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Expanding Pathways

an exploration of remaining challenges – especially issues of equity, diversity, and social justice – and emergent efforts to make digital scholarly publishing more inclusive and accessible

Published onJun 17, 2022
Expanding Pathways

The eight multimodal digital projects showcased and examined during the summit provide a lens through which to consider some of the most pressing questions around reimagined forms of humanities scholarship. What models for publishing enhanced and interactive scholarly projects might be emerging? What is working well? What are the common challenges that remain and how do we address them? How can we encourage a shared vocabulary for these digital publications among the wider scholarly communications community?

While each of the projects, representing a broad disciplinary range and span of subject matter, offers a different perspective—and often vocabulary—when taken together they reveal lessons learned and clarify key priorities. From A New Vision for Islamic Pasts and Futures and Feral Atlas, for example, we understand that interactivity, and a thoughtful interplay among text and multimedia, offers authors new and powerful ways to articulate complex arguments. As I Remember It and Jim Crow in the Asylum provide distinct opportunities to examine the ethical implications of humanities research and to consider the new ways in which digital publication engages with audiences beyond the academy. Sounding Spirit and Furnace and Fugue foreground the powerful outcomes of collaborations between university presses and universities, modeling how such partnerships leverage resources and expertise to strengthen the humanities infrastructure and allow for innovation within it. Soul Liberty and The Lab Book overtly connect digital publishing with digital humanities methodologies and offer insight into the workings of iterative and/or collaborative publishing workflows, emphasizing the need for strong communication and collegiality among project partners.

Across the projects, shared challenges and concerns also emerged, including the substantial time investment required for experimentation and communication; limited funding; the still nascent means for distributing, sustaining, and preserving the finished projects; and the need for contracts that delineate ongoing responsibilities and recognize new types of authorship. Even as such overarching structural issues were acknowledged, however, each project team generously offered its own approaches and workarounds that provide seeds for continued discussion and consideration. Stanford University Press, for example, employs several methods for archiving its interactive projects, the Model Publishing Contract has proven an invaluable resource for many presses, and editors are adapting local workflows to include new colleagues while maintaining rigorous standards. The RavenSpace projects are breaking critical ground in expanding ideas of authorship and equitable community engagement. Continuing to share these rich and varied responses and solutions to common challenges within the humanities publishing community emerges as a key priority, one which this report endeavors to initiate.

Above all, community concerns over accessibility, equity, and inclusion at all stages of the digital publishing process echo throughout the summit conversations. Michael Gossett, manager of strategic initiatives and planning for the Public Knowledge program at the Mellon Foundation, articulated these concerns in a pre-summit survey, and his remarks align closely with the robust discussions held during the summit proper. Gossett wonders “how these models might be advanced to support public scholarship and social justice efforts, and how they might be extended to smaller, under-resourced institutions. Put another way, many of these efforts have been about ‘raising the bar’ in terms of what is possible in a digital monograph. That bar should continue to be raised, but as it is raised, how do we also go about ‘raising the floor’ in a way that allows all kinds of knowledge institutions—inside the academy and outside of it—to produce dynamic and socially engaged digital publications.”

Do digital multimodal monographs (or other humanities publications) offer a productive means by which to center and engage issues of equity, diversity, and social justice—both within the structures and conventions of academic publishing and beyond to audiences outside the academy? These eight case studies indicate that yes, they can, or at least that the intention to do so provides a strong rationale for developing such digital works, despite technical, financial, and logistical challenges.

As Michael Elliott insisted in his opening remarks, we need to continue putting pressure on what it means for humanities scholarship to be open, to be digital, to be public. Creating multimodal digital publications, for many authors, is about making the humanities relevant and accessible to wider audiences who can both benefit from and contribute to scholarly production in tangible, meaningful ways. Such scholarship has the potential to offer powerful counterpoints and alternatives to the disinformation that pervades current discourse on the web. But the ability to create open multimodal publications is itself fraught with inequity, requiring collaboration partners, expertise, and funding not yet widely available to all scholars or to their publishers.

In our view, the pathways expanding from the work we’ve done so far must bend toward the inclusion and equitable access of diverse voices as well as an expanded understanding of what constitutes authorship and readership of humanities scholarship. We must engage with and further develop the “multiple intersecting communities” as identified and articulated by Joseph Meisel in his closing remarks.

While significant work remains in the effort to develop multimodal digital scholarship in thoughtful, generous1, inclusive, and equitable ways, we are heartened to see, and to share, the ways in which it has already begun. The projects showcased above offer a plethora of examples, working in multiple registers and across different communities. But in addition to encouraging conversations about the development of individual multimodal digital projects, we also want to acknowledge other ways in which the humanities infrastructure is growing to support the expansion of opportunities for authors and for readers beyond the academy.

New training opportunities and reimagined support models for scholars are helping to bridge a divide that, without intervention, puts digital scholarly publishing—as a future of scholarship—at risk of becoming the preserve of only the most affluent institutions. We know that our discussion here is not comprehensive, and we are eager to learn about other initiatives and programs that should be included with this record.

Brown has received a National Endowment for the Humanities Institute on Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities grant to develop a national training workshop for fifteen scholars—60% from HBCUs—who wish to pursue interpretive projects that require digital expression and digital publication but lack resources and capacity at their home institutions. Emory University is also spearheading mentoring activities that extend to scholars beyond its own campus. In fall 2021 the Mellon-funded Digital Publishing in the Humanities initiative launched the Digital Monograph Writers Workshop, which offers practical guidance to authors of multimodal digital publications within an interdisciplinary community of scholars. A joint offering of the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry and the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, each workshop cohort includes up to five faculty authors, with at least one spot reserved for an external faculty member from another Atlanta-area institution. Emory is also partnering with other local institutions to offer TOME subventions for open access publication to faculty at the Atlanta University Center and Agnes Scott College.

University presses are enacting essential change through a variety of initiatives meant to foster the elevation of underrepresented voices and subject matter, thereby diversifying the output of teaching and learning resources as well as expanding the readership for humanities scholarship. Princeton University Press is doing this through its Global Equity Grants and Book Proposal Development Grants programs, which offer historically excluded authors the opportunity to partner with writing coaches at the earliest stages, from idea to proposal. The University of California Press has established the FirstGen Program, which seeks to cultivate and support the work of first-generation scholars—those who are the first in their family to receive a college degree. The MIT Press Grant Program for Diverse Voices supports new work by authors who bring chronically underrepresented perspectives to the fields in which the Press publishes across the sciences, arts, and humanities.

In collaboration with the Association of University Presses’ Digital Publishing and Library Relations Committees, Brown and Emory co-produce a web series, Adventures in Digital Publishing: Collaborations and Conversations, intended to showcase some of the most compelling interventions by practitioners of digital scholarship into the publishing ecosystem. Always moderated by a member of the AUPress community, the series strives to bring more practitioners at all stages of the publishing workflow into conversation with authors about their digital projects. A recent episode featured i used to love to dream by A.D. Carson (University of Michigan Press, 2020), a mixtap/e/ssay that performs hip-hop scholarship and, using the local to ask questions about the global, highlights outlooks on Black life generally, and Black manhood in particular, in the United States.

The essential work of embracing multiple forms of expression entails expanding conceptions of authorship and readership. New attention is being paid to nonspecialist audiences, especially in light of global reach made possible by open access publishing models. Brown University Library and the MIT Press have partnered to launch a multimodal book series committed to centering underrepresented perspectives in visual culture. On Seeing will examine understudied questions at the intersection of visuality and subjects such as race, care, decolonization, privilege, and precarity. The series will be launched alongside a community engagement program tailored to each specific volume with the aim of expanding visual literacy for multiple publics. And Emory’s Digital Publishing in the Humanities program has created a new position for a community outreach coordinator at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry. Beginning in fall 2022, the coordinator will develop innovative public humanities programming that connects digital monographs supported by the Mellon grant to relevant nonacademic audiences.

As the pathways for humanities scholarship expand in the digital era, this report serves as an invitation for all its practitioners to engage in conversation about the evolution of content itself, as well as with the authors who create it and the audiences whom they seek to engage. Such expertise is at the heart of what scholarly presses do, after all, and the contributions they have made for decades to the humanities infrastructure. The importance of sharing and learning together as a community, for finding innovative and productive ways to share expertise and resources through collaborative models, emerges from each of the case studies above and cannot be underestimated in these still early and formative days. We further hope that more universities will seek ways to support their own faculty, as well as the publishers of their faculty’s work, in efforts to bring vital humanistic research into the digital environment and to welcome new and diverse voices and perspectives throughout that process. This report serves as a starting point, to acknowledge the work that is already under way, to learn what we can from it, and to seek viable, sustainable means of furthering our shared mission to increase the visibility and reach of humanities scholarship to audiences both within and beyond the academy.

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