Design-by-Doing: the Accidental, Organic Growth of a Digital Monograph

Digital Publishing and the Humanities: Perspectives and Questions

Leveraging the power of the digital infrastructure while, at the same time, developing one’s own authorial ‘style’, can be a mind-bending challenge. In this paper, I will present my work-in-progress: a digital monograph, selected for the Brown/Mellon digital publishing initiative. In presenting this project, born as an idea for a ‘book’ but still evolving into a difficult-to-define hybrid, I will discuss the challenges and opportunities offered by an experiment with the scholarly long-form, in digital format.

In the age of data mining, distant reading, and cultural analytics, scholars increasingly rely upon automated, algorithm-based procedures in order to parse the exponentially growing databases of digitized textual and visual resources. While these new trends are dramatically shifting the scale of our objects of study, from one book to millions of books, from one painting to millions of images, the most traditional output of humanistic scholarship—the single author monograph—has maintained its institutional pre-eminence in the academic world, while showing the limitations of its printed format. Recent initiatives, such as the AHRC-funded Academic Book of the Future in the UK and the Andrew W. Mellon-funded digital publishing initiative in the USA, have answered the need to envision new forms of scholarly publication on the digital platform, and in particular the need to design and produce a digital equivalent to, or substitute for, the printed monograph. Libraries, academic presses and a number of scholars across a variety of disciplines are participating in this endeavour, debating key questions in the process, such as: What is an academic book?  Who are its readers? What can technology do to help make academic books more accessible and sharable without compromising their integrity and durability? Yet, a more fundamental question remains to be answered, as our own idea of what a ‘book’ is (or was) and does (or did) evolves: how can a digital, ‘single-author’ monograph effectively draw from the growing field of digital culture, without losing those characteristics that made it perhaps the most stable form of humanistic culture since the Gutenberg revolution? Our speakers will debate some of these questions and provide their points of view on some of the specific issues involved. After their short presentations, all participants are invited to bring their own ideas about, and experience with, digital publishing to the table.   

Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory

Massimo Riva (IMLR / Brown University)
Event date: 
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 - 5:00pm
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