Citation indexing and Irish periodicals in the arts and humanities

by

Thomas Gregory Fewer

In a collection of essays on ancient history, M. I. Finley (1985: 3) contrasts the reception today of two scholars of ancient history who lived a generation apart - Jacob Burckhardt, who wrote Griechische Kulturgeschicte, and Martin Nilsson, author of Greek Popular Religion (1940). Burckhardt's Griechische Kulturgeschicte had been dismissed as unscientific by some scholars, and, perhaps consequently, few specialists in ancient history read the work today. Nilsson's book, 'on the other hand, is hailed as the greatest twentieth-century authority on ancient Greek religion; the footnotes in most books on the subject abundantly attest his eminence' [my italics]. Finley, in this case, disagrees with the 'positive correlation here between intellectual calibre and professional repute' [my italics] for reasons explained in his book. The problem that Finley has identified (that scholars' reputations may rely more on their fame than on the quality of their research) is frequently repeated elsewhere in scholarly literature and is exacerbated by the growth of citation indexing and the 'publish or perish' syndrome in the academic world.

Citation indexing was invented over three decades ago by Eugene Garfield who set up the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). This organisation, which is based in Philadelphia, publishes three citation indexes covering science, the arts and humanities, and the social sciences. The citation indexes are alphabetical lists of scholars whose writings have been mentioned, or referred to, in research appearing in (predominantly) periodical publications. The articles that were scanned for the citations, the topics covered by the various publications, and the institutional and geographic locations of the scholars cited are also provided with indexes. (A more detailed critique of the comprehensiveness and design of these indexes is provided by Chandler and Roper [1991]).

Citation indexes are used primarily for two purposes. The first allows scholars to locate references in the academic literature to publications written by themselves or by others. Armed with this data, scholars can then obtain the literature that cited the publication(s) of interest to them and so help keep themselves up to date in their field of research.

Citation counts form the second use of citation indexes. By counting the number of times that a particular researcher's work has been cited in the academic literature, the significance of the publication concerned and its author can be measured. Theoretically, the person who is cited frequently is more important than those who are not. As a result, it is now common in American and (increasingly) in British and Irish universities and research institutions, for citation counts to be compared of applicants seeking either a college position or a research grant. To save time in considering such applications, candidates may be interviewed on the strength of their citation counts rather than on the actual quality of their publications. Unfortunately, a publication cited frequently because of its many errors may appear to be more important than another, more accurate, work. Similarly, popular books that receive widespread coverage in the form of book reviews and review articles might misleadingly appear to be more important than more erudite works published or noticed in specialist journals read by a much smaller, scholarly, audience.

The greatest problem, however, with the citation indexes specifically produced by the Institute of Scientific Information is their breadth of coverage. Martin Ince (1992) reported that of the journals scanned by the Institute, about 40% were American, 50% came from the rest of the developed world, and only 10% represented periodicals from the third world. This unevenness makes it difficult for many third world scholars to make their research known outside their own country and therefore reduces their chances of success when applying for foreign funding or for an academic position abroad.

Despite its developed status, Ireland's arts and humanities periodicals are very poorly covered. In an earlier article (Fewer, 1995), I noted this fact with particular reference to archaeology, a discipline represented by only one Irish periodical (Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section C) in the 1990-1993 semiannual volumes of ISI's Arts and Humanities Citation Index. However, only four other Irish journals in the arts and humanities - Eigse, Hermathena, Irish Historical Studies and Irish University Review - were covered over the same period. History and literary criticism may have some coverage, but such periodicals as Books Ireland, Cyphers, Irish Literary Supplement, Graph, Krino, Poetry Ireland Review, Irish Economic and Social History, The Irish Sword, Studia Hibernica, Analecta Hibernica, Archivium Hibernicum, and many other journals pertaining to literary criticism and history might have been included. Numerous other disciplines within the arts and humanities were ignored, including (for example) the visual arts, architecture, general studies, geography, education, library studies, religious studies, folklore, genealogy and music. In addition, virtually every county in Ireland also produces at least one local journal typically concentrating on archaeology, history, or literary studies. Since none of these are scanned for citations, it is difficult to assess, for example, the impact of academic research at the local level, while local studies are not being brought to the attention of a wider readership.

The output of serial publications from a country the size of Ireland is staggering, yet so little of our literary output is scrutinised by the Institute of Scientific Information. Irish writers and scholars may, as a result, find the Arts and Humanities Citation Index to be so severely limited for research purposes (except, perhaps, for citations of Irish material in British or American publications) that this potential resource might as well be ignored. However, if Irish universities and other institutions come to rely on ISI's citation index as a method of assessing job and funding applications, then many Irish scholars may be out-competed by foreign colleagues with apparently more significant citation records.

Setting up an Irish citation indexing centre may be one way of tackling the problems of keeping tabs on current research in Ireland and in aiding (with caution) the assessment of job or funding applications. Editors or publishers could send a copy of their periodical to the centre where a comprehensive citation index would be compiled for publication on a quarterly, semiannual or annual basis, according to the availability of funds. This putative Irish Arts and Humanities Citation Index would be intended to complement ISI's international compilation rather than to replace it. In any event, the Irish index should be made available at a reasonably low subscription rate so that all Irish college, county and city libraries could afford to acquire it.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

CHANDLER, Helen E. and ROPER, Vincent de P. (1991) 'Citation indexing: uses and limitations', in The Indexer 17(4), PP. 243-9.

FEWER, Greg (1995) 'Citation indexing and archaeology in Britain and Ireland - a comment', in Trial Trench: A newsletter for archaeological indexers 4, pp. 2-3.

FINLEY, M. I. (1985) Ancient history: evidence and models (London: Chatto & Windus).

INCE, Martin (1992) 'Misquoted in the hallowed halls of fame', in The Times Higher Education Supplement, 2 October 1992, p. 8, cols 1-6.


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