Maldives scholarly communication

Journals are the main medium through which scholars communicate. Communities of scholars interact with one another, read each others’ papers and closely follow work that is related to their own. Scholarly journals have been in existence for several hundred years. According to Schauder (1994), the first scientific journals appeared in 1665 in London — Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, and in Paris — Le Journal des Scavants. As Harter (1998) points out, the scholarly journal has remained essentially unchanged in form and function since its inception. However, the costs associated with producing paper journals as well as the high increase in the subscription charges accompanied by the developments in the computer and communications technology led to a shift from print to electronic formats. The current preferred access platform for any literature is mostly online with very selective print collections. The current online environment has facilitated the process through social media sites like Research Gate, Academia, and Scribd where scholars post their own publications in their original published format or per-publication format in accordance with the copyright terms.

The purpose of this post is to capture a quick overview of the scholarly communication process in the Maldives, with a specific focus on journal publications.

Oral tradition and culture of learning

The Maldives has followed an oral tradition of information sharing from time immemorial. It certainly lacks, or has a meager amount of, written records of a historical nature. The limited published historical accounts of Maldives are from outsiders based on their voyages to Maldives, such as by François Pyrard and HCP Bell; and “the first slightly long and relatively comprehensive account is that of Ibn Batuta in the 14th century” (Phadnis & Luithui, 1985, p. 93).

The orality of knowledge transfer can be seen from François Pyrard’s accounts in Maldives during 1602-1605 (Gray, 1887) which describes the perfect precision in which the local sea vessel (called Dhoani) was made by the locals using local material. The practice is still ongoing for the most part and the knowledge is transferred from person to person and yet not comprehensively documented. It is interesting to note the commentary by the captain of S.S. Consett, wrecked in Suadiva atoll in 1880 where he describes the people as “not ignorant, having books in their own language, and carrying on manufactures of coir yarn and rope, fish rush mats, fans, and tatties. The children are taught to read…” (cited in Gray, 1887, p. 106).

Research and Development

The Maldives does not appear to have an organized scholarly communication process and until recently did not have any scholarly journals. There exists only a few scholarly works on Maldives, its origin, culture and settlement. According to Maloney (1980), prior to his study there existed only three sources that provided references to trace the evolution of the culture of Maldives: the account of Francois Pyrard who was shipwrecked and detained in Malé for five and half years; the second being the work by Young and Christopher in the 1930s when they were deputed to Maldives as part of a marine survey team; and the third was H.C.P. Bell’s book on Maldives based on his experiences when he was shipwrecked in Maldives and his subsequent visits in 1920 and 1922, deputed by Ceylon government to study Maldivian Buddhist antiquities.

According to the National Bibliography of Maldives (National Library, 1995), the average annual local publication during 1990-1995 was approximately 66 items, of which 23 percent were in English and approximately 80 percent were government publications. The situation is similar to many other developing countries with the bulk of their publications falling into the category of gray literature (Omekwu, 2003). It should also be noted that a national bibliography was published in 1995 for the first time, and its subsequent publications have been infrequent and irregular, most probably due to the constraints in getting local publications. However, this endeavour has now been facilitated with the passing of the legal deposit law in mid 2005 with its enabling legislation passed only in 2010. Informal accounts from the National Library reveals that they continue to struggle with securing national publications, including those written by Maldivians overseas.

Maldives Information Culture: collaborative writing

An exploratory research in 2009 into the information culture of the Maldives showed that Maldivians were taking to blogging as evidenced by the popularity of mvblogs.org at that time. Many educated Maldivians were writing extensively on their blogs on a variety of topics including politics, social reform, poetry, and prose. Writers ranged from politicians, journalists, government officials, religious scholars, entrepreneurs, etc. writing on important topics in the Maldives’ context from their personal perspective and insider knowledge within their own specialized notch of expertise. This self-publishing trend opened up a promising platform that was quite similar to the scholarly communication process — that of peer review in the form of bloggers commenting on each others blogs. Nonetheless, the hype of blogging dwindled by early 2010s with the increased use of twitter and many Maldivian bloggers moved over to tweeting their thoughts in short bursts of hash tags instead of lengthy blog posts. This still has the element of collaboration. With these changes, the earlier prolific blogs slowly vanished as they were either deleted by their owner, or made private for a variety of reasons. While blogging has that crucial element of ‘peer review’, the nature of self-publishing meant there was no way of preserving those writings for future generations. I personally read and followed quite a lot of such blogs and was fascinated by the wealth of knowledge of the emerging young intellectuals. The blog posts and the sentiments expressed therein could have provided a wealth of information for anyone interested in social research.

Organized scholarly process

This is where an organized and established body of information workers are essential in the scholarly communication process. Traditionally, from an ‘other’ country perspective it has been the libraries and the librarian as the custodian of this wealth of information and publishers as the owner of the information. In Maldives, to date this is an area that is lagging behind in terms of educated individuals to shoulder this responsibility – shortage of information specialists and academic publishers. In the context of Maldives, an earlier issue was the small number of interested intellectuals and the difficulty in collaborative efforts given the dispersed geography of the country. The difficulties in collaboration has been eliminated with the information communication technologies, namely the internet and collaborative platforms like blogs. Within the last 20 years, Maldives has seen an exponential growth of scholars in a variety of fields, with at least 140 Maldivians having completed their doctorates and many of them having had published in international journals.

Emerging scholarly communication process

In addition to these overseas research graduates, the Maldives itself is going through transformative changes in its research culture with the increase in postgraduate courses at the two government Universities and the private Colleges. The Maldives National University introduced the first higher degree by research opportunity in 2013 and it is anticipated that the first local doctoral students will be completing their studies within the current year or next year.

Maldives also has seen the establishment of scholarly journals, hopefully as a continued venture instead of the earlier haphazard attempts. I say haphazard because we have very rare academic publications that have succeeded to continue as planned. The known attempts at some form of scholarly journal format of publishing are listed below.

Journal of Teacher Education
Mentions of a journal at the Faculty of Education some years back has been heard of anecdotally and a mention appears in a research report carried out by Navarro & Shareef (2011). I personally have not come across any issues of it so far.
Maldives Journal of Health Sciences 
It was envisaged as a research journal to cater for the health sector, inviting research papers from public and private organizations in addition to the academics of the Faculty of Health Sciences, of the then Maldives College of Higher Education. It was planned as an annual publication to start with, with an editorial team made up of local scholars as well as overseas editors to guide the process. Only one issue was published, in 2003, with a number of papers lined up for the second issue. It was peer-reviewed. Nonetheless, it lacked proper support mechanism from within the relevant authorities of Maldives and thereby was not registered as a formal publication and thereby discontinued. The publication, nor any reference to it, can been seen on any formal channel. See here for a personal online copy.
Faithoora 
It is the equivalent of a literary journal in the local language that was published through the National Centre for Historical Research (and under its various names in its history of existence). While Faithoora lacked a true citation practice, this literary magazine remains the most highly used and cited resource by students and scholars who research on local language and history. It now appears to have been discontinued after decades of being regularly published. Given the high use of the collection, the MNU Library endevaoured to make it accessible online through its digital library initiative. Nonetheless the venture lacked proper backing form the publisher as well as other authorities and the online library to date remains as a testing space. Read about it here.
Dharuma
Dharuma published through 2001 to 2013 is quite similar in its style to that of Faithoora and can be categorized more as a magazine. However, Dharuma embodied some of the features of a journal with a more scholarly orientation than light reading. Unlike Faithoora, Dharuma was published by a private party and that could be the likely reason for its shorter history of existence. The online editions can be viewed here (http://dharumamajalla.com/).
The Maldives Journal of Research
The journal is designed as an international journal and is a formal publication of Villa College. It was initiated in 2013 with the establishment of the College's Research Centre. After the first issue in 2013(2014?), it is not evident any further issues has been published.
The Maldives National Journal of Research
The MNJR is an international journal published by the Maldives National University as a multidisciplinary journal. It was initiated in 2013 with the establishment of the University's Postgraduate Research Center. The journal continues to be published annually so far. The journal is not indexed or abstracted in any journal database, nonetheless has an online presence on the University's website.

Note:
If any of the readers know of any other journal-like publication in the Maldives, in the past as well as present, I would appreciate to hear about it.

The chances of perpetual access to these scholarly writings into posterity is something that is concerning. Is there a body responsible for this? Is the National Collection at the National/Public library of Maldives preserving these, and are they facilitating the dissemination of it? The question of dissemination is especially important in the current online environment where everyone wants all reading material to be available for reading on mobile devices with the possibility of printing if required.

There definitely is a need for the creation of an indexing service for local publications, or else we need to explore options to local material indexed in well-established journal database platforms.

References

Gray, A. (Ed.). (1887). The voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas, and Brazil (Translated into English from the third French edition of 1619, and edited with notes) (Vol. 1). London: Hakluyt Society.

Harter, S.P. (1998) ‘Scholarly Communication and Electronic Journals: An lmpact Study’ , Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 49(6),507-516.

Maloney, C. (1980). People of the Maldive Islands. Bombay: Orient Longman.

National Library. (1995). Maldives National Bibliography (Vol. 1 No.1). Malé , Maldives: National Library.

Omekwu, C. (2003). Current issues in accessing documents published in developing countries. Interlibrary and Document Supply, 31(2), 130-137.

Phadnis, U., & Luithui, E. D. (1985). Maldives: winds of change in an atoll state. New Delhi, India: South Asian Publishers.

Schauder, D. (1994). Electronic publishing of professional articles: Attitudes of academics and implications for scholarly industry. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 45(2), 73-100.

 

 

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aminath

I write as I think. I think as I write.

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