DH And The Evolving Monograph

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  1. 1. Sarah E. McKee

    Emory University

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In 2014 the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation launched a new initiative to fund explorations of “long-form digital publishing in the humanities” (Straumsheim, 2015; Maxwell et al., 2017). That same year a small group of Emory University faculty began a conversation, with a planning grant from Mellon, about the state of humanistic scholarship, and in particular how the monograph might evolve or adapt alongside the digital humanities. Their findings (Elliott, 2015) serve as the foundation for the Digital Publishing in the Humanities (DPH) initiative, a five-year experiment (2016–2021) to support faculty authors engaged in digital monograph publishing.
The DPH initiative shares its charge with a cohort of sister Mellon projects, including the Digital Publications Initiative at Brown University, Greenhouse Studios at the University of Connecticut (Ceglio et al., 2019), and Publishing Without Walls at the University of Illinois. Each project takes a unique approach in its offerings to faculty authors. At Emory, DPH provides support to individual faculty working on long-form humanistic scholarship that seems well suited to the digital environment, and it does so in real tenure/promotion clock time. While Emory’s T&P guidelines include a memorandum that “recognizes the significance of digital scholarship in the humanities, and affirms the importance of assessing this scholarship fairly and carefully in decisions of faculty tenure and promotion” (Emory College, 2013), many faculty and administrators continue to rely upon printed monographs as the safest route to advancement. The DPH initiative, then, consists not only in supporting individual publications but also in fostering conversations that promote wider acceptance of digital scholarship among humanities faculty. We also invite academic press editors to join these discussions, in hopes that the DH and publishing communities might collaborate to produce born-digital works of robust scholarship that stand alongside printed monographs in both quality and import.
The DPH initiative is based at Emory’s Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, an interdisciplinary space that has encouraged thoughtful and rigorous intellectual work for nearly two decades. During those years, as researchers developed the tools, theories, and methodologies that comprise today’s digital humanities, the open access movement forged digital pathways for the wider dissemination of scholarship. These developments, amid persistent critiques that the digital humanities lack true substance (Brennan, 2017; Weiskott, 2017), give rise to new and urgent questions about the future of monograph publishing. In partnership with the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence, Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, and Scholarly Communications Office of Emory Libraries, DPH extends the Fox Center’s mission into the conversation about evolving digital monographs and offers three pathways to their development.
The first pathway offers a subsidy, directly to a university press, that supports the open access publication of a traditional monograph. The open access version replicates the content and form of its print edition and is typically disseminated as a PDF or an EPUB file. But as authors are increasingly eager to include digital enhancements, including audio and video clips, interactive maps, or data visualizations, alongside their written arguments, a second pathway offers support for an enhanced open access book, which integrates text with digital components. Here again, a print edition is typically available as well, and the essential form and structure of the monograph remains unchanged.
The third pathway, toward an interactive open access monograph, raises fundamental questions of what humanities scholarship might look like in the digital environment. For authors committed to pushing the boundaries of the printed book, creating born-digital and interactive monographs not only allows them to showcase digital artifacts but also provides the opportunity to build an argument that doesn’t shy away from complexity or ambiguity. Such works seek to embrace an “enactment of digital rhetoric” (Eyman and Ball, 2015), perhaps inviting multiple conclusions and active participation from readers (Murray, 2017; Ryan, 2006). But how far can such a work deviate in form from the traditional book and still be recognized as a substantial contribution to its field? How is it reviewed? Distributed? Preserved? How might digital scholarship and/or humanities centers collaborate with publishers to share resources and expertise?
Answers to these questions are complicated and dependent on multiple contingencies. In our first two years of the DPH initiative, we find that the composition process itself, including research, for a digital publication must be relearned, or seen with fresh eyes. In some cases, DH methodologies alter the research and even the research question in innovative ways that demand new publication strategies. In others, the numerous options for assembling digital material into a compelling argument might overwhelm an author. Moreover, the printed monograph as a genre is not static, nor is it entirely consistent across disciplines. Digital variants of this traditional form, then, will also resist monolithic expression. We have found that one promising starting point is to guide authors through the essential attributes of a monograph using genre analysis (Ball et al., 2018). Other tactics include introducing authors to best practices in data management (including metadata creation) and multimodal composition, and hosting workshops that guide project teams through visualization exercises or allow them to share works in progress with other researchers.
Another critical aspect of our approach is the commitment to inviting collaboration with publishers early in a digital monograph’s development. While traditional publishers are increasingly willing to explore open access, including best practices for distribution and preservation, most have yet to test the waters of digital/multimodal composition beyond an enhanced e-book. Editorial and production staff at most publishing houses are not often trained in DH tools and methodologies, and so we offer expertise of our team at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship to help offset that lack. On the other hand, DH practitioners of all stripes might benefit from the editorial eye and discipline that publishing professionals bring to the table, as well as their expertise in marketing and distribution to ensure that the work is discoverable and cited.
My presentation will elaborate on these guiding principles behind the DPH initiative and offer case studies of digital monographs in development by Emory faculty.


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