History Department
History Department

Rachel Herrmann, History Ph.D., and her "Paper Heard ‘Round the World"

Fri, May 10, 2013
Rachel Herrmann, History Ph.D., and her
Dr. Rachel Herrmann

Picked up by a journalist to support his story about new findings of cannabilism in Jamestown, Virginia— a topic that dominated major media sources last week— the media’s attention to one of Rachel Herrmann’s papers on Academia.edu brought her nearly 1,000 document views in a day. It also landed her a guest appearance on the BBC radio and most definitely helps this recent PhD grad start off her new career with a bang.

“This was such an astronomical jump to see in the analytics,” says Rachel on waking up to a flood of document views.

Initially unaware that her paper was cited in an article by the RawStory, Rachel’s Academia.edu analytics helped her determine the source of her popularity— nearly every document view came from a RawStory link. This discovery prompted Rachel to tweet out her delightful news, which passed from one tweeter to the next and finally made it’s way to someone at the BBC who was looking for a guest expert to speak about the latest Jamestown discovery.

Conversations of her media attention also surfaced on the blog Junto, encouraging Rachel to write a reactive piece on the newfound evidence of cannibalism. Leading readers from her Junto blog post to her research on Academia.edu, an editor from an academic press was also impressed by Rachel’s expertise and invited her to edit a collection about cannibalism.

“Professionally speaking, this media attention has been pretty great,” says Rachel modestly.

And what exactly is so great about the attention the media has brought to Rachel’s work? Starting a new position at the University of Southampton, UK, in the fall, Rachel thinks things like her document views and being featured on the BBC can help show the impact of her work when she comes up for assessment.

“Coming from the U.S., I’m still wrapping my head around the British system of academia. They’re going through this new cycle of what’s called the Research Excellence Framework, and there’s this really ill-defined portion of that framework that includes this idea of impact factor, which is loosely defined as your interaction with the larger, non-academic community. So being able to engage with radio or with journalism sources is going to be really great for that. And, the stats on Academia.edu give me some sort of concrete evidence that I can point to when I get assessed and people ask, ‘Well, do you know how many people have read this paper?’”

Noting that these opportunities would not have happened had her article not been easily accessible to members of the media, Rachel says, “With the way that academic publishing works, reactions to people’s articles is just a lot slower normally. So this attention definitely sped things up by leaps and bounds.”

And why is this accelerated exchange of reactions and ideas so important?

“It helps with the speed at which academic information gets disseminated,” answers Rachel. “You can ask a question really quickly and get it answered.”

So as Rachel sees her document views and followers rise thanks to her visibility on Academia.edu and the media attention it has attracted, Rachel says, “I’m happy for anything that drives more traffic to the paper and gets people to read it.”

Rachel Herrmann completed her Ph.D. in History this January at The University of Texas at Austin. She currently a Smith Richardson Fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. While her work on cannibalism has been the center of recent media attention, her current research addresses how Native Americans, free blacks, and slaves used food as a way to wage war and broker peace during and after the American Revolution. Cannibalism in Jamestown, Virginia was the focus of Rachel’s Master’s research. This September Rachel will join the University of Southampton, UK, as a lecturer.

Originally published on Academia.Edu, May 9, 2013. Story by Courtney Quirin.


Read more of Rachel Herrmann's work on Not Even Past:
Twitterstorians, What 9/11 Means to Me Today, Making History: The Comps Experience, Historians in Summer

Rachel Herrmann's UT History profile:

Rachel Herrmann's blog:

Follow Rachel Herrmann on Twitter:

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