Archive for the ‘Social Networking & Scholarship’ Category

CFP: JEMCS Special Issue on the Early Modern Digital

August 11, 2012
The following call for papers, posted on SHARP-L, may be of interest
to readers.  Contact Devoney Looser for additional information (contact information below).
Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies:  Special Issue on the Early Modern Digital (due 15 Jan 2013)
It is well understood that “the digital turn” has transformed the contemporary cultural, political and economic environment.  Less appreciated perhaps is its crucial importance and transformative potential for those of us who study the past.  Whether through newly—and differently—accessible data and methods (e.g. “distant reading”), new questions being asked of that new data, or recognizing how digital reading changes our access to the materiality of the past, the digital humanities engenders a particularized set of questions and concerns for those of us who study the early modern, broadly defined (mid-15th to mid-19th centuries).For this special issue of JEMCS, we seek essays that describe the challenges and debates arising from issues in the early modern digital, as well as work that shows through its methods, questions, and conclusions the kinds of scholarship that ought best be done—or perhaps can only be done— in its wake.  We look for contributions that go beyond describing the advantages and shortcomings of (or problems of inequity of access to) EEBO, ECCO, and the ESTC to contemplate how new forms of information produce new ways of thinking.We invite contributors to consider the broader implications and uses of existing and emerging early modern digital projects, including data mining, data visualization, corpus linguistics, GIS, and/or potential obsolescence, especially in comparison to insights possible through traditional archival research methods. Essays of 3000-8000 words are sought in .doc, .rtf, or.pdf format by January 15, 2013 tojemcsfsu@gmail.com<mailto:jemcsfsu@gmail.com>.  All manuscripts must include a 100-200 word abstract. JEMCS adheres to MLA format, and submissions should be prepared accordingly.In addition, we would welcome brief reports (500-1500 words) that describe digital projects in progress in early modern studies (defined here as spanning from the mid-fifteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries), whether or not these projects have yet reached completion.  These reports, too, should be submitted in .doc, .rtf, or.pdf format, using MLA style, by 15 January 2013 to  to jemcsfsu@gmail.com.

Devoney Looser, Catherine Paine Middlebush Chair and Professor of English
Co-Editor, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies
Tate Hall 114
Department of English
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211
573-884-7791
FAX: 573-882-5785
looserd@missouri.edu
http://www.devoneylooser.com

Digital Humanities Caucus: Survey of American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Members’ Technology Interests

July 24, 2012

This past spring the Digital Humanities Caucus of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies conducted a technology survey of all members. The DH Caucus is sending a report detailing the results of that survey to all ASECS members. A copy is also available here, and summary remarks have also been posted on EighteenthCentury.org (http://eighteenthcentury.org/).

On behalf of the DH Caucus, this post serves as a forum for ASECS members to discuss the report and propose follow-up actions. What results were surprising? What suggestions offered should the DH Caucus and/or ASECS pursue? What terms need glossing? How might ideas be implemented?

Laura Mandell’s “Brave New World: A Look at 18thConnect.”

June 6, 2012

EMOB is pleased to make available the complete text of Laura Mandell’s “Brave New World: A Look at 18thConnect.” To access the full article, please see the blog’s sidebar and click on the link under the “Pages” section. Professor Mandell’s essay appears in the current volume Age of Johnson, Vol. 21 (2012); unfortunately, due to a printing error, several paragraphs at the end of the essay were omitted. The press is determining the best way to rectify this situation. In the meantime, readers can access this important article in its entirety here.

Mandell’s essay explains the mission of 18thConnect and the many possibilities it offers eighteenth-century scholars. Key among its objectives is to enable greater access to digital archives and commercial databases such as EEBO and ECCO regardless of whether the scholar’s institution subscribes. Inspired by and modeled after NINES, 18thConnect should serve as a key digital resource for scholars working in eighteenth-century studies. The availability of Professor Mandell’s essay here provides an ideal opportunity to discuss the import of 18thConnect as a forum and toolbox.

NEH Digital Humanities Startup Grants: Funding the Future

May 13, 2012

Adapting the “‘high risk/’high reward’” model often employed in funding the sciences, NEH Digital Humanities Startup Grants reward originality. To be considered, the proposal must entail an “innovative approach, method, tool, or idea that has not been used before in the humanities” (Digital Humanities Startup Grants Guidelines, p. 2). These Startup Grants fund two levels of projects. As expected, the Level I award supports projects at the embryonic stage of development, while the Level II award funds projects that are more advanced and nearing the implantation stage. The Grant Guidelines provide full details.

In late March the NEH Office of Digital Humanities announced the most recent projects to be awarded a NEH DH Startup Grant. As in the past the projects receiving funding were diverse and promising: a workshop to assist university presses in publishing digitally-born, scholarly monographs; tools to convert text to braille for the visually impaired; improvements to OCR correction technology; software adapted to enable better identification and cataloguing of various features within illustrations in the English Broadside Ballad Archive, a prototype application to promote analysis of visual features such as typeface, margins, indentations of printed books, to name a few.

While these grant-winning projects all carry brief descriptions, they are still in their gestation or early implementation phase. A better sense of what this funding yields can be gleaned from the NEH “Videos of 2011 Digital Humanities Start-Up Grantees” as well as the other online material that has emerged in connection with these projects. The following showcases a few of the 2011 DH Startup grantees most likely to interest EMOB readers.

As the project’s title “New Methods of Documenting the Past: Recreating Public Preaching at Paul’s Cross, London, in the Post-Reformation Period” suggests, this project seeks to reproduce the seventeenth-century experience of hearing a sermon in Paul’s Cross. To do so, it employs architectural modeling software and acoustic simulation software to re-create conditions that will mimic those of a time in which unamplified public speaking competed with the sounds of urban life. One of the questions this simulation aims to answer is whether the printing of many Paul’s Cross sermon points to their popularity among those who gathered to hear them or, instead, to the need to distribute printed versions because their original oral delivery was inaudible save for a few. English professor and Project Director John Wall’s The Virtual Paul’s Cross website details the project’s objectives and its progress. The site also contains a blog that offers occasional updates . Here, for example, it offers various views of the draft model created by Josh Stephens using Sketch-Up such as this perspective of the Churchyard with the east side of the Cathedral:


From John Wall’s The Virtual Paul’s Cross Project blog, May 15, 2012

Preliminary results from the acoustic simulation will be available this month.

Another project, the University of South Carolina Research Foundation’s “History Simulation for Teaching Early Modern British History” integrates gaming with the humanities. The interactive “Desperate Fishwives” game, first conceived by Ruth McClelland-Nugent, (History, Augusta State University) who serves as a consultant to the project, enables student to experience life in a seventeenth-century by assuming the persona of a villager who must adhere to the conventions and social rules of early modern England or face the consequences. Play is designed to take place in hour segments, so the game can be played over several class periods or assigned for homework. After the completion of play, students write a narrative of their experiences, an assignment aimed at teaching historiography. An article appearing in the Columbia, SC Free Times, “Desperate Fishwives Players Navigate 17th Century English Village Life,” offers an enthusiastic account of this teaching tool. In addition to producing this specific game, the project also hopes to provide tools and documentation that would help humanities scholars create educational simulation games suitable for their particular discipline.

In comments to an earlier EMOB post, we referenced a project out of the University of Washington, “The Svoboda Diaries Project: From Digital Text to ‘New Book’”. Yet its innovativeness warrants mentioning it again here. The project features a 19th-century travel diary written by a European but in Arabic. The following description, taken from the project’s successful 2011 NEH grant abstract, offers a succinct overview of this rich project:

Based on its work with a large corpus of personal diaries from 19th century Iraq, the project will develop and test a process for the simultaneous web and print-on-demand publication of texts and transcriptions of original manuscripts with annotation, indexing, translation, images, etc. in complex scripts [l-r and r-l, English and Arabic, in our case]. This process, involves a re-thinking of “the book” that will use digital and new-media resources to combine the functions of traditional print publication, including editing, book design, printing, advertising, and distribution with web-based publication and produce, in house, a low-cost printed book supported by a wide array of web-based materials. Moreover, the “book” (both web and print) will flow directly from a richly tagged TEI-compatible XML text prepared for scholarly investigation, and be capable of continuous regeneration from up-dated and enriched versions. Funded Projects Query Form

For EMOB readers, the project’s interest may well stem from its work in creating a “publishable book on its website that anyone can produce using a machine like the Espresso Book Machine (see an earlier EMOB post. An equally fascinating feature of this project is its dual display of English and Arabic text as this sample page illustrates.

Designed especially for literary analysis, University of California Berkeley’s WordSeer: A Text Analysis Tool for Examining Stylistic Similarities in Narrative Collections uses grammatical structure and national language patterns; its functions include visualization tools. In addition to the NEH lightening round video, other videos and blogs detail ways that this tool has been used to ask questions of Shakespeare’s works as well as African American slave narratives.
In WordSeer demos: Men and Women in Shakespeare, the tool is employed to compare analytically the ways in which men and women are depicted in various circurmstances. The video “How Natural Language Processing is Changing Research” provides a more extended look at WordSeer’s usefulness for analyzing slave narratives, but its purpose is also to underscore how such a tool can benefit humanities scholars. In this video the discussion veers toward presenting reading as a chore from which humanities scholars seek relief. On that note, a student in Dr. Michael Ullyot’s undergraduate ENG 203 course, “Hamlet in the Humanities Lab” at the University of Calgary offers some pertinent comments. In her penultimate blog post for the course, Stephanie Vandework devotes a section to “The Pros and Cons of Exploratory Analysis” and examines more closely the claims in the WordSeer Shakespeare demo, finding some to suffer from overgeneralization. (For a view of the course from the instructor’s perspective, see Dr. Ullyot’s presentation, Teaching Hamlet in the Humanities Lab, for the Renaissance Society of America conference this past March 2012.)

These four projects represent just a glimpse of the many fascinating undertakings featured in the NEH 2011 Lightening Round Videos. That some projects such as WordSeer are already being incorporated into courses speaks to the rapidity with which research and pedagogical practices are changing.

ASECS Conference Report: THATCamp

April 4, 2012

This year my trip to the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies (ASECS) annual meeting was a little different.  I started by heading off to camp!  Alas, this camp didn’t involve bug spray, stories around the campfire or overindulging in marshmallows—but I did get to play with computers.  My camp was THATCamp, also known as The Humanities and Technology camp, or “unconference.”

Started in 2008 by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, the THATCAmp movement has expanded into a number of regional, international and topic-specific meetings.  THATCamps are informal, non-hierarchical get-togethers that privilege hands-on learning and impromptu discussion (see the THATCamp site for a more detailed description).  This year’s ASECS THATCamp was organized by George Williams and Seth Denbo of the ASECS Digital Humanities Caucus, in conjunction with the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture (IDHCM) at Texas A & M.  Held the Wednesday before ASECS started in the conference hotel, the day-long workshop was free of charge.

As is customary for a THATCAmp, ours begin with a collaborative organizational session.  Many participants had posted ideas for discussion on the THATCamp/ASECS site ahead of time; other proposals for sessions were soon added to the mix, written up on a shared Google Document and projected on the wall. Participants then voted on the final topics and the schedule for the day was set.  There were enough participants and ideas to run two concurrent meetings.

It was noted early on that the sessions seem to have naturally divided themselves into tool-based and idea-based streams, though this is a dichotomy that I personally reject (along with the over-used designations “hard” and “soft”). Because these were held at tables in the same room, there was no shame in switching midstream.  Some participants kept collaboratively written notes on a Google Document, while others (including me) tweeted the sessions using the hashtags #thatcamp and #asecs12 (unfortunately, I don’t think these were specifically archived and may now be lost in the Twitterverse).

The first session I attended was “Remixing Scholarship,” a discussion of the new forms and possibilities of collaborative research we might embrace in the digital age, as well as the new problems that arise with these practices.  Romantic, singular forms of authorship are still the norm in the academy, and many T&P committees are wary of non-print publications.  We discussed not only how to change this institutional prejudice, but also acknowledged the real personal barriers that must be overcome, admitting that frankly, some work does not need to be shared until it is complete and that some research projects are best tackled by one individual.  The point is to have options, of course, and to have a wide variety of practices and products acknowledged as valuable.  Organizations such as ASECS can play an important role in setting standards and creating benchmarks by which to evaluate digital work in our field.  In the meantime, we can continue to share the T&P criteria adopted by departments who are open to work in new media.

The next session, “Brainstorming a Professional Organization’s Online Presence” focused on thinking about ways that the ASECS website might become more user-friendly, interactive and reflective of contemporary digital design principals.  We also briefly touched on the ways the Digital Humanities Caucus can best serve the organization and communicate with its members.  We wrapped up with several action points, including an ASECS member survey that the DH Caucus will be working on in the next months.

Pedagogy is always a valued and popular topic at THATCamps, and the ASECS one was no exception.  Our table’s discussion centered mostly on the often overlooked area of graduate students and DH.  Many treatments of this assume high interest and high skills, but not all students come to graduate programs with digital experience.  Yet because the digital humanities are becoming in many ways just the humanities, it seems ill advised for grad students to enter their fields (much less their respective job markets) ignorant of the new methodologies (much less burgeoning forms and structures of knowledge) available to, and perhaps eventually demanded of them.  I don’t think we solved this problem in our hour of talk, but it was useful to begin to exchange ideas.

The last session I attended was a workshop led by Tonya Howe on Omeka, a digital archiving tool.  Again, the short time period allowed us only to scratch the surface of this tool.  However, introductions such as these are useful in that they enable one to pursue a tool or technology more completely in his or her own time.  I may do so, or I may not; I haven’t yet decided if Omeka is something I’d use in my classroom or for my research.  However, next time I am talking to a grad student or colleague about their digital archiving needs, I’ll have something to suggest, and next time a fellow scholar tells me about her Omeka collection, I’ll know what she means.

THATCamp was followed by a demonstration of 18thConnect by Director Laura Mandell.

I was exhausted by a day of intense computing and even more intense discussion.  But that’s what makes THATCamp an unconference.  You never get talked at; every session is what each participant makes it.  And whether the topic was DH theory or hands-on hacking, my fellow participants made the  #ASECS12 #thatcamp almost better than campfires and marshmallows.

The Devonshire Manuscript: A Digital Social Edition

February 29, 2012

Readers are invited to participate in a promising and methodically thought-through experiment in social editing.

The University of Victoria’s Electronic Textual Cultures Lab‘s Devonshire MS Editorial Group invites contributions to a new project involving collaborative knowledge curation.  The project aims at attributing contributions and ensuring scholarly authority.

Guided by Ray Siemens, the ETCL’s editorial group is producing a collaborative electronic wikibooks edition of the Devonshire manuscript, which contains 185 items from the 1530s and 1540s, including complete poems, transcriptions, verse fragments, excerpts, anagrams, and notes by many authors and transcribers.

Because 125 of the poems are attributed to Sir Thomas Wyatt and have been transcribed and published in print, the miscellany was long considered exclusively as a source for his work.  Arthur Marotti notes, however, that this “author-centered view of the miscellany obscures its value as a document “illustrating some of the uses of lyric verse within an actual social environment” (Marotti, Manuscript, Print, and Renaissance Lyric, 1995).  In addition to Wyatt, other contemporaries contributing to the manuscript include Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, Lady Margaret Douglas, Richard Hatfield, Mary Fitzroy (née Howard), Lord Thomas Howard, Sir Edmund Knyvet, Sir Anthony Lee, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, Mary Shelton, and perhaps Anne Boleyn.

The Devonshire manuscript wikibooks site states that the purpose of the edition is to

preserve the socially mediated textual and extra-textual elements of the manuscript that have been elided in previous transcriptions.  These “paratexts” make significant contributions to the meaning and appreciation of the manuscript miscellany and its constituent parts: annotations, glosses, names, ciphers, and various jottings; the telling proximity of one work and another; significant gatherings of materials; illustrations entered into the manuscript alongside the text; and so forth.  To accomplish these goals, the present edition has been prepared as a diplomatic transcription of the Devonshire Manuscript with extensive scholarly apparatus.

The miscellany illustrates the social use of verse and provides what Colin Burrow calls “the richest surviving record of early Tudor poetry and of the literary activities of 16th-century women.”

Currently, a PDF version of the edition is under review at the University of Toronto’s Iter Gateway.  In July, the PDF and Wikibooks versions will be compared and a final edition will be published by Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies.

Readers are invited to participate in the editing of this interesting and complex manuscript.  Some immediate questions include the following:

  • How should blank spaces–often tellingly omitting one name to suggest another–be presented?
  • How can the manuscript’s structure be maintained, while allowing for efficient navigation?  For example, use of “forward” and “backward” buttons might misrepresent the complex spatial relationship among the poems, which frequently appear side-by-side in the manuscript.
  • What is the best way to ensure credit for Wikibooks editors?

Access to the digital facsimile is available to subscribers of Adam Mathew.  The link can be found at the bottom of the Devonshire Manuscripts’ wikibooks page.

Digital Humanities and the Archives I: Economics and Sustainability

February 22, 2012

Those directly involved with digital archives contend with numerous issues that the general academic community often fails to understand or address, even though they bear significant implications for the future of scholarship.

–Sheila Cavanagh, “How Does Your Archive Grow: Academic Politics & Economics in the Digital Age”

While the spread of print prompted the coining of new words such as “manuscript” and “handwriting” to describe the older technology of writing, the pervasiveness of new media today has yielded no newly invented vocabulary to identify print. Instead, the world of new media has created its own lexicon consisting of either newly devised words–website, blog, crowdsourcing, or texting, to name a few–or terms forged by combining adjectives such a “digital” or “electronic” with existing nouns to distinguish the new from the old. Despite these different etymological trajectories, the relationship between the digital and print, much like the interactions between print and manuscript, is often a symbiotic one and one that almost always transforms our understanding of the older media.

Digital tools, for example, are transforming our conceptions of and theorizing about “archives” as well as our actual use of these repositories, be they material or virtual entities. Similarly, digital facsimiles are exercising various effects on our understanding of original documents. Our digital environment is shaping the kinds of archival projects being undertaken, the methodologies used, and/or the types of research questions posed. Interactions between the digital and the archival are creating new paradigms or inspiring shifts in existing models of document preservation, audiences, access, and more. The advent of the digital archive, for instance, has afforded a ready means for humanities scholars to engage the public in their scholarship. Finally, digital tools and platforms are addressing and reconfiguring questions concerning the economics, equity, and accessibility of archival materials.

The archive in the digital age is a complex topic approachable from multiple angles and involving “numerous issues that the general academic community often fails to understand or address, even though they bear significant implications for the future of scholarship” (Cavanagh). Focusing on economics and sustainability, this post is the first of several entries devoted to issues surrounding archival transformations in the digital era. The discussions arising from these posts also serve as preparation for the “Digital Humanities and the Archives” roundtable that will take place on Friday, March 22nd, at the upcoming ASECS 2012 conference in San Antonio, Texas.

Just as the term “digital humanities” gives rise to numerous definitions, the word “sustainability” in the digital environment also carries multiple meanings. As a June 2011 JISC publication, “Funding for Sustainability: How Funders’ Practices Influence the Future of Digital Resources” reports, the word has been used to denote “a wide range of practices of varying rigor” from long-term access to preservation measures and securing audiences and users. No matter how one defines “sustainability,” however, economic factors are tightly intertwined with the creation, maintenance, and sustaining of digital work. Other forms of support (often entailing economic consequences) also play a significant role “as projects must justify their value not just to their funder, but to their host institution, to their users and to others whose support they require” (“Funding for Sustainability” 4).

As a primer to these issues, Daniel Pitti’s “Designing Sustainable Projects and Publications” offers a highly serviceable introduction to creating digital projects that will endure. While his article focuses on technical and logistical issues, ranging from mark-up technologies to selecting the suitable kind of databases, identifying the needs of users and uses, addressing intellectual property concerns, and adhering to industry standards, and more, collaboration at all stages emerges as a key tenet for ensuring the longevity and utility of the digital archive and other forms of digital projects.

In “How Does Your Archive Grow: Academic Politics & Economics in the Digital Age” ( Appositions May 2011) Sheila Cavanagh draws from her own experiences as Director of the Emory Women Writers Resource Project (EWWRP), a database featuring “female-authored and female-centered texts. . .from the 16th to the early 20th centuries,” to detail broader economic and collaborative issues affecting the sustainability of digital archives. That she began this archive as a solo project in 1995 affords a useful historical perspective to her remarks. Not surprisingly, a need for more funding and technical expertise resulted in EWWRP quickly becoming a collaborative project. While the academy has been slow to accept collaboration in the humanities and to devise protocols for evaluating digital scholarship and rewarding its practitioners, Cavanagh rightly notes that funding circumstances in contrast have changed in the intervening years. The ease with which she received institutional support for grant applications in the mid-1990s has now been replaced with a multi-level vetting process to assess how the “project and its needs rank with sufficient prominence on various institutional priority lists.” The end result? “In any given year, it is by no means guaranteed that innovations we envision for our database of early women writers will coincide with institutional desires.”

Moreover, as Cavanagh and others have also observed, not only have funding bodies become less enamored with projects that solely digitize documents in favor of those that offer more cutting-edge technology, but grant bestowers have also favored the funding of start-up projects as opposed to supporting the further development and maintenance of these projects. To be fair, the latter tendency is showing some signs of change as evidenced by grants such as the NEH Digital Implementation Grant “that seeks to identify projects that have successfully completed their start-up phase.”

The kinds of economic and sustainability issues surrounding today’s virtual archives are not the ones that concerned scholars working in the pre-digital age. Instead, for those professors and graduate students, the main economic issues consisted of having the funds and time needed to travel to the archives. While travel expenses remain legitimate needs today, access to commercial subscription databases, funds to support one’s own digital projects, and the feasibility of embarking on such a project for pre-tenured scholars have emerged as pressing economic concerns. Similarly, in the past, academic libraries created and maintained archives for users (admittedly often with some faculty consultation and collaboration). Yet today more and more professors, graduate students, and even some advanced undergraduates not only use archives, but they also build them and must plan for their management, growth, and sustainability as well. In doing so many enter into collaborative partnerships with libraries, while others form part of an academic center devoted to digital work. Some digital archives aim to reach more than an academic audience and instead afford a space for public humanities. And in almost all cases our experiences working with searchable, sometimes multi-media archives cannot help but color our forays into traditional archives. Yet, what Ed Folsom has deemed “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives” and other theoretical reconsiderations of “archives” are subjects for a follow-up post.

Laura Stevens on Peer Review at the TSWL

January 9, 2012

To follow up on the recent discussion about evaluating digital scholarship, Gena Zuroski pointed me to this very thoughtful essay about peer-review by Laura Stevens as Editor of the Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature.  Stevens weighs the crowd-sourcing experiment of Shakespeare Quarterly against maintaining a double-blind review process, and wonders whether it is even possible for identities to remain hidden when so much scholarship is previewed one way or another before it ever reaches “published” status.

On balance, Stevens decides that the type of scholarship and the mission of the journal demand that they stick to the current format.

The virtues of open feedback are great, but having viewed well over a thousand readers’ reports in my tenure as editor, I am convinced that most readers provide a more forthcoming assessment of our submissions when their identities are not disclosed to the authors. Such feedback of course can be difficult to read—we all have our stories to tell of stinging reports on our own work—but on the other hand we cannot dismiss the positive comments of anonymous readers as flattery, and that must always be a worry when the authors and readers are aware of each others’ identities. In sum, I feel that more would be lost than gained if Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature abandoned anonymous review in favor of open approaches. I may contemplate setting up an open, online review for a single article or small collection of submissions in the future, as a way of fostering this relatively new mode of scholarly interaction. For now, though, this journal is sticking with the traditional, confidential mode of peer review.

Change at any level, in any form, is always difficult in academic settings, because of the presumption that an innovation will create more problems than the status quo.  And this is probably as it should be, considering the importance of academic culture for preserving and transmitting what otherwise would not get preserved in a money-driven, presentist economic environment.

What reflective pieces like Stevens’ essay demonstrate, however, is that maintaining the status quo is itself problematic in all sorts of ways, involving its own complications, and demanding its own cost/benefit analysis, such as the one that Stevens provides here.

DM

PS: I should also mention that Stevens also announces that EMOB’s own Anna Battigelli is joining the TSWL board.  Congratulation, Anna.

Publishing, Reviewing, and Digital Culture

July 5, 2010

In a recent post we examined and debated the potential effects that the Net is having on reading, thinking, and forms of literacy. Shifting from the cognitive effects of digital culture, this post will explore material aspects of electronic transformations. The discussion will consider the effects that digital culture is exercising on certain facets of the publishing industry—particularly reviewing and book promotion/publicity. A follow-up post later this week will explore what the release of Google editions portends for publishers, readers, and the state of e-books.

Book Expo America, the foremost trade event for the North American book industry, offers an annual window on developments and trends in publishing. Although focusing on book culture at large, the publishing industry’s bent toward conservatism in certain aspects of its practices has parallels with a similar tendency in academia. Such parallels are worth keeping in mind as we consider the discussion that ensued at the following BEA 2010 panel.

The 2010 BEA panel, The Next Decade in Book Culture: Effects of E-Book Reading Devices, offered insights about the business of books that extend beyond the subject matter intimated by the panel’s title. While not signaled by the title, the panel’s key focus was on reviewing, not surprising given that the National Book Circle sponsored the session. Participating on the panel were Carolyn Kellogg (book blogger, The Los Angeles Times), Denise Oswald (editorial director, Soft Skull Press), Nicholas Latimer (director of publicity, Knopf) and Ed Nawotka (founder and editor-in-chief, PublishingPerspectives.com), and Kate Travers (marketing and media consultant).

The opening question by moderator John Reed (books editor, Brooklyn Rail) asked about the general mood at this year’s event and the response was telling:

there’s a lot less angst out there today than there has been in several years … and that’s very encouraging. … People…are starting come to terms with the digital question and find answers that fit their own publishing models…the whole idea that publishing will fall into a digital sinkhole…has not come to pass and they are recognizing that rather than a sinkhole, it offers a portal.


This move from publishers’ conceiving digital culture as a sinkhole to portal is promising and should encourage initiatives in efforts to connect books and readers. That such changes are still in the developmental stages were evident, however, from the ensuing discussion about reviewing. Although economically highly desirable, PDF galleys have not yet caught on among critics. One reason offered was the need for better technology that would cut down on the time involved in downloading, and others noted issues related to reading files on one’s phone and other devices and the inability to manipulate the screen and e-texts in the same ways that reviewers manipulate the page and print formats. A general sense emerged that resistance would fade as advances were made coincided with the recognition of the convenience that PDFs galleys were already providing in certain situation. Economics are often necessitating small presses to rely on electronic galleys,, and reviewers are often willing to accept this format. While none felt that PDF galleys presented any new security concerns, all understandably rejected the usefulness of email blasts to deliver unsolicited copies.

Among the most interesting remarks were those addressing the changing nature of reviews. A query about the fate of the long review today spurred several reflections. Noting the tendency toward shorter reviewers, one panelist remarked that many don’t have the patience today for reading lengthy reviews online. This trend to the shorter review, given the lack of constraints on length that the Web offers, is somewhat ironic. Other panelists rightly noted that if we consider the comments that frequently accompany online reviews, then the long review is very much alive albeit transformed. Such collaboratively produced reviews both signal and participate in the more conversational bent our culture has taken. Moreover, just as the digital world is affording new opportunities for authors and, in turn, for the production of works that harness the capabilities of the electronic medium, so too is this environment presenting potentially exciting yet still untapped opportunities for transforming the review. As an example, one panelist mentioned the review work of Ward Sutton for Barnes & Noble online. The collaborative readings found on The Long Eighteenth Century and this blog arguably offer reviews adapted to take advantage of the online environment. By offering review discussions of that unfold at the chapter level of a given title, with each chapter being reviewed by a different scholar, and by featuring additional commentary by other scholars and often the author, too, these collaborative readings are reinventing the review in fruitful ways. At the onset of the discussion, one panelist mentioned the review essays that The New York Review of Books has embraced as a case of the persistence of the long review. Adapting this review form for the online world also seems to invite some intriguing possibilities for reinventing the review. For example, it might be interesting to take the chapter model and adapt it to reviewing the introductions and conclusions of multiple titles—if not hosting a successive series of collaborative readings that taken collectively add up to a review of current work in a given area. The latter possibility, however, would seem to require a sufficient number of willing participants.

The panel also raised a number of other interesting topics ranging from the growing presence of non-professional reviewers to questions about images and other forms of multimedia in e-books. The participants appeared to be in agreement that aspects of traditional bookmaking—attention to paper, type, and even deckle-edges—would still have a place in publishing. And several noted that in considering book production, each title should receive individual attention in terms of whether it and its projected audience made it more or less suited for issuing in print, e-format, or both. In discussing how books are advertised, one participant noted that the challenges affecting placement as our culture shifts from one that “browses” to one in which users “target” their media. Given Nick Carr’s comments about the Web’s encouragement of endless browsing, the choice of language here was striking.

As the panel noted, the publishing industry and book culture are very much in flux today. The relative slowness with which the publishing industry has responded to the digital developments has its own manifestations in the scholarly world. An October 1988 article, “The Electronic Journal” written by Daniel Eisenberg and appearing in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing is telling in its predictions and concerns. Advocating the benefits of electronic publication (including CD-Rom databases of say all the full texts of books in Wing), Eisenberg discusses what the shift to this publication will entail. Interestingly, while he suggests that such a shift will cause little disruption to the academic reward system of tenure, promotion, and the like, the acceptance of electronic projects, articles, and books seems to be far slower than he foretells. Yet, his remarks that “the most serious problem concerning electronic publication is less obvious: the absence from the system of those who cannot afford to participate in it” (55) were prophetic. The lack of access to commercial databases is no longer an obscure problem, yet it still remains arguably the most serious. As for the reward system, its continued heavy investment in print hinders many from becoming more involved in harnessing the capabilities of digital culture to adapt and create new forms of scholarship.

New! EEBO Interactions

April 5, 2010

The announcement below is just in from Jo-Anne Hogan at ProQuest:

EEBO Interactions:

A social network for Early English Books Online

http://eebo-interactions.chadwyck.com

ProQuest is delighted to announce the launch of EEBO Interactions, a social network for Early English Books Online (EEBO).  EEBO Interactions allows its registered users to:

·         comment upon works and authors in EEBO

·         debate issues connected with early printed books

·         correct and improve existing attribution and dating information

·         highlight and review new scholarship

·         ask teaching and research questions

·         share knowledge

·         analyse texts

·         link to related resources on the web and

·         interact with other EEBO users around the world

EEBO Interactions aims to provide scholars with new ways of engaging with EEBO and with the community of early modernists who use EEBO in teaching and research, providing a forum for the discussion of works and authors found in the database.   Registered users can share commentary, queries, contextual material and links relating to works and authors represented in EEBO, and edit and expand upon existing contributions by other contributors.

Direct messaging between participants is also supported.

The EEBO Interactions site itself is freely accessible and can be consulted by all users of the internet. The ability to interact with the resource – to add, edit and/or delete submissions – is restricted to its registered users. Registration is open to all authenticated EEBO users and to other scholars on application to the EEBO Interactions webmaster. Moderation of the content of the EEBO Interactions resource is undertaken by a team of independent editors, and will occur after submissions are posted.  If you are interested in becoming an editor for EEBO Interactions, please contact us at http://eebo-interactions.chadwyck.com/contact.

A number of EMOB readers acted as advisors on this project and we would like to thank you for your feedback and suggestions.  We are hoping that EEBO Interactions will help to address some of the issues raised in the recent ASECS roundtable by providing a forum for scholars to interact with the database and each other.


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