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Ranking humanities journals, Q&A

September 29th, 2013

A new faculty member writes:

I’ve been looking for the ‘Journal Impact Factor’ you mentioned during our last session, but I haven’t been able to access the actual impact factor for relevant journals. Could you send more information about this, or pass on a list if it is available to us?

Here is my answer:

Rankings are imperfect, and online tools are science focused, but here is one tool I use: http://www.scimagojr.com/journalrank.php

I use h-index. It is determined by counting citations, but then adjusting for new papers with no citations, and very old papers that may have many just because they have been around so long. You can find h-factor by using the pull-down box next to “Order by:”

You can start with “Journal Search” to find journals. Here are three sample lists:

[Responding to faculty member’s general topic]: Putting jud in the search box yields this list, finding both Judiaism and Judaica: http://www.scimagojr.com/journalsearch.php?q=jud&tip=jou

But a search like this will only yield journals focused on a precise subject. You also might want to try a general search on “religious studies” (drop-down box) sorted by h-index: http://tinyurl.com/kjp34mr

An even broader search would be “arts and humanities”: http://tinyurl.com/n3hq3hv

You may feel as though you are getting non-sequitur journals, and to a certain extent you will, but careful reading and clicking may lead you to a win-win-win, just like the re-discovery of the journal Signs was for me.

It is important not to over-use rankings in the humanities. Many journals are niche and should be, and comparing them to higher impact journals has a great aspect of apples and oranges to it. Every journal on my personal list is a great one.

Also, here is a quick list of some reasons why impact factor is flawed: (1) Problematic research can be cited as such, but then become high-impact because of frequent citations; (2) impact factor favors older articles and older journals over newer ones; (3) Some citations become circular. Foucault is the most frequently cited scholar, but so many citations eventually become suspect: he is cited because he is known, and he is known because he is cited; (4) Women cite themselves far less frequently than men, and this has a sociological effect on women’s impact… men are also more frequently cited than women by others; (5) Impact factor favors generality over specificity, and interdisciplinarity over disciplinarity. These are not necessarily good things.


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