTROVERSY: European Research Index for the Humanities (2)

UPDATE: the following may be of practical use (or at least interest) to others in the humanities who are either following this debate, or engaged with it more actively.

Which [in Ed.’s opinion] we jolly well ought to be – this is important, as the futures not only of individuals but of entire departments and scholarly fields is at stake. In our home countries and further afield (note, for example, the reference to Neophilologus towards the end of the letter).

C/o FRANCOFIL: Letter sent by Prof. Lucille Cairns, President of AUPHF (Association of University Professors of French and Heads of Departments of French in the United Kingdom and Ireland); on behalf of AUPHF, to the body responsible for ERIH, viz. the European Science Foundation; the person to whom the letter was sent being Dr Dr Rüdiger Klein, Deputy Head of Humanities Unit / Research Infrastructures in the Humanities at ESF.

7 November 2008

To Whom It May Concern

As President of AUPHF (Association of University Professors of French and Heads of Departments of French in the United Kingdom and Ireland), I am writing to express the views of the Association on the European Research Index for the Humanities. AUPHF has a number of concerns about the ERIH, but does wish to engage constructively in its development and amelioration. As an appendix to this letter, you will find our specific suggestions for alterations in ranking of certain currently listed journals, and/ or suggestions for additions of journals which do not currently feature on the list, but to our mind should. The forms which the European Science Foundation currently requires one to complete in order to make such suggestions demand data often held only by journal editors as opposed to individual academics or subject associations. We feel that such data should, properly, be solicited by the ESF itself from the journal editors concerned. The consultation process should facilitate informed contributions of opinion from all, rather than demanding such fine detail that only journal editors, who will not be disinterested, are able to contribute.

Before listing our suggestions, we would like to address a number of the principles underlying the ERIH. Our first point should be considered as absolutely crucial and over-arching; thereafter, the concerns are not presented in any particular order of importance.

First, we wish to reaffirm that robust peer review must remain the major instrument in REF (Research Excellence Framework), in evaluation of grant applications, and in recruitment or promotion processes within UK universities. It has been stated that ERIH will not be used as a tool in the REF or in assessing grant applications to the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council). We can only hope that both HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) and AHRC will honour their promises in the future, whatever the vagaries of changing governmental policies.

Second, there is no recognition of the fact that the instinctive and inveterate response to A, B, and C ratings is to consider A as superior to B and C, B as inferior to A and superior to C, and C as, frankly, third-rate. The descriptors in the ‘Guidelines’ are, as they stand, also too hierarchical, with A being ‘very strong reputation’, B being ‘good reputation’, and C receiving no mention of a reputation. It is imperative to distinguish the issue of scope and audience from that of quality.

Third, although we acknowledge that many leading scholars in the Arts and Humanities have been involved in the process, the membership of the panels (4-6 members) remains unacceptably limited, and thus unrepresentative of the subject communities concerned. Why have so few subject specialists been involved in this pre-eminently important process? What were the criteria used in selecting panel members?

Fourth, there are significant gaps in the listings (we will attempt to remedy this by informing ESF of journals which do not currently feature in the lists and which in our opinion deserve a presence therein).

Fifth, given the subject-specific nature of the lists, interdisciplinary journals will be perilously marginalised. ‘French Studies’ is a highly interdisciplinary field, embracing all the purviews of ‘Cultural Studies’. The absence of listings for journals in, for example, ‘Film Studies’ (such as Studies in French Cinema, a key journal) is a matter of acute concern for AUPHF. More widely, Modern and Contemporary France and French Cultural Studies are high-profile, prestigious publications, yet have no presence in the current listings, presumably because they straddle several disciplines. Further, it appears to us nonsensical that two different gradings are applied to the same journal, by different panels. Hence, the high-profile Oxford University Press journal, Literature and Theology, is awarded B by the Literature panel, but A by the Theology panel. In our own field, the world-leading journal French Studies is awarded A by the Literature panel, but C by the Linguistics panel. What is the point of valorising interdisciplinary journals – or journals with interdisciplinary aspirations – if they are then to be bisected as if made up of two separate halves, rather than of intersections and permeabilities?

Sixth, there is at present an anglocentric bias to the lists. This bias seems to contradict ESF’s declared objective of promoting European research in the arts and humanities, not all of which by any means is conducted or disseminated in published form in the English language.

Thank you for considering our views on a matter which is of immense importance for all stakeholders within the arts and humanities.

Best wishes

Professor Lucille Cairns
Department of French
School of Modern Languages and Cultures
University of Durham
Elvet Riverside
New Elvet
Durham DH1 3JT
United Kingdom
Tel. 0191 334 3426
President of AUPHF (Association of University Professors of French and Heads of Departments of French in the United Kingdom and Ireland)


1. Suggestions for additions to the current listings
NB: this list is by no means exhaustive, and includes only the most obvious omissions noted by the Executive Committee of AUPHF. We will seek further suggestions from our wider membership and convey them to ESF.

The Australian Journal of French Studies: a journal with high visibility and importance.

Deleuze Studies (published by Edinburgh University Press): a major specialist journal, which should feature in the Philosophy list.

Europe: a journal with high visibility and importance.

Forum for Modern Language Studies: a journal with international contributions, which is rated A in Australia.

Neophilologus, Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, and Romania: journals which are all graded B in the Linguistics lists, but are of course active in publishing literary research too, and so should be included in the Literature list.

Textual Cultures and Revue d’Histoire des Textes: journals which are international in scope, oriented towards textual studies rather than literature per se, but which should not be excluded from the Literature list.

The French Review: :a journal with high visibility and importance.

2. Suggestions for regradings of currently listed journals

Critique should receive a higher grade than C, given its high visibility and importance.

Etudes Françaises: a well-established general journal with excellent refereeing processes that deserves A grading.
French Forum: again, a well-established general journal with excellent refereeing processes that deserves A grading.

Journal of French Language Studies (published by CUP) should receive a higher grade than B, given that it is peer-reviewed and has a high international profile.

Romance Studies (published by Maney) should receive a higher grade than C, for the following reasons: it covers the major Romance literatures/cultures and is jointly and pro-actively edited in the UK and the US, because its representation is so international; it maintains high standards of external refereeing (many of the most respected names in the profession act as assessors of articles); editing is extremely hands-on, and the demands placed on revising authors are high, with rejection rates being in line with those of any high-quality journal.

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