Digital Special Collections and the Future of the Historic Book

Digital Publishing and the Humanities: Perspectives and Questions

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the first seminal online digital library of premodern print culture, the Early English Books Online (EEBO), this paper will reflect on digital image collections of historic books and their forms and functions. Bringing to bear bookhistorical and material-textual approaches to these familiar digital objects, we will explore some practical and conceptual considerations around the production and continued preservation of these resources in what is now a vastly changed digital scholarly ecosystem. What are the advantages and ongoing challenges of creating and maintaining these kinds of digital image resources? Can we outline an optimized set of criteria in terms of user design and researcher requirements? And how can we reconcile the needs of the various agents involved in the production and use of these electronic historical books of the future, including institutional and commercial stakeholders?

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

Guyda Armstrong (Manchester)
Event date: 
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 - 2:00pm
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