Ghosts in Machines and a Snapshot of Scholarly Journal Publishing in Canada

Johanne Provençal


The ideas put forth here do not fit perfectly or entirely into the genre and form of what has established itself as the scholarly journal article. What is put forth, instead, is a juxtaposition of lines of thinking about the scholarly and popular in publishing, past, present and future. As such it may indeed be quite appropriate to the occasion and the questions raised in the call for papers for this special issue of M/C Journal. The ideas put forth here are intended as pieces of an ever-changing puzzle of the making public of scholarship, which, I hope, may in some way fit with both the work of others in this special issue and in the discourse more broadly.

The first line of thinking presented takes the form of an historical overview of publishing as context to consider a second line of thinking about the current status and future of publishing. The historical context serves as reminder (and cause for celebration) that publishing has not yet perished, contrary to continued doomsday sooth-saying that has come with each new medium since the advent of print. Instead, publishing has continued to transform and it is precisely the transformation of print, print culture and reading publics that are the focus of this article, in particular, in relation to the question of the boundaries between the scholarly and the popular. What follows is a juxtaposition that is part of an investigation in progress. Presented first, therefore, is a mapping of shifts in print culture from the time of Gutenberg to the twentieth century; second, is a contemporary snapshot of the editorial mandates of more than one hundred member journals of the Canadian Association of Learned Journals (CALJ).

What such juxtaposition is able to reveal is open to interpretation, of course. And indeed, as I proceed in my investigation of publishing past, present and future, my interpretations are many. The juxtaposition raises a number of issues: of communities of readers and the cultures of reading publics; of privileged and marginalised texts (as well as their authors and their readers); of access and reach (whether in terms of what is quantifiable or in a much more subtle but equally important sense). In Canada, at present, these issues are also intertwined with changes to research funding policies and some attention is given at the end of this article to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada and its recent/current shift in funding policy. Curiously, current shifts in funding policies, considered alongside an historical overview of publishing, would suggest that although publishing continues to transform, at the same time, as they say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


Republics of Letters and Ghosts in Machines

Republics of Letters that formed after the advent of the printing press can be conjured up as distant and almost mythical communities of elite literates, ghosts almost lost in a Gutenberg galaxy that today encompasses (and is embodied in) schools, bookshelves, and digital archives in many places across the globe. Conjuring up ghosts of histories past seems always to reveal ironies, and indeed some of the most interesting ironies of the Gutenberg galaxy involve McLuhanesque reversals or, if not full reversals, then in the least some notably sharp turns.

There is a need to define some boundaries (and terms) in the framing of the tracing that follows. Given that the time frame in question spans more than five hundred years (from the advent of Gutenberg’s printing press in the fifteenth century to the turn of the 21st century), the tracing must necessarily be done in broad strokes. With regard to what is meant by the “making public of scholarship” in this paper, by “making public” I refer to accounts historians have given in their attempts to reconstruct a history of what was published either in the periodical press or in books. With regard to scholarship (and the making public of it), as with many things in the history of publishing (or any history), this means different things in different times and in different places. The changing meanings of what can be termed “scholarship” and where and how it historically has been made public are the cornerstones on which this article (and a history of the making public of scholarship) turn. The structure of this paper is loosely chronological and is limited to the print cultures and reading publics in France, Britain, and what would eventually be called the US and Canada, and what follows here is an overview of changes in how scholarly and popular texts and publics are variously defined over the course of history.


The Construction of Reading Publics and Print Culture

In any consideration of “print culture” and reading publics, historical or contemporary, there are two guiding principles that historians suggest should be kept in mind, and, though these may seem self-evident, they are worth stating explicitly (perhaps precisely because they seem self-evident). The first is a reminder from Adrian Johns that “the very identity of print itself has had to be made” (2 italics in original). Just as the identity of print cultures are made, similarly, a history of reading publics and their identities are made, by looking to and interpreting such variables as numbers and genres of titles published and circulated, dates and locations of collections, and information on readers’ experiences of texts. Elizabeth Eisenstein offers a reminder of the “widely varying circumstances” (92) of the print revolution and an explicit acknowledgement of such circumstances provides the second, seemingly self-evident guiding principle: that the construction of reading publics and print culture must not only be understood as constructed, but also that such constructions ought not be understood as uniform. The purpose of the reconstructions of print cultures and reading publics presented here, therefore, is not to arrive at final conclusions, but rather to identify patterns that prove useful in better understanding the current status (and possible future) of publishing.


The Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries—Boom, then Busted by State and Church

In search of what could be termed “scholarship” following the mid-fifteenth century boom of the early days of print, given the ecclesiastical and state censorship in Britain and France and the popularity of religious texts of the 15th and 16th centuries, arguably the closest to “scholarship” that we can come is through the influence of the Italian Renaissance and the revival and translation (into Latin, and to a far lesser extent, vernacular languages) of the classics and indeed the influence of the Italian Renaissance on the “print revolution” is widely recognised by historians. Historians also recognise, however, that it was not long until “the supply of unpublished texts dried up…[yet for authors] to sell the fruits of their intellect—was not yet common practice before the late 16th century” (Febvre and Martin 160). Although this reference is to the book trade in France, in Britain, and in the regions to become the US and Canada, reading of “pious texts” was similarly predominant in the early days of print. Yet, the humanist shift throughout the 16th century is evidenced by titles produced in Paris in the first century of print: in 1501, in a total of 88 works, 53 can be categorised as religious, with 25 categorised as Latin, Greek, or Humanist authors; as compared to titles produced in 1549, in a total of 332 titles, 56 can be categorised as religious with 204 categorised as Latin, Greek, or Humanist authors (Febvre and Martin 264).


The Seventeenth Century—Changes in the Political and Print Landscape

In the 17th century, printers discovered that their chances of profitability (and survival) could be improved by targeting and developing a popular readership through the periodical press (its very periodicity and relative low cost both contributed to its accessibility by popular publics) in Europe as well as in North America. It is worthwhile to note, however, that “to the end of the seventeenth century, both literacy and leisure were virtually confined to scholars and ‘gentlemen’” (Steinberg 119) particularly where books were concerned and although literacy rates were still low, through the “exceptionally literate villager” there formed “hearing publics” who would have printed texts read to them (Eisenstein 93). For the literate members of the public interested not only in improving their social positions through learning, but also with intellectual (or spiritual or existential) curiosity piqued by forbidden books, it is not surprising that Descartes “wrote in French to a ‘lay audience … open to new ideas’” (Jacob 41). The 17th century also saw the publication of the first scholarly journals. There is a tension that becomes evident in the seventeenth century that can be seen as a tension characteristic of print culture, past and present: on the one hand, the housing of scholarship in scholarly journals as a genre distinct from the genre of the popular periodicals can be interpreted as a continued pattern of (elitist) divide in publics (as seen earlier between the oral and the written word, between Latin and the vernacular, between classic texts and popular texts); while, on the other hand, some thinkers/scholars of the day had an interest in reaching a wider audience, as printers always had, which led to the construction and fragmentation of audiences (whether the printer’s market for his goods or the scholar’s marketplace of ideas).


The Eighteenth Century—Republics of Letters Become Concrete and Visible

The 18th century saw ever-increasing literacy rates, early copyright legislation (Statute of Anne in 1709), improved printing technology, and ironically (or perhaps on the contrary, quite predictably) severe censorship that in effect led to an increased demand for forbidden books and a vibrant and international underground book trade (Darnton and Roche 138). Alongside a growing book trade, “the pulpit was ultimately displaced by the periodical press” (Eisenstein 94), which had become an “established institution” (Steinberg 125). One history of the periodical press in France finds that the number of periodicals (to remain in publication for three or more years) available to the reading public in 1745 numbered 15, whereas in 1785 this increased to 82 (Censer 7). With regard to scholarly periodicals, another study shows that between 1790 and 1800 there were 640 scientific-technological periodicals being published in Europe (Kronick 1961). Across the Atlantic, earlier difficulties in cultivating intellectual life—such as haphazard transatlantic exchange and limited institutions for learning—began to give way to a “republic of letters” that was “visible and concrete” (Hall 417).


The Nineteenth Century—A Second Boom and the Rise of the Periodical Press

By the turn of the 19th century, visible and concrete republics of letters become evident on both sides of the Atlantic in the boom in book publishing and in the periodical press, scholarly and popular. State and church controls on printing/publishing had given way to the press as the “fourth estate” or a free press as powerful force. The legislation of public education brought increased literacy rates among members of successive generations. One study of literacy rates in Britain, for example, shows that in the period from 1840–1870 literacy rates increased by 35–70 per cent; then from 1870–1900, literacy increased by 78–261 per cent (Mitch 76). Further, with the growth and changes in universities, “history, languages and literature and, above all, the sciences, became an established part of higher education for the first time,” which translated into growing markets for book publishers (Feather 117). Similarly the periodical press reached ever-increasing and numerous reading publics: one estimate of the increase finds the publication of nine hundred journals in 1800 jumping to almost sixty thousand in 1901 (Brodman, cited in Kronick 127). Further, the important role of the periodical press in developing communities of readers was recognised by publishers, editors and authors of the time, something equally recognised by present-day historians describing the “generic mélange of the periodical … [that] particularly lent itself to the interpenetration of language and ideas…[and] the verbal and conceptual interconnectedness of science, politics, theology, and literature” (Dawson, Noakes and Topham 30). Scientists recognised popular periodicals as “important platforms for addressing a non-specialist but culturally powerful public … [they were seen as public] performances [that] fulfilled important functions in making the claims of science heard among the ruling élite” (Dawson et al. 11). By contrast, however, the scholarly journals of the time, while also increasing in number, were becoming increasingly specialised along the same disciplinary boundaries being established in the universities, fulfilling a very different function of forming scholarly and discipline-specific discourse communities through public (published) performances of a very different nature.


The Twentieth Century—The Tension Between Niche Publics and Mass Publics

The long-existing tension in print culture between the differentiation of reading publics on the one hand, and the reach to ever-expanding reading publics on the other, in the twentieth century becomes a tension between what have been termed “niche-marketing” and “mass marketing,” between niche publics and mass publics. What this meant for the making public of scholarship was that the divides between discipline-specific discourse communities (and their corresponding genres) became more firmly established and yet, within each discipline, there was further fragmentation and specialisation. The niche-mass tension also meant that although in earlier print culture, “the lines of demarcation between men of science, men of letters, and scientific popularizers were far from clear, and were constantly being renegotiated” (Dawson et al 28), with the increasing professionalisation of academic work (and careers), lines of demarcation became firmly drawn between scholarly and popular titles and authors, as well as readers, who were described as “men of science,” as “educated men,” or as “casual observers” (Klancher 90). The question remains, however, as one historian of science asks, “To whom did the reading public go in order to learn about the ultimate meaning of modern science, the professionals or the popularizers?” (Lightman 191). By whom and for whom, where and how scholarship has historically been made public, are questions worthy of consideration if contemporary scholars are to better understand the current status (and possible future) for the making public of scholarship.


A Snapshot of Scholarly Journals in Canada and Current Changes in Funding Policies

The here and now of scholarly journal publishing in Canada (a growing, but relatively modest scholarly journal community, compared to the number of scholarly journals published in Europe and the US) serves as an interesting microcosm through which to consider how scholarly journal publishing has evolved since the early days of print. What follows here is an overview of the membership of the Canadian Association of Learned Journals (CALJ), in particular: (1) their target readers as identifiable from their editorial mandates; (2) their print/online/open-access policies; and (3) their publishers (all information gathered from the CALJ website,

Analysis of the collected data for the 100 member journals of CALJ (English, French and bilingual journals) with available information on the CALJ website is presented in Table 1 (below). A few observations are noteworthy: (1) in terms of readers, although all 100 journals identify a scholarly audience as their target readership, more than 40% of the journal also identify practitioners, policy-makers, or general readers as members of their target audience; (2) more than 25% of the journals publish online as well as or instead of print editions; and (3) almost all journals are published either by a Canadian university or, in one case, a college (60%) or a scholarly or professional society (31%).


Table 1: Target Readership, Publishing Model and Publishers, CALJ Members (N=100)

Journals with identifiable scholarly target readership


Journals with other identifiable target readership: practitioner


Journals with other identifiable target readership: general readers


Journals with other identifiable target readership: policy-makers/government


Total journals with identifiable target readership other than scholarly


Journals publishing in print only


Journals publishing in print and online


Journals publishing in print, online and open access


Journals publishing online only and open access


Journals published through a Canadian university press, faculty or department


Journals published by a scholarly or professional society


Journals published by a research institute


Journals published by the private sector



In the context of the historical overview presented earlier, this data raises a number of questions. The number of journals with target audiences either within or beyond the academy raises issues akin to the situation in the early days of print, when published works were primarily in Latin, with only 22 per cent in vernacular languages (Febvre and Martin 256), thereby strongly limiting access and reach to diverse audiences until the 17th century when Latin declined as the international language (Febvre and Martin 275) and there is a parallel to scholarly journal publishing and their changing readership(s). Diversity in audiences gradually developed in the early days of print, as Febvre and Martin (263) show by comparing the number of churchmen and lawyers with library collections in Paris: from 1480–1500 one lawyer and 24 churchmen had library collections, compared to 1551–1600, when 71 lawyers and 21 churchmen had library collections. Although the distinctions between present-day target audiences of Canadian scholarly journals (shown in Table 1, above) and 16th-century churchmen or lawyers no doubt are considerable, again there is a parallel with regard to changes in reading audiences. Similarly, the 18th-century increase in literacy rates, education, and technological advances finds a parallel in contemporary questions of computer literacy and access to scholarship (see Willinsky, “How,” Access, “Altering,” and If Only). Print culture historians and historians of science, as noted above, recognise that historically, while scholarly periodicals have increasingly specialised and popular periodicals have served as “important platforms for addressing a non-specialist but culturally powerful public…[and] fulfill[ing] important functions in making the claims of science heard among the ruling élite” (Dawson 11), there is adrift in current policies changes (and in the CALJ data above) a blurring of boundaries that harkens back to earlier days of print culture. As Adrian John reminded us earlier, “the very identity of print itself has had to be made” (2, italics in original) and the same applies to identities or cultures of print and the members of that culture: namely, the readers, the audience.

The identities of the readers of scholarship are being made and re-made, as editorial mandates extend the scope of journals beyond strict, academic disciplinary boundaries and as increasing numbers of journals publish online (and open access). In Canada, changes in scholarly journal funding by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada (as well as changes in SSHRC funding for research more generally) place increasing focus on impact factors (an international trend) as well as increased attention on the public benefits and value of social sciences and humanities research and scholarship (see SSHRC 2004, 2005, 2006). There is much debate in the scholarly community in Canada about the implications and possibilities of the direction of the changing funding policies, not least among members of the scholarly journal community. As noted in the table above, most scholarly journal publishers in Canada are independently published, which brings advantages of autonomy but also the disadvantage of very limited budgets and there is a great deal of concern about the future of the journals, about their survival amidst the current changes. Although the future is uncertain, it is perhaps worthwhile to be reminded once again that contrary to doomsday sooth-saying that has come time and time again, publishing has not perished, but rather it has continued to transform. I am inclined against making normative statements about what the future of publishing should be, but, looking at the accounts historians have given of the past and looking at the current publishing community I have come to know in my work in publishing, I am confident that the resourcefulness and commitment of the publishing community shall prevail and, indeed, there appears to be a good deal of promise in the transformation of scholarly journals in the ways they reach their audiences and in what reaches those audiences. Perhaps, as is suggested by the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing (CCSP), the future is one of “inventing publishing.”



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scholarly journal publishing; Canadian publishing; history of publishing

Copyright (c) 2008 Johanne Provençal

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