Center for Digital Scholarship - Emory University
The open-access, multimedia, peer-reviewed journal Southern Spaceswill soon begin its tenth year.1 Published by the Emory University Libraries, Southern Spaces is an online-only journal of critical regional studies that takes as its subject the real and imagined spaces and places of the US South and their global connections. From its years of encouraging digital cultural empowerment as a strategy to transform scholarly publishing, Southern Spaces offers a case study for inquiring into the effectiveness of a project intent upon increasing participation in the creation, dissemination, and curation of humanities scholarship. Given the entrenched commercial clout of conventional scholarly publishing and the slow-to-change institutional structures for tenure and promotion that still resist digital humanities scholarship, how can we assess the significance of this project of digital cultural empowerment? And how do the years of experience in publishing Southern Spaces contribute to an understanding of broader movements of cultural critique and social change?
Writing about the future of digital scholarly publishing in Educause Review Onlinein 2013, Edward Ayers points to several examples of “acceleration into a full, digital-only environment.”
"Scholars, libraries, and professional organizations in my own field of American history are sustaining innovations in online journals such as Southern Spaces and the Journal of Southern Religion and in digital meeting places such as Common-place and History News Network (HNN). These projects bridge traditional practice and digital possibilities in strategic ways. . . . Blogs and online conversations advance and deepen scholarly conversations, with their impact measured immediately in the number of downloads, views, forwards, comments, and tweets."
Ultimately, however, Ayers argues that outside of a limited number of examples, “the articles and books that scholars produce today bear little mark of the digital age in which they are created. Thus the foundation of academic life—the scholarship on which everything else is built—remains surprisingly unaltered.”2
Years after the emergence of open-access scholarly publishing platforms, the persistence of institutional inertias, rigid business models, and professional habits of judgment delay and thwart wider deployment of the rich media environment and continually expanding platforms of digital dissemination.3 Established academic print journals have little reason to change their modes of publication and few have done so.4 As a result, young scholars, especially in humanities disciplines, find themselves startled by atavistic attitudes. Consider the following excerpt from a letter I recently received from an untenured assistant professor about his journal publishing options:
"I have to share some unfortunate news with you about my contribution to Southern Spaces. I’ve recently been able to have a series of conversations with the new director of my program, who is also my advocate and advisor with regard to tenure and promotion—my review will begin next academic year. I discussed Southern Spaces with [my director] and while we both think that the online format and the multimedia potential of the format are important to the future of scholarship, her advice to me was that other members of my P/T committee have far more traditional views and would be reluctant to recognize Southern Spaces as a publication on par with a print journal. Needless to say, I don’t agree with that assessment, but I think I have to accept it."
Expressed apologetically, “needless to say” acknowledges the tempting, strong, and rising currents of digital publishing practice that are transforming scholarship by making its production more participatory and “free” (in the sense of free speech),5 and its reception widely available. Necessary to say, peer-reviewed Southern Spaces essays are used by scholars in a variety of successful professional efforts including tenure and promotion, applications for post-doc fellowships, and landing new kinds of jobs with digital libraries and regional centers.
As part of its intentionality, the collaborative process of producing an open access journal can create a training center where students acquire a range of skills—working with open source software, copyediting, map making, assisting writers and videographers in developing essays, creating technological tools, implementing layout and design—that are valuable in the new digital publishing environment. In a sense, this is a kind of “building scholarship,” in which “the interventions that occur as a result of building are as interesting as those that are typically established through writing.”6 If conceptualized broadly, open-access journal production should also involve a network of independent scholars; researchers associated with nonprofit, grassroots, and nongovernmental organizations; alt-academic writers; as well as the expected cast of college and university-based professors. Supporting this broad understanding of scholarship, Southern Spaces (and its social media tools of promotion, e.g., Facebook, Twitter, RSS) has served as an available publishing platform for community-based groups and regional writers engaged in contemporary research related to immigration, environmental destruction, and the crisis of public education. Alerting a networked, topical public about critical writing of interest can produce tens of thousands of readers, as evidenced by a Southern Spaces essay on the crisis of government in North Carolina.7
With persistent advocacy, the presence of a journal project can lead to institutional commitments for long-term archival preservation of the born-digital materials generated in the work of the journal and into mutually supportive intergroup alliances through organizations such as the recently created Library Publishing Coalition.
It is necessary to say, and to articulate in detail, the various practices of open access publishing that, taken together, comprise a strategy that extends beyond the academy into wider social networks. Drawing upon a decade of publishing practice, my proposed paper will identify and elaborate how a project such as the multimedia journal Southern Spaces works to advance cultural empowerment through digital design, creation, dissemination, and curation.
1. See southernspaces.org. ISSN 1551-2754.
2. Edward L. Ayers (2013), Does Digital Scholarship Have a Future? Educause Review Online, August 5 www.educause.edu/ero/article/does-digital-scholarship-have-future?utm_source=Informz&utm_medium=Email+marketing&utm_campaign=EDUCAUSE, accessed October 19, 2013.
3. On the social consequences of habits of judgment see Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005).
4. For an early statement on the prospects of change that electronic publishing might bring see Bill Kasdorf, “Guest Editor’s Gloss: Reflections on the Revolution,” Journal of Electronic Publishing, 3:4 (June 1998). quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jep/3336451.0003.401/--guest-editors-gloss-reflections-on-the-revolution?rgn=main;view=fulltext.
5. What is free software? GNU Operating System. www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html.
6. Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell (2012), Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities, in Matthew K. Gold, ed., Debates in the Digital Humanities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 83.
7. Dan T. Carter, (2013). North Carolina: A State of Shock, Southern Spaces, September 24. southernspaces.org/2013/north-carolina-state-shock.
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July 7, 2014 - July 12, 2014
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