April 10, 2006

NEH Digital Humanities Initiative

In a few days we'll see the official public unveiling of the NEH Digital Humanities Initiative, which will no doubt include commentary on online publishing.

From the Washington Post (March 30, 2006):

The panel reviewed the National Endowment for the Humanities' proposed budget, which is $141 million, last year's appropriation. Bruce Cole, NEH chairman, said the funds would continue the current programs and start a new program on "digital humanities." He said the humanities endowment wanted to be a catalyst between the public and the researchers "to help narrow the gap between the scholar and the citizen." An NEH initiative has now put 30 million pages of historic documents and history texts online.

March 22, 2006

Related Projects

In the sidebar on the right, you'll see a module called "Related Projects." We're using this module not simply to call your attention to other electronic scholarly publishing ventures already extant, but rather to serve as a cluster of projects that we might look at in some detail, together, in order to think through what the goals of those projects have been, how those projects have worked, and what we might learn from them as we move forward.

Before attempting to guide any kind of exploration and discussion of those projects, however, I want to make sure that our list is as complete as we'd like it to be. Are there projects that aren't included in our list, but ought to be? Projects that you think bear discussion as our conversations move forward? Please nominate them here, and we'll add them to the list. And in the coming days, we'll begin taking on a collective reading and examination of some of this work.

March 16, 2006

The Big Idea

The goal of this meeting is complicated. The fundamental question we need to noodle through is how to structure an electronic press so that it is as innovative as possible without losing the broad acceptance necessary for it to make a difference. Our instincts are to spend the first half of the meeting being fairly expansive and open-ended about the sort of electronic press we might build if we were unconstrained by the conservatism of the academic environment. In the second half, we'd like to come down to earth a bit and try to figure out what's possible now. So on the one hand we want to think in an idealistic way about the possibilities that an all-electronic academic press presents, but on the other hand, we'd like to come out of this meeting with a clear direction for the future, one that's not just visionary but also doable. A tall order.

We're beginning, of course, from the assumption that academic publishing is in disarray and in need of new and workable solutions. One potential path toward a solution, and the focus of this meeting, is the formation of an electronic press.

Lots of folks -- many of you, in fact -- have of course been working in this arena for some time, and thus we have the luxury of building on those admirable models. We'd like, between now and the time of the meeting, for us to consider and discuss some such models -- what in them has worked; what has been difficult; what could bear alteration -- as a means of thinking about what it is that we'd ideally like an electronic press to do.

At the moment, the ways in which we imagine this new press innovating are in the conjunction of fully exploiting the possibilities that the network presents to scholarship -- scholarly endeavor meets social software -- and creating a venue for the publication of a range of born-digital texts up to and including the monograph. This combination of factors has the potential not simply to allow us to continue doing the kind of work scholars have done for decades, but in fact to radically transform the nature of scholarship, creating the kind of ongoing conversation among scholars that can produce bold new experimentation. But these transformations can only succeed if they're (at least eventually) seen as valid within the academic mainstream, and so we must keep that acceptance in mind, remaining conscious of the compromises we're making, and why.

Take peer review, for example. Historically, the way that it has worked is familiar: someone writes an article or monograph and submits it for consideration; the text goes through various cycles of review, cloaked in varying levels of anonymity, involving a small number of readers; the readers communicate their thoughts to the editor, who may or may not pass on a redacted version of these thoughts to the author; the text is eventually published, or not. Peer review thus currently happens behind the curtain, and before publication. When academic writing becomes fully networked, it will be possible for peer review to go beyond this purely gatekeeping function, to engage a much larger number of readers at many points along the way -- while the article is being written, in response to each draft, and of course after the article is "published." Peer review could thus happen in front of the curtain, as a productive conversation between readers and authors. But how far can we go in trying to re-imagine peer review?

Or take the forms of academic writing. The expected path is to simply reproduce the standard forms of the journal article and the monograph electronically. But how might blogs and other new forms which are afforded by locating writing on the network shift our thinking about articles and monographs? If we were to imagine a system in which the many different kinds of academic writing we produce -- ranging from the relatively casual blog all the way through the most complete monograph -- were able not only to coexist but to interact, to produce a sense not of isolated voices speaking at a distance but of an ongoing, developing conversation, what kinds of work would be fostered? How far can we go in embracing new forms of writing?

We'd like to start with these questions, and any other big questions that you can imagine, to open our discussion here, and to help us focus the issues that we might consider together when we're face-to-face. We look forward to hearing from you all.