Review of Anthurium: A Journal of Caribbean Studies

Perhaps it’s unfair to Anthurium – and to other websites whose resources skew heavily toward the archival, the searchable, and the textual — that the user’s experience (and thus, this review) begins with and ends up grounded in the “front page.” Consider the traditional in-print academic journal: the cover, or “front page,” is rarely a display of groundbreaking design, and needs to contain relatively little information beyond the journal’s title, volume and issue number, and date. It’s an exercise in “branding” — to the extent that such an exercise is a concern for editorial boards — but not an exercise in the organization or display of information.

All this is to say that Anthurium, as a web-only journal, by necessity heavily relies on its front page, and though there’s nothing glaringly wrong with it, it doesn’t quite do justice to the rest of the site, which is overall well-designed, visually pleasing, and coherently organized. Though it’s slightly dated, the front page fares well aesthetically: the header featuring the title is clean, legible, and well-done, and the color palette of the site as a whole is coherent, drawing from the colors of the header image and background. The sidebar is also easy to find and sensibly laid out — it provides information on the journal’s mission, content, aims and scope, editorial board, and submission policies.

The real issue, though, is that it’s unclear what the purpose of the front page is. The information on the front page is presented non-hierarchically and thus rather chaotically. It’s unclear, visually, what information is more important — or, at least, what information ought to be read first — due mainly to the side-by-side presentation of a paragraph “About This Journal,” the list of members of the editorial board, links to PDFs of the most recent issue, and information about “Cover Art.” (Furthermore, it’s not clear whether the cover art in question is for the recently published issue, or the website in general.) The “About This Journal” section of the front page as well as the information about the editorial board are also linked-to in the sidebar, and these links lead to identical information.

Perhaps one could turn to the masthead or “front matter” of a print magazine or journal for organizational suggestions: these sections often include a few sentences about a journal’s mission, affiliation, or publication frequency, followed by the editorial staff, followed by any notes on cover art, distribution, price, etc. These are visually distinguished and ranked by dividers, font size, and so on, and the reader is encouraged to encounter each section sequentially due to the top-to-bottom nature of reading a book — this top-to-bottom reading tendency is also inherent to the web, and it makes sense to encourage readers to encounter the text in this way rather than undermine this tendency through the use of multiple columns. Another option is to simply devote the front page to the latest issue of the journal, and simply retain the links in the sidebar to the information currently on the front page.

Front-page nitpicking aside — Anthurium’s stated aims are “to [bridge] the digital divide by making peer reviewed, scholarly articles and creative writing available to teachers, students, scholars and persons interested in Caribbean literature and culture worldwide without fee based subscriptions,” and if one has the primary goal of using the site as an archive or access portal rather than as a static information page, everything works phenomenally. I particularly liked that there were two search bars: one a dropdown menu that allowed for browsing by volume and issue number, and a second that allowed keyword/fulltext search, which seemed robust from my brief testing of the function. I also liked that users can access the most-commonly-downloaded articles in a list, as well as seeing downloaders’ locations — these functions visually arrange the journal’s content by theme and by researchers’ location, giving an interesting glimpse into the interests of the readership.

The content of the site — written, presumably, by the editorial board — is lucid and informative. After browsing the site, particularly the sidebar links, it is clear where Anthurium is positioned disciplinarily; its goals to intervene in digital and academic publishing; what kind of submissions are requested; how to submit content; and what happens to work post-submission. Considering how often both academics and online content-writers fail at this sort of task, it’s worth mentioning (and worthy of praise). The one thing that isn’t immediately apparent from viewing the site is Anthurium’s institutional affiliation. The journal is associated with the University of Miami, but the only explicit connection to the university is in the journal’s URL, as well as the fact that the “About” and “FAQ” links at the bottom of the site lead not to information about the journal, but to information and questions regarding the “Scholarly Repository” of the University of Miami library system, a project of which Anthurium appears to be a part.

I can’t help but wonder if this lack of immediately-recognizable affiliation is due to a reluctance on the part of either the university or the editorial board to enthusiastically recognize the other. The work — waged or unwaged — of soliciting submissions, reviewing and editing them, and creating a final product, remains the same whether the final output is a digital or print publication; it’s simply that the pay structure for the digital product has changed. The seven Anthurium editors with formal job titles listed, in addition to the thirty-odd board members, certainly speak to the amount of labor required. and yet the journal is open-access and free of charge. It’s one (relatively inexpensive) thing to archive public-domain material in a searchable site and offer it for free. It’s entirely another to produce a regularly-updated journal — with the institutional prestige, peer review, and labor that involves — under the same conditions.

Overall, I found the resources of Anthurium to be both useful and easy-to-use: a rare combination. I would certainly consider browsing it when doing work toward future Caribbean academic projects — my largest concern is that due to the economic pressures on publishing projects of all kinds, it won’t be there anymore by the time I need to use it.

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