Benjamin Franklin and the Morality of Chess in the New Republic

It is common for most historians of chess in the United States of America to start with Ben Franklin. Franklin was, after all, a noted devote of the game. In addition to mentioning his fondness for chess in his Autobiography (1791), twelve years earlier Franklin wrote an eloquent defense of chess as a rational amusement suitable for the citizens of the new nation entitled The Morals of Chess (1779). Given the relative unpopularity of chess first in the colonies and, later, the new nation, Franklin comes off in these narratives in his familiar role as an intellectual visionary. Of course, the reasoning goes, Franklin, the great man, inventor of the fire department and lending library, founder of the University of Pennsylvania, elder statesman of the founding fathers, would naturally gravitate towards chess. In such narratives, Franklin’s love of chess becomes united with his service to the nation as both Ralph Hagendorn and, more recently, David Shenk in The Immortal Game spend time covering the statesman’s use of chess as a convenient cover for meeting with sympathetic diplomats to plead the colonies’ cause on the eve of the revolutionary war.[1] Here, the unpopularity of the game with the larger American, as opposed to British, public becomes indicative of provincialism and lingering religious injunctions against frivolous amusements. Such a narrative would seem to be confirmed by Franklin himself in his oft-cited 1752 letter to English bookseller William Strahan: “Honest David Martin, Rector of our Academy, my principal Antagonist at Chess, is dead, and the few remaining Players here are very indifferent, so that I have now no need of Stamma’s 12s. Pamphlet, and am glad you did not send it.”[2] The primary problem Franklin had with chess in colonial America, it seems, is that there was no one with which to play the game.

The problem with such an account of Benjamin Franklin’s engagement with chess is two-fold. On the one hand, given that most of these accounts are to be found within histories of chess, as opposed to histories of Franklin or Colonial Philadelphia or nineteenth-century games, they assume a privileged place for the game of chess. As opposed to one of many possible amusements available to Franklin and the burgeoning middle classes whom he represents, chess is invested with a cultural capital which elevates it beyond the status of games such as poker and whist, and certainly less reputable pastimes such as the attendance of boxing matches or horse races, both subjects of the sporting magazines which typically covered chess in the nineteenth century.

On the other hand they also assume that Franklin was an unapologetic advocate for chess and its wider adoption throughout US culture. But a closer look at Franklin’s writings on chess reveals his own ambivalence towards the wider cultural dissemination of chess. In both “The Morals of Chess” and elsewhere in Franklin’s writings, we see an author who was acutely aware of the troubled cultural space occupied by chess in the closing decades of the eighteenth and well into the nineteenth centuries. While, from a modern perspective chess may have seemed to be ideally suited to the leisure and ideological needs of the United States of America, for Franklin chess was a pastime full of dangerous cultural associations which needed to be purged in order for the game to gain wider acceptance throughout the new nation.

A view of the playing of chess as a potentially harmful and even dangerous activity deeply informs Franklin’s essay on “The Morals of Chess.” Although the essay was originally written in 1779 for the amusement of his neighbor and romantic interest Madame Brillon, Franklin published a revised version of the essay in the Columbian Magazine for December 1786. The essay was included in Richard Twiss’s informal history of chess, Chess, published in London in 1787 and Franklin republished the essay in the Massachusetts Magazine of July 1791. In the nineteenth-century, the essay was frequently reprinted and was included in a number of chess manuals printed for the U.S. Market including Chess Made Easy (1802), the first chess manual published in the US and one which was frequently reprinted in the first half of the nineteenth century. Even today, the essay is frequently reproduced online, usually by sites run by and for chess enthusiasts, usually with the aim of demonstrating Franklin’s prescience or accuracy in discussing the relevance of chess to American society.

Franklin’s initial concern in “The Morals of Chess” is to purge the game of its association with gambling. After noting the ancient pedigree of the game, Franklin immediately asserts that chess is, “so interesting in itself, as not to need the view of gain to induce engaging in it; and thence it is never played for money. Those, therefore, who have leisure for such diversions, cannot find one that is more innocent.”[3] The problem with this statement is that both at the time he was writing and well into the nineteenth century chess was frequently played for money. Franklin himself seems to have played chess for cash stakes earlier in his career. In his Journal of a Voyage,1726, Franklin seems to speak from experience when he notes that players of chess, “who would play well, ought not much to regard the consequence of the game. . . I will venture to lay it down for an infallible rule, that, if two persons equal in judgement play for a considerable sum, he that loves money most shall lose.”[4] Chess’s status as a gambling game in the eighteenth and nineteenth century is further attested to by the widespread practice of giving odds in chess. In this practice two players would negotiate a handicap for the stronger player prior to playing. Handicaps might range from having the stronger player forfeit a pawn and the first or first and second move up to playing without rook or even a queen. The 1802 manual Chess Made Easy even concludes with a section on the giving of appropriate odds to stronger players and they way in which various odds should effect a player’s strategy.[5] The determining of proper odds between players, a practice rare in contemporary chess practice, was of such importance at this time because chess was so often played for money. At the highest levels of play this practice continued well into the nineteenth century in the form of requiring prominent players such as Howard Staunton or Paul Morphy to supply a cash stake (usually raised by backers or friends) to serve as a prize for high-profile matches.

As chess was domesticated and professionalized over the course of the nineteenth century this practice became much less common. The practice still persists today, though, in the figure of the “chess hustlers” who play for cash in public parks, most notably Washington Square Park in New York City and Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Gambling in chess still persists, it has just been marginalized, confined to areas outside the official boundaries of the sport. But at the moment Franklin was writing, the association of chess with gambling remained a hurdle to its wider adoption in American culture.

So if Franklin wants to break the association between chess and gambling, and, by extension, sporting culture, what new cultural values can he ascribe to the game? The answer lies with the category of “rational amusements” which were taking shape in the United States during the closing decades of the eighteenth and opening decades of the nineteenth centuries. A part of the larger US project of self-culture — embodied in mechanics’ institutes, museums, panoramas, and, later in the nineteenth-century, in the rise of the lyceum movement — rational amusements refigured the increased leisure time afforded to the rising middle classes not as idleness, but as opportunities for moral and intellectual growth. Accordingly, Franklin asserts in “The Morals of Chess” that, “the game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions.” Here, chess is no idle amusement, suitable for the idle rich or the morally dissolute, rather, it is a opportunity to sharpen “valuable qualities of the mind.” In this vein, Franklin goes on to praise the ability of chess to teach its players the values of 1. Foresight, 2. Circumspection, 3. Caution, and, lastly, “the habit of not being discouraged by present appearances . . . and that of persevering in the search of resources.”[6] In Franklin’s “The Morals of Chess,” the titular game becomes a self-improvement project familiar to later readers of the author’s Autobiography.

At the same time, the second half of Franklin’s “Morals” still contains vestiges of the game’s status not as a rational amusement, but as an aristocratic pastime. In these concluding paragraphs, Franklin instructs his readers on the appropriate behavior to exhibit while playing chess. Advice in this section includes not “whistling” or “drumming your fingers” if your opponent is slow; no deceiving your opponent by “pretending to have made bad moves;” not “triumphing” over or using insulting language towards your opponent when you win; and, finally: “if you are a spectator while others play, observe the most perfect silence.” While Franklin was not writing a chess manual, it is telling nonetheless that all of his advice in this portion of his essay focuses on conforming to the social expectations of the game as played in polite and, more particularly, upper class society. Even today there remains a sharp distinction between the behaviour expected by chess players at a formal event such as a tournament and during informal, “skittles” games in informal settings such as bars and public parks. While Franklin’s stated aim in “Morals” is the positioning of chess as a rational amusement suitable for colonial America, his accompanying project to bring the behaviour of new players into accordance with the conventions of the game as played in polite society points to the stubbornness with which Chess’s aristocratic pedigree would cling to the game.

By the end of his life in 1790, Franklin seems to have given-up on the dream of chess’s broader acceptance throughout US culture (to be fair, the poor state of communication networks in the new nation made chess’s wider cultural dissemination at this time highly unlikely). Even earlier, in the same year in which he wrote “The Morals of Chess,” Franklin had playfully attacked his own preference for chess over healthier activities in his “Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout” (1780): “What is you practice after dinner? Walking in the beautiful gardens of those friends with whom you have dined would be the choice of men of sense; yours is to be fixed down to chess where you are to be found engaged for two and three hours!” Here, Franklin positions chess as a distraction, an “idle amusement,” which keeps him from healthy social intercourse. And four years before his death, Franklin seems to have traded chess for that staple of British and American drawing room entertainments, cards. In a letter to Mary Hewson written in 1786, Franklin recounts how he spends his evenings: “Cards we sometimes play here, in long winter evenings, but it is as they play at chess, not for money, but for honor, or the pleasure of beating one another.”[7]

In line with accounts which tie chess to Franklin’s status as a Founding Father and public scientist / intellectual, Hagendorn ascribes Franklin’s turn from chess to the paucity of players in the U.S.: “After his return to America, Franklin seems to have given up chess for cards, perhaps because of the lack of competent players in this country” (Hagendorn 40). While the use of “perhaps” somewhat qualifies his conclusions, as a chess historian Hagendorn seems willing to ascribe Franklin’s decision to a shortcoming of eighteenth-century U.S. Culture, as opposed to the array of cultural values attendant upon chess which would make its broader acceptance in U.S. Culture difficult well into the nineteenth century. For now, for large swaths of the American population, chess remained “The Game of Kings”: noble, distant, and unapproachable.

[1] Ralph Karl Hagedorn, Benjamin Franklin and Chess in Early America, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1958); David Shenk, The Immortal Game: A History of Chess (New York: Doubleday, 2006).

[2] Benjamin Franklin to William Strahan, Philadelphia, 20 June 1753, in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven, CT: Yale University / Packard Humanities Institute),

[3] Franklin, “The Morals of Chess

[4] Franklin, Journal of a Voyage, 1726, 29 July 1726 (New Haven, CT: Yale University / Packard Humanities Institute),

[5] James Humphreys, Chess Made Easy (Philadelphia: James Humphreys, 1802), 122.

[6] Franklin, “The Morals of Chess

[7] Benjamin Franklin to Mary Hewson, Philadelphia, 6 May 1786, in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven, CT: Yale University / Packard Humanities Institute),

Not Every School Needs a MOOC

A couple of weeks ago my department was addressed by our university’s new Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success. That we were being addressed by this particular Vice Provost made sense as the English Department at VCU, like many English Departments, teaches a lot of courses, many of which are required by the larger university population prior to graduation. The ostensible subject of the meeting was VCU’s newly minted Quality Enhancement Plan or QEP – Learning that Matters: Building a culture of generalizable education. Most of the discussion centered on Pillar II of the QEP: “Contributing to a Networked World: Digital Engagement.” Unsurprisingly, the part of this pillar which attracted the most attention was the directive for, “an enhancement and expansion of digital engagement, including online learning and the open educational resources movement” (VCU Quality Enhancement Plan, “Executive Summary). MOOC-mania had come to VCU.

For those of you who haven’t been following any higher-education news for the past 3 years, MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. In nutshell, MOOCS aim to create large online courses in which a small group of traditional, paying, for-credit students interacts not only with the instructor, but with a larger, presumably more-diverse, group of free, not-for-credit, class participants. Viewed in the most altruistic light as possible, MOOCs offer expanded educational access to life-long learners while bringing an often homogenous university population into contact with a broader swath of the population which shares an interest in their chosen field of study (Art History, Mass Communication, etc.). Viewed from a more weary perspective, MOOCs represent the latest development in the ongoing attempts of often under-funded universities to reduce labor-costs by finding “scalable” alternatives to the traditional classroom.

My point here is not to discuss the efficacy of MOOCs as an educational practice. Depending on the course content and the metrics by which a given MOOC is examined, massively open online courses are alternately praised as the first steps in a welcome educational revolution or condemned as correspondence courses revisited. And, as a note, having taught both online and traditional courses during the first wave on online learning in the mid to late 1990s, I tend to be fairly skeptical of the promises made by MOOC evangelists.

Instead, I’d like to visit the question of whether or not EVERY university needs to be getting into the MOOC business. As I see it, there are two very good reasons for a university or college to get into the MOOC business.

1. Brand Extension: Stanford University’s 2012 decision to partner with Coursera to offer a number of courses as MOOCs makes a lot of sense from a brand extension standpoint. Stanford is nationally recognized as a top-tier public research university, and the university routinely rejects far more students than they admit. With demand for Stanford courses outstripping Stanford’s ability to offer them, MOOCs offer a way for a broader segment of the population to experience the Stanford educational brand (I’m not as sure about whether or not they are experiencing a Stanford education). Though not a MOOC, MIT’s open courseware program and MOOC alternative MITx would seem to fill a similar market or educational niche.

2. Geographical Isolation & Student Homogeneity: Located in Fredericksburg, VA, just 45 minutes up I95 from VCU, the University of Mary Washington has been another early adopter of MOOCs. As a small college (4,000 students) in a small town (24,000), Mary Washington is limited in the number of local students from which it can draw if it wished to supplement its enrollment. In addition, the student body is 80% white (Forbes has it listed as 75%), and most of the students are between 18 & 22 years of age. Here, MOOCs offer the University of Mary Washington and opportunity to appeal to a larger pool of potential students while simultaneously bringing its students into contact with a potentially more diverse selection of classmates.

In VCU’s case, neither of these factors applies. While I firmly believe that undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at VCU receive a great education, and while we are a top-tier public research university, we do have an undergraduate acceptance rate of 60%. For the moment, it seems as though VCU has more than adequate supply to meet the demand for it’s courses without employing MOOCs.

In terms of that demand, VCU is located in a city, Richmond, VA, whose greater metropolitan area has a population of 1.2 million people. As any member of the VCU faculty will tell you, we have more than enough students. In fact, with an enrollment of 31,000 students, VCU is currently the largest university in Virginia. Moreover, VCU has a fairly diverse student body with only 53% of the students identifying as white or caucasian and an average age of 22, indicating a higher percentage of older or non-traditional students.

VCU is a public university in the broadest of all possible senses. In contrast to other state universities in Virginia and elsewhere, VCU manages to serve a student body that comes much closer to the demographic composition of the state as a whole. It has done this without the use of MOOCs or any of their online forebears. While it is possible that MOOCs are as effective as their proponents make them out to be, at present, they seem to be a solution to a problem that my university doesn’t have.



Hold Your Applause

I spent this past spring semester teaching American literature at the Universiteit Gent in Ghent, Belgium. On returning to my home campus, many of my friends and colleagues asked me if I enjoyed my time in Belgium. So far my standard response has been that, “Belgium was great, but I missed my VCU students.” At this point, most people give a little chuckle, often followed by something along the lines of, “yeah right.”

The thing is, I DID miss my VCU students. Virginia Commonwealth University is a large, urban, research-university located in downtown Richmond, VA. Our student body is incredibly diverse, not only ethnically, but academically. While certain flagship programs at the university have a national profile and the accompanying daunting admissions standards, a large portion of our students are local residents, many of whom are first generation college-students, many more of whom are not conversant with the conventions governing classroom discussion and behavior in a university setting.

At its most annoying, this means having to take time out each term to explain to students, often with a discrete email, that it is impolite to stand and walk through the front of the classroom in the middle of a lecture in order to use the restroom. Similarly, I’ve lost track of the number of times a student has expressed genuine surprise when informed by myself that I consider arriving 25 minutes into a 50 minute class as an absence.

I really don’t think these students are being intentionally rude. And it is not even that they are insufficiently prepared for the a university environment. It is that these people are not professional students. I distinguish here between professional students and full-time students. Anyone enrolled in a university for more than 12 credit-hours a semester is, by definition, a full time student. A professional student, in contrast, is someone who has internalized the normative behaviors of higher education in the United States of America (or Europe). These behaviors include not only such basic issues as class absences and tardiness, but how students interact with both the subject matter and the instructor of the course.

I my Belgian classrooms, I was struck, repeatedly, by the overall professionalism of my students. Students almost universally arrived in the classroom on time and never left early. Everyone always brought their book and everyone took copious notes on the class lecture. Never, in my almost twenty years of teaching had I seen a room of students so committed to writing down everything I said about the course material. When I concluded my class on the final day of the course, my Belgian students rose in their seats and gave me a standing ovation (something which I’ve since learned is standard procedure for many European student bodies).

The thing is, while they were applauding, I was standing there wishing they would stop. Looking back on my time in the Belgian classroom, I can honestly state that it was not my best performance as a teacher. Although the students seemed bright and I liked the material I was teaching, I frequently felt stifled in the classroom at UGent. The culprit, I think, was the relentless professionalism and politeness of the Belgian students. While my students may not have cared for the material I was presenting, and while I am certain that some of them did not agree with my interpretation of the books we read, at no point did they ever express that opinion. Generating class discussion was incredibly difficult in the UGent classroom.

It was definitely not a language issue. The majority of young people in Flemish Belgium are proficient speakers of English. On more than one occasion my students proudly explained to me that local t.v. broadcasts and movies were subtitled, as opposed to dubbed, as this encouraged students to pick-up the English language. All the popular music listened to my students, even that performed or recorded by local, Belgian artists was in English.

Certainly, a part of the professionalism and the accompanying deference towards myself as the professor was the product of received norms of the European university culture. When I mentioned to standing ovation to two of my colleagues with European educational backgrounds, they both smiled and reminisced about doing the same thing at the end of courses during their university days. This seems to match up with my own experience interacting with Italian graduate students a few years back where I was informed that Italian professors routinely and unilaterally changed the class times and even meeting days for their courses.

But there’s something else at work here too, and I think it has to do with high-stakes testing. In discussions with my wife’s Belgian relatives, as well as my own Belgian students outside of class, I received a picture of a secondary and university educational system that is dominated by high-stakes final exams. Most classes, as far as I can tell, have few assignments aside from one final, winner-take-all, paper or exam due at the end of the term. This seemed to be the organizational pattern of the other courses in American literature I witnessed at UGent. Having viewed the syllabi of numerous of my predecessors at UGent, it’s also how I structured my own courses. When I asked my supervisor about giving smaller assignments or occasional reading quizzes, I was told that, while I could do so if I wished, that I might receive some push-back from the students as it “wasn’t what they were accustomed to.”

In discussing this with some colleagues who have or are currently teaching in the UK or Europe, I heard a number of people sing the praises of this system for it’s emphasis on personal responsibility and lack of “hand-holding.” The logic here is that students should be able to do the weekly readings without the professor providing the incentive of a reading quiz or some other minor graded assignment. And, looking at a stack of ungraded reading quizzes sitting on my desk, I can see the attractions of such an instructional model. Furthermore, my UGent students, by-and-large, performed impressively on my final exam. In fact, the strength of their performance surprised me given their lack of class participation.

It turns out, reading quizzes and multiple assignments weren’t necessary in order to produce a student cohort capable of performing well on my final exam. But performing well on my final exam, or on any final exam, is not the same thing as understanding the material. As anyone whose ever crammed for an exam can tell you, it’s not all that hard to temporarily commit a semester’s worth of material to short-term memory (and my students at UGent had a final exam period which lasted five weeks). At the end of the semester I could definitely state that I was impressed with my UGent students’ test-taking skills (another part of the skill-set of the professional student).

But, unfortunately, that’s all I can say about my UGent students. While I’m sure that they had interesting things to say about the texts we read in the course, I never heard these observations. Nor, absent a range of assignments from students turned-in over the course of the term, was I given a chance to see my students develop their understanding, not only of the course material, but of their abilities as critical thinkers and writers. As opposed to being a teacher, I was, at UGent, in the most literal sense of the word, a professor — one who professes.

It’s good to be back at VCU.

Tenure-Track Faculty Only Need Apply

I have been thinking about the recent article by Brandon Hensley in The Chronicle of Higher Education regarding restricted grant opportunities in which the author notes that most research grant opportunities offered by his university are restricted to tenure-track faculty (“The Absent Adjunct“). While Hensley focuses on “absence” of adjuncts from institutional structures of power and governance, such exclusions also deny adjunct and visiting faculty access to the resources needed to complete their book projects, projects which are central to their desire to move on to the tenure-track themselves.

This problem came to the fore again recently in the wake of a grant opportunity on the C19 listserv (L-C19-Americanists, serving The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, no public archive available). The announcement was for The First Book Institute, hosted by the Center for American Literary Studies (CALS) at Penn. State University. The stated aim of the First Book Institute is to assist “participants in transforming their book projects into ones that promise to make the most significant impact possible on the field and thus land them a publishing contract with a top university press.” Such an institute — and for 8 applicants acceptance will come with 1500 dollars to defray the cost of travel to and residence at Penn. State to attend the Institute — is, of course, ideally suited to both assistant professors who need a book to earn tenure and to adjunct and contingent faculty who need to demonstrate substantial progress toward earning a book contract in order to increase their odds of moving onto the tenure track at their current, or, more likely, another university or college.

The PSU workshop was restricted to tt faculty and, almost immediately, Catherine Saunders, a Term Assistant Professor in English at George Mason University, queried the listserv as to why the Institute was restricted to tenure-track faculty given the attractiveness and usefulness of such a workshop to adjunct / contingent faculty. Sean X. Goudie, immediately noted the validity of Prof. Saunders’ concerns, and stated that, should the inaugural First Book Institute prove successful, CALS hopes to broaden the applicant pool on subsequent First Book Institutes. Several professors have responded to the concerns voiced by Catherine Saunders with messages of support, and, at this moment, the conversation on the C19 list is ongoing.

This got me thinking about the purpose of research grants (travel, course reductions, research assistants, start-up funds) from the perspective of the granting institution,what such restrictions say about the position of the humanities in higher ed and, more broadly, the problematic status of the academic book at this particular moment in educational and publishing history.

It seems to me that individual Humanities departments and Colleges / Universities are right to restrict research grants to tenure-track faculty insofar as their goal in the spending of these grant monies is to defend extant tenure lines and to affirm the validity of their hiring decisions for tt positions. Such grants are designed to ensure that assistant professors can complete the scholarly book necessary to earn tenure and, thus, to ensure the continuance of the tenure-line to which their position is attached. This is indicative of the defensive position in which many humanities departments at present find themselves — expansion of tenured faculty positions is deemed impossible and resources are marshaled to defend existing tenure lines from being usurped by the unmet faculty needs of competing humanities departments.

Moreover, for many adjunct and contingent faculty, the purpose served by their research, unlike that of an assistant professor, is not tied to continued employment at their current university. In the current job market, a job candidate with no current tenure-track position and a book contract (or significant evidence toward such a contract) is a highly marketable commodity (mainly due to the low starting salary which they will be offered as a first-year assistant professor and the likelihood of their earning tenure since they already have a book contract), and there is significant possibility that this person will leave the university for a better opportunity elsewhere.

The situation becomes much more complicated when a major repository, library, or other scholarly organization restricts research opportunities to tenure-track faculty. The monies which they are spending on an institute or conference are already designated for recipients outside their home institution. As such, it would seem that restricting such opportunities to tenure-track faculty is needlessly defensive and short-sighted and represents an outmoded view of current shape of University and College faculty (in which a majority of teaching positions are now held by adjunct or contingent faculty).

A more troubling view, though, is that such institutions are aware of the difficulty, given the teaching loads routinely assigned to adjunct and contingent faculty, that any project aided by their funding actually reaching completion and, ultimately, publication. While grant monies or a temporary residency may provide a welcome and, indeed, necessary respite from the grind of a heavy, often composition-intensive course load, eventually the grant recipient will have to return to their home institution and attempt to complete their project while teaching that same course load which made the receipt of a grant or reduction so important in the first place. Thus, some institutions may seek to restrict research opportunities to tt faculty in order to ensure that their grant monies are not “wasted” on projects which have a low likelihood of bearing published fruit. Such a view, obviously, seems to run counter to the mission of nationally recognized academic institutes, organizations, libraries, and research repositories in terms of their role in funding the growth and development of new scholarship, no matter the employment status of the scholar, and the growth of the profession as a whole.

The larger problem here, aside from the wholesale replacement of tenured faculty with adjunct and contingent faculty in Colleges and Universities nation-wide, is the undue weight given to the academic book in tenure and promotion decisions among humanities faculty. In addition to the difficulties faced by young scholars in finding a book contract for worthwhile projects in light of the ongoing financial crisis among university presses and the rising number of assistant professors producing book manuscripts as universities nation-wide upgrade their research profiles, one of the problems posed by the scholarly book is the amount of time an author must commit to a single publication which, if they are lucky, will be purchased mainly be research libraries and reviewed solely by academic journals.

This is not to be dismissive of the value of academic books to higher education, and to English as an academic discipline in particular, but to point up the problems of access and resources bound-up in the production of a scholarly book: access to research grants, institutional funding, and mentors with contacts at university presses and resources such as time and money. The limited access of many faculty to the resources necessary to produce an academic book are particularly troubling, given the wide variety of open-access venues for academics (tt, adjunct, contingent, alt-ac) to publish research. The Humanities in general, and English in particular, though, tend to ignore the value of these other publication venues due to the deformational pressure exerted on our fields by the perceived weight of the academic book. Until this changes, the practices of not only Humanities and English departments, but also institutes and libraries, in evaluating candidates for employment, promotion, and research awards will never be “best practices” but, rather, peculiarities of an academic discipline increasingly out of step with the realities of the majority its institutional and individual members.