What are new insights into digital publishing?
When I discuss digital scholarship, like many, I strategically draw analogies to more traditional forms, in order to demonstrate its scholarly potential. This is how I framed my digital dissertation as well as my subsequent digital work, such as the two digital anthologies I co-edited and published in Kairos, or the Scalar article I authored which appeared in the IJLM.
But some analogies are more productive than others. For instance, the use of the term “publish” as applied to putting content online (e.g. publishing to the Web) has proven problematic. In the early days of the internets, there was a notion that having something online meant that it was not eligible for publication in scholarly journals, most of which require that submissions not be previously published. And it's no doubt the notion that anyone can "publish" anything online that has contributed to the marginalization of digital work, or, at the very least, it has contributed to the suspicion of digital work vis-a-vis its degree of rigor. But it's also simply a blind spot that many academics have as I was recently reminded of when working with some more traditional colleagues. As such, I often distinguish between public and published, using the latter term to indicate the jurying that takes place—whether via peer review or editorial review—as opposed to making something publicly available by posting it online.
Screenshots from my 2005 digital dissertation (left) and from several digital publications (right).
One concept I’ve been toying with lately, one that I hope will prove more illuminating or at least less problematic than publish, is that of the “playlist” and its particular resonance for contemporary publishing. The term comes from music of course, whether to indicate a DJ's lineup, a live band's plan (aka "setlist"), or people's song groupings on iTunes and other media players.
I have not thought this all the way through, but so far the notion of the playlist seems useful for a few reasons: The best playlist becomes a musical journey in its own right, where tones and tempos are strategically mixed to guide the mood. Sometimes that means resonance, sometimes the assembly of dissonant sounds. A cut that builds to a loud and fast flourish is often followed by one that is slow and quiet. It's the juxtaposition, in the larger context, that contributes the strength of each. The key is to have a through line.
Thinking of media-rich texts this way, we might be able to escape the entrenched tendencies of logocentrism and the type of thesis-driven, hierarchically-framed prose that has dominated scholarly argument for the last several centuries. Conceptualizing a media-rich text as a playlist, we might view the relationship among the various registers (textual, aural, visual) as illuminating each other, rather than simply illustrating or reiterating each other. This might mean that the image calls the text into question, or it might reinforce it from another angle, but the relationship between and among the constituent parts would undoubtedly be more complex and interesting.
Likewise, we might view the relationship among different texts in an anthology—digital or otherwise—as being playlist-like and, as such, encompassing the potential to help authors/readers/viewers/users explore new ways of knowing, thinking about, and producing academic work. Anthologies already lean this way—after all, the multi-authored nature of an anthology makes heterogeneity inherent to some extent—but there is typically a unity of tone the editor strives for, and often a homogeneity of disciplinary backgrounds among the authors. However, an anthology based on the playlist model would embrace dissonance among its chapters (tracks) whether that means actively recruiting authors from differing backgrounds, including texts with distinctly different styles, or simply assembling texts that mix generic conventions.
The musical roots of the term playlist make it especially valuable given the shared provenance of remix culture which increasingly informs the contemporary mediascape. Indeed, I began toying with the notion of the playlist while co-editing a book-based anthology of feminist texts many of which invoke musical roots to argue for future texts. Early in the process, a potential publisher asked for more cohesiveness between the two sections. It seemed to us (my co-editor and I) that if we conformed, we'd work against one of our basic premises: namely, that digital space offers the possibility of subverting the status quo in the very form that scholarly argument takes. Needless to say, we chose a different publisher; still, I felt the need to more explicitly articulate the objection to this call for conformity.
And it was in the context of reviewing a forthcoming anthology focused on sampling that the potential value of the playlist concept seemed more clear. The anthology constitutes an exceedingly rich inquiry into the diverse nature of the influence of "sampling", but one of the editors framed his contribution by invoking the logic of the playlist, separating each section into "tracks" whose headings simultaneously name the musical texts under consideration, while also indicating the points made with regard to the overlap of the musical, and the cinematic "shadow" of each.
How might this concept resonate more widely and enrich digital publishing?
Screen shot from the Indiewire blog, The Playlist: http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/
Over the past two years I've learned a great deal about digital publishing from editing two open peer-reviewed scholarly volumes: Writing History in the Digital Age (co-edited with Kristen Nawrotzki, published by the University of Michigan Press, 2013) and Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning (with my editorial team at Trinity College, under contract with Michigan Publishing, in progress). Our inspiration for new ways of building books came from Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who welcomed public commentary on her Planned Obsolescence manuscript while under conventional review with her book publisher in 2009-10, and related open peer review projects (Fitzpatrick and Santo 2012). In both of my volumes, we openly invited contributors to try out their initial ideas online, then post full drafts of their essays on the public web for feedback from commissioned experts and general readers, all using their full names. During our first experiment, Writing History generated over 940 comments — many of them quite substantive — during an eight-week open review period in Fall 2011, and at this moment, Web Writing has sparked over 850 comments during a six-week period, which ends October 30th, 2013. When other scholars ask for advice about launching their own open peer review or digital publishing ventures, at least three reflections come to mind.
Rethink traditional norms on how scholars write books. Most of my prior experience in scholarly writing was spent in relative isolation, working on single-author pieces, because that's what nearly everyone else was doing in my field. (My graduate training is in history.) Even when other scholars invited me to submit a chapter to an edited volume, the process was secluded because I rarely saw what other contributors had written until the final book was published, often a year or two later. History conferences typically offered little improvement, as most scholars read aloud their papers, word-for-word, rather than taking advantage of the social gathering (and the web) to ask for a close reading of drafts circulated in advance. When my early collaborators and I experimented in 2010 with what eventually became Writing History in the Digital Age, we simply "flipped the conference" by posting our papers beforehand on a website that allowed rich commenting, and reorganizing the conference session to engage the audience in group discussions about the content and process, similar to how some educators have "flipped the classroom."
Build partnerships with open-access book publishers when possible. To transform a handful of conference papers into a full-fledged edited volume on the web, we understood that academic authors (particularly junior scholars) needed motivation to contribute to a scholarly product that would be recognized by hiring and tenure committees. For that reason, we crafted Writing History as a book — not a blog — and used WordPress tools to make it look and feel like a conventional book, with chapters, footnotes, and so forth. Furthermore, we partnered with an academic press that provided a book contract, commissioned expert reviewers, and best of all, agreed to publish the final product in two formats: print on-demand (for sale) and open-access online (for free). We gladly signed away any royalties on book sales, because that was never the primary motivator for us and our contributors. Instead, as reviewer Tim Burke pointed out, scholars operate in the realm of "reputation capital," which rises in value when more people can freely read our words on the open web (Conclusions, para. 40).
Clarify editorial process and intellectual property with contributors. Sharing drafts on the web — for public commentary — is a risky business for scholars, particularly junior ones. As editors in charge of creating an online edited volume, we sought to clarify key stages of our decision-making process in advance (to reduce the chance of angry academics yelling at us after the fact) and to make intellectual property rights fair and more intelligible than typical book publisher's contracts (of which few seem to have been updated for the digital age). See how we explained the editorial process, copyright policy, and Creative Commons licensing in Web Writing, then consider what principles you would like to see in your proposed publication, and how you would communicate these thoughts to prospective authors. Furthermore, with multi-author projects such as edited books, it's worth reminding contributors that all have a stake in participating in the open peer review process, because a higher-quality volume will raise the reputation of individual chapters, thereby lifting all boats.
While this short essay lists only three brief reflections on open peer review with web-based books, what's striking is that the most important lessons are more social and institutional, rather than technological, as Fitzpatrick (16) has observed about scholarly communication in general. To be clear, innovative digital publishing will require scholarly authors to roll up our sleeves and dig our hands deeper into the web, particularly with easy-to-learn, open-source tools, including WordPress plugins such as CommentPress and PressBooks. But the key principle is to collaborate with other academics, librarians, technologists, and editors, rather than fall into our traditional practices as solo authors of individual monographs. Don't venture into digital publishing alone.
"Conclusions: What We Learned from Writing History in the Digital Age," Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds. Writing History in the Digital Age. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013. Web.
Dougherty et al., Jack, eds. Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. Open peer review edition. Under contract with Michigan Publishing, 2013.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. NYU Press, 2011.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen, and Avi Santo. Open Review: A Study of Contexts and Practices. 2012. Web.
My recent experience in digital publishing, in my roles – two of my many roles – as editor of Cinema Journal and as scriptwriter of My So-Called Secret Identity, suggests how far online content has come and how far it has to go; what it can do differently from traditional media, and where its perceived limitations lie.
Expanding CJ’s online reach and content was a key aspect of my application for the editorship, and it’s been warmly supported by the SCMS executive – and, I’m glad to say, welcomed by the journal’s readership, which has in turn been expanded by our online initiatives. I work with Chris Becker, in the newly-created role of CJ Online Editor, to implement the strategy I outlined in my application, and already we are starting to take it further, building on the success of this initial phase. So far we partner with Antenna for conference reports and In Media Res for ‘In Focus’, with our ‘Afterthoughts and Postscripts’ feature (inviting author reflections on their own articles) hosted on the CJ page, and the innovative podcast Aca-Media, run by Chris with Michael Kackman, on its own site. The underlying idea was to increase the opportunities for dynamic interaction with the journal, allowing it to ‘overflow’ from the core text (the print version) and enter scholarly conversation in a range of different ways.
At around the same time, I launched My So-Called Secret Identity, [illustration from Issue 3, above] best described as a feminist collaborative superhero comic; I first described it as ‘building a better Batgirl’. I funded the initial set-up myself, paying developer Lindsay Searles to build the site in collaboration with me and the two primary artists Sarah Zaidan and Suze Shore. My reasons for online publishing were very simple: it seemed the quickest and most effective way to reach an audience. My aim for MSCSI was primarily to get the project out there, to prompt discussion and maybe change some minds about women in the superhero genre (and to tell a good story with great art, along the way). Setting up a website and then publicising it through every contact I could pull favours from – social media, traditional media, academia – was the most immediate way of getting our work to a readership. We very quickly gained 1500 fans on Facebook and 700 on Twitter, and even more significantly, funded our next three issues and supported a women’s refuge charity (raising about $4000 total) through our donations page.
So with both projects, I’ve been very much involved with digital publishing during 2013, and it’s proved very successful. However, it’s striking, in the context of these multiple online initiatives, how important the printed page remains to so many people. One of the most frequently-asked-questions about MSCSI is ‘when’s it coming out as a printed comic’ – the artists, too, were very keen to hold a copy in their hands – and many people responded to my digital CJ plans with ‘what’s going to happen to the actual journal?’ In the latter case, my online strategy is always backed up with a reassurance that the journal remains the core text, with the digital platforms circulating like satellites around it. In the former, we’ve made a deal to publish the first two issues with Geeked magazine in November 2013, and the response has been ecstatic – almost as if the comic is becoming ‘real’, for many readers, for the first time. Despite the enthusiasm for digital innovation, I’ve found that old habits, old tastes, and old preferences die hard.
Historical narratives of the birth of printing in Europe tend to zero in on one technological innovation: Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type. There are good reasons for this, of course, reasons that are well known and need not be repeated here. But early printing shops required innovative solutions to a great variety of additional problems, problems that might have been technological (page layouts, book formats, getting ink to adhere in the best manner), financial (creating a business model centered on a novel technology, securing capital, selling and warehousing stock), or social (piracy, censorship, the perceived primacy of manuscripts) in nature. Early printers often wore many hats while struggling to get their products to potential buyers, serving as translators, publishers, retailers, marketers, and bookkeepers, inter alia, all while mastering and refining a revolutionary new technology.
These disparate roles soon became distinct occupations that supported the growing business of printing ephemera, broadsides, books, and periodicals. Over time printers, papermakers, ink makers, advertisers, editors, marketers, retailers, and many others formed a web of interconnected professions that supplied the public with printed materials of staggering variety. And over time the printer, for whom publishing was initially one of many professional roles, became a specialist contracted by publishers.
There were of course many permutations of the basic model I have sketched here; newspapers, for example, tended to keep many of these roles under one roof while they were highly distributed in book publishing. Within the world of the academy, a somewhat odd model took shape. Institutions of higher learning paid the salaries of the professoriate, who then gave away (or perhaps earned a small amount from) the journal articles and monographs that they produced as part of their professional responsibilities to their employers. These scholars also provided the labor of pre- and post-publication peer review. Many of their works were published by presses and journals subsidized by universities, and in turn universities often constituted the sole clients of these publishers, buying back the labor of their faculties and the output of the presses and journals that they subsidized.
Expressing this model as a series of business transactions has, I hope, had the effect of highlighting how odd this arrangement was from a dollar and cents perspective. But here’s the point: it worked. It worked not as a revenue-generating venture necessarily, but as a way of documenting the progress and debates of the many disciplines under the ample aegis of the modern university. This was clearly not a business model aimed at increasing market share and maximizing profit. But this arrangement played a critical role in maximizing the return of the two most important assets of any institution of higher learning: its faculty and its library, those who produced new knowledge and the sum of that knowledge curated and made discoverable for others.
Today we live in the digital incunable era, a time rife with challenges remarkably similar to those faced by early printers. The contemporary digital scholar often edits, translates, annotates, publishes, negotiates rights for, design interfaces for, and distributes her scholarly work. The many technological, social, political, and financial problems inherent in such work are burdensome, but this is clearly a direction in which we must move and many have taken up the call. On top of these challenges, however, many scholars are for the first time being asked that their work be self-sustaining, or even revenue generating. In the model sketched above, a faculty member some decades ago who was asked by his employer how his research would be self-sustaining might be forgiven his surprise; he was, after all, planning for the university to pay him for working on it, to buy it back from his publisher, and then to pay librarians to curate it and make it freely available to others. Yet somehow the move to digital publishing has brought with it frequent expectations of profitability and self-sustainability that were not part of the print model of scholarship; the scaffolding of subsidized support has been pulled from beneath the scholar at the time of greatest need.
Times are tight and budgets are shrinking on many campuses. This is not a trivial problem, nor one which there is time to address here. But efforts to turn scholarly projects, academic presses, and libraries into revenue generators are not working precisely because these were never designed to create wealth. In casting about for new sources of revenue, colleges and universities must be sure to protect their core investments – their faculties and libraries – by continuing to invest in, and indeed by finding ways to subsidize, the producers, publishers, and curators of new knowledge.
The featured image for this post care of the Audrey Alexandra Brown Collection at UVic. Digitization by Jana Millar Usiskin. - See more at: http://maker.uvic.ca/preservation/#sthash.zschFuKO.dpuf
Bob Nicholson, a historian of nineteenth-century popular culture, identifies his introduction to The Times Digital Archive as the instant he crossed the Rubicon into the world of academia. In "Digital Detectives: Rediscovering the Scholar Adventurer", he narrates the excitement he felt when he discovered that he could ceaselessly trawl through terabytes of uncharted history, and perhaps be paid to do it. In his discussion, he nods to Richard Altick, suggesting that being introduced to The Times Digital Archive revived the “scholar adventurer” that had been stomped out of him during his undergraduate courses, in which instructors accepted the read-and-repeat model for scholarly analysis: well-supported but bland, uninventive arguments in lieu of original or creative scholarship. For Nicholson, digital archives provided the opportunity to include primary archival material in his scholarly projects, which in turn fostered exploration and play, not to mention ways of bridging the gap between researcher, audience, and archive.
At a time when academia is becoming increasingly invested in all things digital, and experts have given analog publications a grim prognosis, Kathleen Fitzpatrick refuses to blankly accept projections heralding the impending “death” of the print monograph. Rather, she understands print as forcefully "undead" in the face of obsolescence. In Planned Obsolescence, she optimistically insists that print’s "undeadness" prompts scholars to "consider the work that the book is and isn’t doing for us, the ways that it remains vibrant and vital, and the ways that it has become undead, haunting the living from beyond the grave" (Fitzpatrick 7). While, in response to this week's survey question about new insights into digital publishing, it is tempting to engage in one of the many debates surrounding the future of the book, my aim is not to muse on the ontology of print or prophesize its passing. Instead, I would like to respond to Fitzpatrick’s mandate that scholars—whether they plan to publish in digital or print—think critically about the composition and publication choices they are making, with attention to how print and digital media recursively relate. Put differently, I want to talk about how digital publishing allows us to do more with historical materials and our memory institutions, to use new mechanisms to publish analog perspectives.
Recently, I have been testing the affordances of Scalar, an open-access, open-source platform for multimodal composition and publication for my work in the Maker Lab in the Humanities at the University of Victoria. After exploring what the Scalar team showcases on their website, I have found that Scalar-driven scholarship is rife with media of a particular variety. For example, "Freedom's Ring," is a compelling versioning and visualization of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. In addition to contrasting the written and performed versions of King's speech, it embeds facsimiles of documents, photographs, political posters, and newspapers, as well as interviews, video, and audio recordings into its dynamic interface, all of which are tied to the iconic March on Washington as well as historical questions of social justice. While "Freedom's Ring" cannot literally bring the material archive along with its crumbling documents, dust, and hidden surprises into the reader's hands, it does help readers engage as closely as possible with the artifacts of cultural history. More importantly, it renders the material aspects of history as prominent components of scholarly communication and simultaneously does away with the disillusionment that Nicholson references in his article.
Importantly, though, I have learned that a media-rich aesthetic does not undercut so-called "monomodal" approaches to communication. True, platforms like Scalar afford some visually stimulating publications, especially through their data visualization features, but dynamic media does not simply imbue scholarship with some extra flair, some scholarly communication version of "put a bird on it." As a whole, these media correspond with a range of primary, archival resources for research. In fact, the whiz bang effects and compelling visualizations afforded by the Scalar platform may not ultimately be what makes it interesting to most scholars. Perhaps paradoxically, "going digital" with Scalar demands—to borrow from the theme of the 2013 Digital Humanities Forum at the University of Kansas—a "return to the material" that simultaneously relies upon and reinvents the stuff of analog holdings and pre-digital history. Instead of pointing audiences to collections or only referencing resources in the stacks, many Scalar projects draw audiences closer to the fabric of history and the materiality of the historical record. They do more than merely re-present the archive at a remove; they reanimate it.
In this sense digital publishing is central to the trajectories of our memory institutions and their analog materials, not a threat to them. Archives across North America and around the world are developing digitization initiatives that ensure the long-term preservation of cultural materials, while promoting a more "immersive" or "interactive" experience for their audiences. But what good are these initiatives if they are not interpreted, if they remain cached in some hitherto dusty, little-trodden corner of the Internet?
Let us not forget that digital publishing exists largely for its audiences. As digital scholarly publishing becomes more prevalent, it incites a multimodal and often audience-centered focus in scholars’ work that should inspire more experimentation with analog materials. In the coming months I look forward to thinking more deeply about the implications of digital publishing, and working with my colleagues in the Maker Lab, where projects—like Kits for Cultural History, Jon Johnson and Nina Belojevic's circuit-bending work, and Jana Millar Usiskin's Scalar book on Canadian poet Audrey Alexandra Brown—take innovative approaches to scholarship by highlighting material history in ways that hitherto remain relatively untapped. Above all, I believe it is important that the efficacy of our work (through its rendering of our engagement with primary sources) becomes an ongoing consideration.
With so many options for digital publishing available, I'll conclude with this question for you: when incorporating material history and the historical record into our publications, how else might we inspire original scholarship and defy disillusionment?
Belojevic, Nina. “Looking at Games through Circuit Bending.” Maker Lab in the Humanities. University of Victoria. 3 October 2013. Web. 8 October, 2013. Retrieved from: http://maker.uvic.ca/nesbending/
Bissell, Evan. "Freedom's Ring." Web. 9 October, 2013. Retrieved from: http://scalar.usc.edu/showcase/freedoms-ring/
Canada. Library and Archives Canada. News. "Library and Archives Canada and Canadiana.org partner on digitization, online publication of millions of images from archival microfilm collection." [Ottawa:] Library and Archives Canada, August 2013. Web. 16 October, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/news/Pages/2013/lac-canadiana-partner-digit…
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. MediaCommons, 2009. Web. Retrieved from: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/plannedobsolescence/
Johnson, Jonathan. "Building an SNES 'Glitch Controller'." Maker Lab in the Humanities. University of Victoria. 29 August, 2013. Web. 8 October, 2013. Retrieved from: http://maker.uvic.ca/snes/
Macpherson, Shaun. “Sayers and Turkel Awarded SSHRC Grant.” Maker Lab in the Humanities. University of Victoria. 16 September, 2013. Web. 8 October, 2013. Retrieved from: http://maker.uvic.ca/insight/
Millar Usiskin, Jana. "The Audrey Alexandra Brown Exhibit." Maker Lab in the Humanities. University of Victoria. 2 September, 2012. Web. 8 October, 2013. Retrieved from: http://maker.uvic.ca/brown/
Nicholson, Bob. "Digital Detectives: Rediscovering the Scholar Adventurer." Victorian Periodicals Review. 45.2 (2012). 215-223. Print.
"Portlandia: Put a Bird on it." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube 14 September, 2011. Web. 17 October, 2013.
"Return to the Material Conference." Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities. The University of Kansas. 14 September, 2013. Web. 18 October, 2013.
The visual essay (VE, although the term is not without its problems as “visual” implies the lack of an audio track and “essay” sometimes denotes a form of scholarship lesser than a conference paper or journal article), for those unfamiliar with the format, is often a hybrid of documentary filmmaking and scholarship similar to an article written for an academic journal. I say often because the format is young, there are only a handful of scholars producing them, and because some visual essay artists produce texts that have a poetic structure that nurtures an implied argument. For the sake of this brief response, I will be discussing the explicitly persuasive side of the spectrum. My own VE, “From the Panel to the Frame: Style and Scott Pilgrim,” illustrates the concept of stylistic remediation with regard to comic books and their film adaptations and how analyses of style can complicate our understanding of transmedia storytelling. The essay, unlike the poetic mode, is voice-over driven and seeks to define, analyze, and elaborate upon Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s theory of remediation and Henry Jenkins’s definition of transmedia storytelling.
The VE format is a gift to scholars in disciplines focused on the study of visual media (Cinema Studies, Media Studies, Comics Studies, etc.) for several reasons. Speaking anecdotally, my dissertation was a formal analysis of the relationship between comics and film. In the form of the dissertation, I needed to rely on prose and the occasional image of a comic book page or frame grab to capture a complex stylistic relationship. If you were to read the chapter that I adapted into the visual essay, the pairing of prose and imagery would give you a general sense of how comic book artists and filmmakers differ in their representation of space. However, the visual evidence in the VE provides a more vivid and nuanced portrait of the phenomenon of stylistic remediation because its representation is not limited by static images and text. In short, we can use film to analyze film.
Furthermore, the VE format is capable of both reaching a larger audience (“From the Panel to the Frame” has been watched more than 12,000 times) and inspiring a more participatory discussion than an academic article - accessible via subscription - can. The visual essay is digital and openly published. Yet, ease of access is only part of the equation. After all, a scholar can publish PDFs of his or her scholarship openly. More significantly, the artist needs to adapt his or her prose to the medium, away from academic prose and towards the aural friendly. That is not to say the academic visual essay avoids engaging in the theoretical; it simply engages in the theoretical in a more accessible and concise fashion.
To avoid furthering the concept of an academic digital utopia, the visual essay as a digital publishing format is not without its problems. Obviously, fair use and copyright are obstacles (this appears to be more of a problem for those VE artists that seek mainstream distribution, like Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma and Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself). More significantly, most published VEs suffer from a perceived lack of academic integrity. This false perception stems from multiple factors, with the most significant being the lack of an academic journal solely devoted to publishing, nurturing, and furthering the format. The good news is that a team of visual essay scholars and practitioners (myself included) are collaborating with two organizations focused on furthering digital publication in Cinema and Media Studies in establishing the first peer-reviewed videographic (as opposed to visual essay) academic journal. We hope this legitimization encourages scholars interested in the format to take the leap and bridge theory to practice, further developing and defining what this presentational format can offer.
One of the great (if often undervalued) scholarly achievements of the twentieth century was to re-theorize and adapt the ancient tradition of textual criticism toward the specific end of critically editing print-era texts. I believe that digital publishing bears the institutional burden of carrying this achievement forward into digital environments and should do so primarily by producing open-access, collaborative critical editions of the many pre-1900 print texts that are in the public domain and increasingly available in digital archives like Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) and GoogleBooks.
The digital revolution has had an ambivalent effect upon the practice of critical editing. On one hand, digital technologies have enabled a steadily increasing number of the multimedia, hypertextual scholarly editions called for in Jerome McGann’s famous 1997 “Rationale of Hypertext.” Digital technologies (such as Juxta and other collation softwares) have moreover expedited the editorial process even for print form editions. On the other hand, the architecture of the many digital archives now offering scholars and students ready access to a mass of print form documents in the public domain has effectively blinded their users to the questions of textual authority fundamental to the tradition of critical editing that aims to identify, collate, adjudicate, and (crucially) display to readers the variants among different documentary witnesses to the same “work.” For the OCR scans used for digital mark-up in archives like ECCO are unedited at even the basic level of proofreading, yet most such archives hide these error-ridden OCR scans from readers, who instead see only the visually “perfect” PDF images displayed as the results of searches based on those “dirty” OCR scans. Ironically, the digital revolution has thus at once expanded and enriched the tools available to editors and exponentially multiplied the number of works that editors need to prepare for properly critical use by scholars and students.
I propose that the best way for digital publishing to respond to this ironic situation is to publish open-access, collaborative critical editions of the print form texts available in digital archives like ECCO. And let me stress that the kind of critical editions I propose are different from multimedia hypertextual “editions” like the Rossetti Archive and the Blake Archive. For as the name of these “archives” indicates, and as Kathryn Sutherland has cogently argued, such “editions” are in fact more like ECCO than twentieth-century print form critical editions, insofar as these archive-editions effectively refuse to establish a historically and theoretically authoritative and stable text of works, and instead allow each individual user to construct her own text(s). And as Sutherland argues, by thus shifting the editorial function of “establishing” the text onto users/readers, hypertextual archive-editions tend to short-circuit communal interpretive debate about texts, since different users make and interpret different versions of the same work.
This is certainly not to say that hypertextual archives are innately pernicious and should be abandoned. Rather, it is to stress that hypertextual archive-editions have different affordances and functions from properly critical editions that do, on explicit historical and theoretical grounds, make an argument for the authority of a particular text of a work and even (in the case of “eclectic” editing) create a “new” version of the work by judiciously combining readings from different historically extant witnesses to the work.
There are many ways that digital publishing can expedite and facilitate properly critical editions, but because digital publishing facilitates collaborative work in ways that print forms rarely does and also increasingly facilities and legitimate open-access publication (for example by post-publication peer review/crowd-sourcing peer review), I would propose that such editions should be produced by collaboration and published as open-access shared intellectual property. Being the instructor of the course in Textual Editing that Megan Mize earlier posted about on this survey, I obviously believe that one major way to produce digital critical editions is through such courses, which achieve two related ends: they train a new generation of critical editors, and they produce critically valid editions that inform users about the textual history and status of the texts they are reading.
Megan rightly (and by laudable intellectual habit) frets over the validity of editions such as the one our course produced of Hell upon Earth/Memoirs of John Hall. She is right that there were problems in making the explanatory notes consistent in scope and intent within the timespan of a semester. But even if those explanatory notes remain imperfect, as an experienced editor I would say that our edition fully accomplishes the basic task of critical editing as summarized above: to identify, collate, adjudicate, and—again crucially—display to readers the variants among textual witnesses to the work(s) edited. There certainly remain issues to do with the mechanics of peer review and legitimacy. For instance, can I or students in the class include this edition in our CV lists of publication without the * that conventionally delegitimizes them as non-peer reviewed? This and other issues remain to be worked out at an institutional level, but based on my experience of this class, ones like it are a legitimate and useful application of the protocols of critical editing within digital publishing environments. Toward the end of fostering similar courses, the course syllabus and a pedagogic reflection will be (shortly) published along with our edition on the webpage of the PhD program here at ODU.
My friend and colleague Doug Eyman opened his post on this topic with the question, “what constitutes ‘digital publishing’” (2013)? To his answer I would add my own: digital dissertations. Although dissertations are not formally peer reviewed and edited, anyone who has written or directed a dissertation knows that this work happens with dissertations as well. Thus, dissertations, specifically born-digital dissertations constitute a form of digital publishing. Given my interests and research it is this type of digital publication that I focus on below.
Over roughly the past ten years humanities scholars have begun to recognize the growing importance of digital media in knowledge production and distribution. (Andersen, 2004; Purdy & Walker, 2010) However, recognition does not imply embrace. While there are some scholars in traditional disciplines such as history and English who have incorporated digital media and tools into their research and publication practices, they mostly operate in the margins of traditional disciplines. The most valued scholarship is still the book, monograph, and journal article, which not only limits the audience for humanities research to university scholars, but also limits its forms of argumentation to a primarily Western, linearly structured way of thinking. That is, relying on one mode of communication limits what can be said and to whom it can be said making the humanities insular rather than allowing it to take advantage of opportunities to communicate with the broader public. Employment and research opportunities exist in many areas outside academia including digital poetry and fiction, publishing, public relations. However, this forward thinking approach to digital media is not the norm in academic publication and scholarship.
Even my field of rhetoric and composition, which has a longstanding acceptance of computer technology, is still grappling with the implications digital media technologies have for research in the humanities. The reluctance of humanities scholars to fully embrace digital publication and scholarship is not due to its novelty or rapid evolution, but due to a deeply embedded philosophy of knowledge that privileges print-centric ways of knowing and solitary authorship. As Michel Foucault theorizes in “The Orders of Discourse,” disciplines control what is knowable, what counts as disciplinary knowledge, by controlling the methods, procedures, and modes of analysis permissible in conducting research. Anything that falls outside these rules of disciplinary practice cannot count as knowledge, and often is considered nonsensical (1977).
One of the places that this print bias can be clearly seen is the space where new scholars are trained or “disciplined”: doctoral education—specifically the dissertation process. My colleague, Dr. Carrie Lamanna, and I chose to look at doctoral education not as a means to improving or redesigning programs (although that could be an eventual application of our research), but as a way to uncover and analyze the philosophies of knowledge that govern what counts as legitimate scholarship and publication in the humanities. Until we understand this, digital publication and scholarship will never gain full acceptance and be allowed to develop in depth and complexity.
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation’s study The Responsive PhD, argues that “scholarship is the heart of the doctorate” and that programs need to ask the question “What encourages adventurous scholarship? What retards and discourages it?” (The Responsive PhD 2005, p. 16). Adventurous scholarship requires “new paradigms,” which requires an examination of the often unarticulated philosophies that govern what qualifies as legitimate publication and scholarship.
In an effort to begin to answer the questions posed in The Responsive Ph.D., Lamanna and I analyzed the training graduate students are receiving not in pedagogy but in conducting digital, multimodal scholarship outside the classroom. We investigated the new digital composing work being done by graduate students with a specific focus on the research opportunities and challenges they face when composing digital media theses and dissertations. We hypothesized that the forms of digital media make visible the ways in which the traditional print-based form, the standard for humanities theses and dissertations, constrain the research and arguments graduate student scholars can make. Our project was designed to answer the following questions:
- What textual forms are current graduate students permitted to use for their theses and dissertations, what programs and offices regulate these textual forms, and how do format restrictions constrain the types of research graduate students can undertake?
- What theoretical and practical training is necessary for graduate students to be able to make rhetorically sound decisions about using new media forms in their theses and dissertations, and is that training being offered?
- How can the print-based model that encloses humanities research be altered in order for graduate student scholars to fully participate in the critical digital media work being done in the ﬁeld of rhetoric and composition?
These questions grew out of my and Dr. Lamanna’s observations of the dissertation process. As graduate students and then as new faculty we watched as those trained as digital media scholars were not able to enact their scholarship in their dissertations; they were able to write about digital media, but they were not able to write in digital media. Cheryl Ball (2004) elucidated this paradox in her article “Show, not tell: The value of new media scholarship” when she stated:
In writing this article, I acknowledge with an uncomfortable irony that I have created a paradox—it is my intention for authors to think about and understand new media scholarship as a way to use multiple modes of communication to form persuasive meanings…instead of always relying on written, linear text. Yet, I am not enacting the practice I suggest. Mea culpa: New media scholarship is so new to humanities fields that I wanted the evidence of this linear article to point toward the exploration of new media texts as directly and conventionally as possible. Had I chosen to discuss this issue through new media presentation, the evidence for the necessity of moving toward new media would have had less impact. (p. 404-405)
In order to make her scholarship accessible and acceptable to the field of rhetoric and composition, and to the humanities in general, Ball was constrained to publish it in a linear, print-based form, rather than a digital, multimedia form.
In the eight years since the publication of Ball’s article, opportunities for digital scholarship have increased; however, significant roadblocks to this work still exist including lack of peer-reviewed publication venues and tenure and promotion guidelines that privilege print publications and scholarship over the digital. For doctoral candidates, the roadblocks are significant. The humanities’ slow acceptance of digital publishing and scholarship is a symptom of the dominance of print culture in academia; in addition, graduate programs often want doctoral candidates to prove themselves in traditional print forms before sanctioning digital work. This is evident in the fact that the dissertation is one of the most rigid print forms in the humanities—a format that the author later revises into a monograph for his or her first formal publication. Thus, choosing to compose a digital dissertation means going against a long established tradition that yields the best chances for a successful academic career. The dissertation deposit options also reflect the print-centric philosophy of the humanities.
In addition, the recent NEH-funded project “Building An Open-Source Archive for Born-Digital Dissertations,” found that all the electronic deposit options currently available assume a print-based dissertation (e.g., a word-processing document converted to a PDF) and allow other media forms only as appendices or supplemental material (Gossett & Potts, 2013). Even the Electronic Theses and Dissertations system (ETD) assumes the primary file deposited will be print-based; other media types must be stripped from the main document and deposited as individual files thereby not allowing for complex mixed-media digital work such as integrated websites or database systems. The lack of a robust digital depository system is further evidence of the underlying philosophical importance of print-based publication and scholarship in the humanities. Susan Schreibman, Laura Mandell, and Stephen Olsen make a similar point in their introduction to the digital scholarship section of the 2011 issue of Profession, and they go on to explain that a shift to digital production and publication might well be a paradigm shift in the humanities:
Digital technologies do more than propose new ways of thinking, as did theory; they require new modes of being. To put this in less dramatic terms, the digital revolution requires us as a profession to make conscious the motivations and values inherent in material practices, from putting a manuscript in the mail to a publisher to requiring for tenure “a book between covers.” We must transfer the values informing these activities and practices onto new modes of activity, so that we understand, value, and evaluate theoretical decisions about database modeling, algorithms, and information flows to best support new research and reading practices. (p. 126)
What better place to begin this transformation than in “the space where new scholars are trained or ‘disciplined’… specifically the dissertation process”? By training graduate students in the use of digital publication and research tools and opening the dissertation to digital forms we would prepare the next generation of scholars to see digital publishing as the norm rather than the exception.
Andersen, Daniel. (Ed.) (2004). Digital Scholarship in the Tenure, Promotion, and Review Process. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharp, Inc.
Ball, Cheryl (2004). Show, not tell: The value of new media scholarship. Computers and Composition, 21(4), 403-425.
Eyman, Douglas. (15 October 2013). Toward best practices: The infrastructure of digital publishing. MediaCommons. Retrieved from http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/question/what-are-new-insights-digital-publishing/response/toward-best-practices-infrastructure-digi
Foucault, Michel (1977). The orders of discourse. Social Science Information, 10(2), 7-30.
Goggin, Peter & Boyd, Patricia Webb (2009). Letter from the guest editors. Computers and Composition, 26(1), 1-3.
Gossett, Kathie. & Potts, Liza. (2013). Final report to the NEH on the digital humanities start-up level 1 grant: Building an open-source archive for born digital dissertations. (White paper). National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Digital Humanities.
Purdy, James & Walker, Joyce. (2010). Valuing digital scholarship: Exploring the changing realities of intellectual work. Profession, 177-195.
Schreibman, Susan, Mandell, Laura & Olsen, Stephen. (2011). Evaluating Digital Scholarship: Introduction. Profession, 123–201.
Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, (2005). The responsive ph.d: Innovations in u.s. doctoral education. Retrieved from http://woodrow.org/news/publications/responsive-phd/
“What medium should we choose for this subject matter?” Given the profusion of video clips that attempt to tell a story, deliver an interview or teach/entertain on YouTube, it’s a question not asked often enough by Web-sters.
Just because it’s easy to shoot video doesn’t mean that should be your preferred medium for the content you’re trying to convey.
I see video interviews with interesting information but no transcript, forcing me to sit through the thing in real time versus being able to speedily read through it for the nuggets I crave. Wasted time. Sure, it’s nice to see the faces and body language of the Q-er and A-er, but a still of each, or a two-shot, would suffice.
Granted, some interviews are so fascinating because of the guests’ and questioners’ renown and erudition that they satisfy as video-only experiences, but those are the cream off the top. It’s much more often that A) an entire Q-and-A lacks a constant fascination quotient, B) the video should thus have been edited, or edited more tightly, and C) again, a simple transcript is your best medium.
Consider: A friend emails you a link to a “fascinating interview.” Would you rather the link be to a 17-minute video or a transcript? At what point in your day will you have, or desire to invest, 17 minutes on something that might or might not be fascinating?
So this is, if nothing else, a plea for choosers of video for their interviews to produce transcripts.
A roundup of my other digital peeves, mostly in the journalistic realm, and addressed only to offenders:
• Your website needs more white space! The ads already make it too busy. There seems to be a fear that if a favored item isn’t on the top of the home page, visible before the user hits the page-down button, it will be lost. That’s being too scared. Building breathing room into your content says, “Hey, this is the REAL stuff, not ads!” That makes the home page deeper, but so what? It actually gives the useful illusion that there’s more content.
• Adopt more of the reader-friendly rules of print page design that have been proved over the decades, such as PROPORTION: The rule is that the eye prefers stark differences in size, shape or thickness in trying to distinguish differing elements. That means no 30-point subheadline for a 36-point main headline. Go at least half the size on the smaller element. The heds and body type on your home-page blurbs are way too close in size. At least color one of them differently.
• Why do so many of your headlines break off onto a second line, ending in just one word, flush left? Talk about visual imbalance. Even the New York Times does it.
• Why do your home-page blurbs touting your top stories end in mid-sentence? Because you lifted the lede and the whole sentence wouldn’t fit? You must have a complete thought, whether lifting the lede or not.
• Don’t run tiny photos that can’t be enlarged. That’s frustrating, especially for those without 20-20 vision.
• Highlight the day’s best quotes on the home page. They make the best reading.
Digital publishing is unquestionably stretching the boundaries of what most people think about publishing. Many of us are already familiar with eBooks now available conveniently on eReaders and Tablet devices. Media scholar Jay David Bolter was already actively conceiving of such devices in his 1991 book Writing Spaces. But digital publishing extends far beyond the traditional novel. Traditional academic labor is also changing, and with it, what counts toward tenure now can include articles published on sites like Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology and Pedagogy, or Hybrid Pedagogy: A Digital Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Technology. As an intern at Hybrid Pedagogy, I am privileged to witness many of the ongoing conversations concerning the future of digital publishing.
Speed and efficiency are clear benefits of digital publishing. Most scholars are familiar with the lag time that exists with new ideas. I may come up with an innovative idea about cellular phones and language, and then, a year later when my article is published, the phone I was using as my object of study is no longer available on the market. Fortunately, the way that digital publishing is currently headed, we have the ability to push out relevant theories, studies, and tools at a speed comparable to that of the lifespan of a piece of tech. Further, it is possible that we no longer will need to include those cumbersome works cited pages at the ends of papers in the world of digital publishing. A simple hyperlink to an article or an author, as I am doing in this response, can fulfill the same need, and some might argue that hyperlinks create consumption based on collaboration. As long as the article in question is not trapped behind a pay wall, anyone on the internet can get the information they need to best understand a digitally published article, blog, or tweet.
Embedded non-traditional media is another feature of digital publishing. Including original or non-copyrighted photographs are becoming common. Some people are even moving toward embedding gifs or videos. For example, Susan G. Taylor, in promoting vlogging (video blogging) as composition, includes a vlog of her article “Vlogging Composition: Making Content Dynamic.” Videos or photos can be instructional, or can provide an image that an alphabetic description cannot fully describe.
But it’s important to remain critical of the digital publishing environment. I often engage in conversations over issues such as “What do I do with this flood of information?” “How do I judge the credibility of online journals?” and “If nothing is behind a pay wall, how do publications like academic journals pay their employees and contributors?” Not everything digital is wonderful. I try not to be guilty of what Veblen calls ‘technological determinism.’ Further, I disagree with Richard Lanham that “All text is digital in origin.” Many of my innovative ideas happen using only a notebook and a pen, never mind that we no longer limit ‘text’ to the alphabetic. Not everything needs to end up online for it to be relevant or innovative.
Innovation is important, both online and off, but no one can do it alone. We live in a networked world, collaborating sometimes even when we don’t realize it. There will always be someone who knows more, or knows how to do a task more efficiently, or with more style. Code writers don’t do it alone, even if their work-life often looks solitary. No longer are we writers in isolation sitting at a desk waiting for the genius of language to flow through us onto the page. Let’s face it – that’s never been true. In order to innovate, whether it’s embedding non-traditional media into our work, or creating a non-linear piece for audience exploration, we need to collaborate. But we also need to be aware of the limits of the digital.
I'll preface my answer to this survey question with a counter-question: what constitutes "digital publishing"? Is it everything that is on the Web? Or do we apply constraints that specify publishing as engaging an editor-function (to riff on Foucault's author function in terms of who is allowed to transgress/publish), or perhaps limiting our definition to specific generic forms and their containers (books, which become e-books, journal articles, which become webtexts, and so on). I think many of the issues I bring up below may be broadly applied, but I will limit myself to speaking from experience and focus my answer specifically on academic publishing that engages some form of review and editorial oversight (thus, not self-publication, and not creative publications, but yes, collectives and blogs and new venues can fit). In the response that follows, I attempt to make some suggestions about what digital publishing can do — and what it should do.
Early in my academic career, I joined the staff of a new digital journal that aimed to do something a little different with academic writing, with a particular focus on the teaching of writing in the networked, digital spaces made possible by computer classrooms and the emergence of a new network paradigm called the "World Wide Web." The journal would bridge the traditional and the experimental by keeping the genre conventions of the academic journal (such as articles, volumes, and issues), as well as peer-review, but it would jettison the traditional print essay in favor of multimodal texts that could take advantage of links, images, audio, video, and interactivity. That journal is Kairos, which published its first issue in 1996, and has been continuously publishing since then — and also continuing to walk a fine line between tradition and innovation. I've been with the journal in various capacities since the end of that first year, and much of my thinking about digital publishing has formed rather organically in the context of this particular publication.
I think that many of the experiments and innovations that digital publishing make possible are not as visible, at first glance, to readers; in fact, I would say that the most interesting work in digital publishing is at the level of infrastructure — the tools, platforms, and activities that lead up to and support the publication of new scholarly works in networked digital spaces. I'd also like to suggest that some of the infrastructural work of publishing can be viewed as either theoretical infrastructure (the values and ideologies that support new forms of publication) or practical infrastructure (new tools and platforms, technical decisions, and the actual editing process, which is in turn founded upon the theoretical infrastructure). I make this claim because I think there is value in shifting the notion of infrastructure (from a systems perspective) from a pragmatic concern to an epistemic one — infrastructure isn't just the wires or the pipes; it's also the theories and methods that drive assessments of optimal pipe placement and wire usage.
Four key infrastructural issues that I think emerge from a close look at contemporary approaches to (academic) digital publishing are: 1) the possibilities inherent in championing new forms of writing and new forms of argument; 2) the importance of engaging the relationships among rhetoric, design, and code; 3) the ability to imagine and test new models of peer review; and 4) technical and temporal challenges that editors and publishers must not ignore. Although I could write a book (or e-book) on each of these, I'll limit myself to brief remarks that I hope will encourage some questions and comments.
New Forms of Writing
The most visible ways that digital publishing continues to innovate come from the new forms of writing that are not only possible, but with the availability of new tools, more easily crafted than ever before. Weaving together audio, video, and a hypertextual network of lexia architected through links is still more labor-intensive than traditional print-based writing, but it is getting easier. On the other hand, even with new tools, crafting this kind of writing requires additional media literacies and developing new literacies takes time (that is, the most scarce resource in all of academia). Because of this increased complexity, I think that digital publishing tends to support more collaborative work that brings together experts in designing and writing through different media — and as such collaborative work becomes commonplace, perhaps it can be appropriately valued in those fields and disciplines that still operate on the fiction that knowledge making is a solitary, individual endeavor. I believe we will also see more new forms that require greater interaction between text and reader; I've been approached by a number of potential authors about the possibility of publishing a digital, playable game as a scholarly argument, and I hope that we get to do that in the next year or so.
Rhetoric, Design, Code
A key insight for me was to recognize that a scholarly argument could be made through design itself, and not just contained in words. What this means for scholars who wish to explore new forms of meaning-making is that rhetorical skill has to be leveraged with a deeper understanding of (and facility with) design. Rhetoric, design, and code interact in the webtexts we publish at Kairos, and in so doing, arguments are not so much recited as enacted. If new forms of writing are made possible through a synthesis of media and interaction, the fundamental architecture — the infrastructure — of these new forms is in the interaction of rhetoric, design, and code. And my answer to the question of whether scholars in fields like computers and writing or the digital humanities should learn to code is: yes. At least learn the basic literacies and functions of code so that you can effectively collaborate with coders.
New Models of Peer Review
New forms of writing may require new forms of peer review, at least in terms of the mechanics of reviewing. When we review submissions at Kairos, we look at the overall work and how well it uses rhetoric, design, and code to further its arguments. This means that reviewers need to be able to competently review multiple media, which is a different approach from the review of a traditional print text. We're still working on building systems that will help support this kind of evaluation and assessment (certainly a need in digital publishing is improved infrastructure for the many new and more complex review needs that arise when new kinds of work are submitted).
I'm also encouraged by the way that digital publication in general supports experimentation with peer review. I have seen examples of pre-publication review (which has been around for awhile in the sciences, but isn't likely to get much uptake in the humanities, as evidenced by recent arguments in favor of embargoing online access to dissertations), crowd sourced peer review (here at MediaCommons), traditional double-blind peer review (which is difficult to pull off for digital submissions), and post-publication review (e.g. the Journal of Digital Humanities). At Kairos, we have been using a system that isn't blind, but does involve group review by the entire editorial board, followed by a closer review by a sub-group; this model provides the checks and balances provided by blind review and also grants our editorial board access to the full range of submissions. I think there are still a number of options for finding working models of peer review for digital publication and I'm interested to see where those appear and how they turn out.
Challenges of Digital Publishing: Accessibility, Usability, Sustainability
Finally, a word about challenges and the need to build infrastructural means to meeting them head-on. Accessibility continues to be a serious issue for digital publishing, particularly as technology and media continue to evolve. By accessibility, I mean that we want the most number of people to have access to our work regardless of their location, economic standing, or physical ability. Authors and editors need to be aware of the consequences of decisions about the media they use — such as bandwidth requirements, the need to provide transcripts and best practices for accessibility (not just meeting basic ADA requirements)1. I would also suggest that we continue to create and champion open-access journals (but that we need to start working on means to counteract fraudulent journals that claim OA status). Accessibility and usability are closely linked, of course, and I would urge digital publishing venues to consider both as integral elements in the development or review of submissions (and not as post-hoc additions). Finally, the issue of sustainability means maintaining stable archives of the work we publish, which requires careful thinking about whether to use proprietary publication formats. And committing the resources needed to keep those archives available in perpetuity—scholarship should not be ephemeral.
As a closing, I'll end with a query: what kinds of infrastructure do we need to develop and expand? What's missing from our current models? What happens next?
1 The current issue of Kairos includes a number of excellent webtexts addressing questions of accessibility in digital scholarship and teaching.
This past spring, I participated in a Textual Editing and Criticism course, in which students worked collaboratively to edit the unattributed print texts Hell Upon Earth (1703) and The Memoirs of John Hall (available in two variants from 1708 and a 1714 version), creating a hybrid of the two. As a result of that hands-on project, two major issues arose. First, we confronted the value of open access and collaboration. If we open a text to amateurs (in our case, students learning the proverbial “ropes”), how do we guarantee quality? If we use “expert” editors after receiving amateur input, how do we preserve the collaborative nature of the project? Second, we examined the changing role of the editor as a content producer, who must now consider coding and visual rhetorics to use digital spaces effectively. Is developing such a wide-ranging skill set worthwhile when crowd-sourced editing is an option?
As novice editors grafting editing theories and strategies onto a new medium, our project undermined assumptions regarding the “ease” of digital publication. Students edited in pairs, dividing the texts into sections; after transcribing and collating sections, the groups combined their work, reflecting the hybrid nature of the text through a complex structure. In a short time, the class produced a multi-faceted document with a wealth of contextual information and publication details; in some ways, it suffered from information overload. Initially, the new text would not have eased the reading process (a common goal); it was difficult to recognize the combined text as a uniform, critical edition. The final solution was old-fashioned: a few dedicated editors combed through the document, standardizing the structure, footnotes and so on, when possible.
The situation gave rise to a series of questions. If the digital space allows for a democratization of the editing process, inviting “non-expert” participants, who may not be editors but may have (or might not have) expertise in content, to work alongside expert editors, is the product still a critical edition? Does such a product serve the same purposes as the traditional critical edition and have the same ethos (perhaps it has more)? If experts are needed to “clean up” the text, is it possible, or even desirable, to preserve the collaborative nature of the project?
In addition to decisions regarding the critical apparatus, levels of editorial intervention, and the organization of the combined primary material, participants considered the affordances and constraints of publishing online. For instance, if one employs a hyperlinking structure, how does this influence the ever sticky issue of authorial intent, regarding the way the text “should” be read (complicated in our case by the lack of a clearly identified author)? Does this approach undermine the critical choices made by editors by encouraging the reader to act as a sort of individual editor, piecing together meaning? Or conversely, do those hyperlinks control the reader’s experience in undesirable ways?
In the end, our edited text mimics its print counterparts in most ways, as the class choose to create a pdf. with footnotes that hyperlinked to the appropriate appendix when necessary. Anything more would require a level of coding knowledge and document design for digital spaces that none of the participants possessed, as well as time beyond the constraint of a semester. The complicated publication history of Hell Upon Earth and The Memoirs of John Hall continues to evolve, from four related textual witnesses of unclear origins to an eclectic text, produced by several editors and published in digital form. The completed edition will be published, for free, on the ODU English PhD page in the near future; it is informative and well worth the read.
With that being said, I now need to turn this article over to my editor, for her approval.
Digital Publishing is perhaps at its most interesting because it is very much in a state of flux and innovation. With more individuals, both in scholarship and private sectors, invested in digital publishing, its possibilities continue to grow. This survey is just that a look over some of the many projects and innovations that are going on in online publishing and through that goal, we have invited individuals invested in archiving, new content, open access, innovative practices, collaborative projects, and teaching the next generation.
As always, we hope that our community here will join the conversation. As such, the Front Page Collective will be tweeting about digital publishing on Tuesday, October 22 at Noon EST. We’ll be using the hashtag #mcsurvey and we hope that you will join us.
Schedule for Digital Publishing Survey
Week 1 October 14-18
Megan Mize Old Dominion University
Doug Eyman George Mason
Valerie Robin Georgia State
Mike Grundmann James Madison University
Week 2 October 21-25
Katherine Gossett Iowa State University
Ed Jacobs Old Dominion University
Drew Morton Texas A&M University
Jentery Sayers University of Victoria
Laura Dosky University of Victoria
Week 3 October 28-Nov 1
Tim Stinson North Carolina State University
Will Brooker Kingston University
Jack Dougherty Trinity College
Virginia Kuhn University of Southern California