Plan S and History Journals

The Royal Historical Society (RHS) has published its new Guidance Paper on ‘Plan S and the History Journal Landscape’ (23 October 2019).

This report is designed to assist History and broader Humanities & Social Sciences stakeholders to understand and navigate the current policy frontiers of open access publishing for peer reviewed scholarly journals.

United Kingdom Research & Innovation (UKRI), the funding body that includes the seven UK research councils as well as Research England, is due to launch two public consultations on open access publication mandates in autumn 2019 and winter 2020.  This consultation process reflects UKRI’s membership of cOAlition S, a consortium of international funders established in 2018 which has articulated a new ‘Plan S’ mandate for open access publication.

The RHS report explains what cOAlition S and Plan S are, and why they matter to Humanities and Social Science researchers, journal editors and learned societies—among other stakeholders.  The report uses granular evidence of peer reviewed History journal publication to examine the potential impacts of Plan S implementation by UKRI.  The report is based on a summer 2019 RHS survey that attracted responses from 107 UK and international History learned society and proprietary journals.  Respondents included both self-publishing journals and journals published by 26 different university and commercial presses.  Additionally, the report uses data from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) to explore open access journal publication in History.

The RHS report notes the existence of a vibrant portfolio of open access peer-reviewed History journals, with especially strong representation in Spain, Portugal and Latin America.  However, these journals do not at present appear to be Plan S ‘compliant’.  More broadly, the report suggests that at present History researchers seeking Plan S compliant journals will find it very challenging, at multiple levels, to identify appropriate publications in which they can publish.

Journal editors are struggling with the complex and highly technical requirements mandated by Plan S.  Many are reluctant or unwilling to change their journals’ policies in response to Plan S.  The report identifies specific groups of researchers, including early career historians, for whom Plan S-aligned open access mandates may be problematic.

In the context of the forthcoming UKRI consultation, the report offers specific recommendations for:

  • History researchers (including early career historians)
  • journal editors and editorial boards
  • learned societies
  • research organisations
  • funders     

Download the full report.

If the goal of OA instead is to build sustainable scholarly systems which—at scale—are capable of both equitably producing and delivering high-calibre research publications to an expanding universe of users, alternative mechanisms to Plan S would surely be devised. These systems would recognise that no person or community can read everything and that different groups of readers and researchers rightly have different types of needs. Systematic investigation of what different communities of readers’ needs are and how they are best served is one of the most glaring gaps in cOAlition S Funders’ approach to OA. To rectify this anomaly, an optimal approach to OA would likely be hybrid—not simply in the sense of including ‘hybrid’ journals, but in recognising that meeting authors’ and readers’ constrained actual needs—in sharp contrast to fulfilling their imagined infinite needs—may require multiple or tailored delivery systems as well as a diversity of both incentives and mandates for those who produce and disseminate research outputs. This diversity would allow OA systems to accommodate the full range of discipline-based and interdisciplinary research and researchers. It would also foster rather than stifle innovation.

Margot Finn, President of the Royal Historical Society – from the report’s conclusion.