Thursday, March 20, 2008

Writing Text Books

In the Times Higher Education there another good article called, "Familiar text, New chapter" about the reluctance of British academics to write text books. It includes this inset quote: "It is quite difficult to get people to write textbooks in the disciplines I work in. If you want advancement in the current climate, writing a textbook seems to be low down on the list of priorities. That is a great shame."

In the UK the main culprit on this problem is what is called the Research Assessment Exercise which means books published by a University Press and by major Academic Publishers on original and highly unique topics score quite high, while text books score comparatively low. I think one has to earn one's bones in the profession by writing a decent biblical studies monograph. The problem is that you might write this grounding breaking work on the Ethiopic text of the Didascalia and it might completely change how textual studies on that document are done, there will be 5-7 dazzling book reviews, and bucket loads of RAE brownie points. Of course only 100-300 copies will be printed by your publisher, the price will only be affordable by libraries, and I estimate that less than 50 people a year might even touch your book globally. I have nothing against rigorous and detailed scholarship in highly specified fields and nothing against University Presses and Academic Publishers (I've published in the LNTS monograph series and I have volumes planned with Brill, Gorgias, and other similar publishers in order to do my RAE duty), but I think there has got to be some academic value attributed to a book that people actually read and use! A book on the Ethiopic text on the Didascalia is fine, but a text book on the Gospels is more likely to influence a group of students and teachers and those that use or assign the book are more likely to remember the name of the author and his institution. Currently the RAE process is being re-drawn and if they go for a bibliometric system (i.e. publishing success is measured by frequency of citations by other authors) then textbooks and commentaries (once vetoed by those on the hunt for RAE points) will suddenly become worthy avenues of exploration.

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