Reasoning Without Words: Envisioning the Multimodal Thesis and its Challenges

This guest post is by Katrina Foxton, a third year PhD student at the University of York, Department of Archaeology. She’s writing her thesis about a historic building in York, which is being adapted into a mixed-use community venue. Her analysis will involve a dynamic Prezi map which illustrates the ongoing work undertaken by herself and volunteers. Her work (a mixture of text, image and hyperlinking) is multimodal. Below, she gives her thoughts on the position of multimodal research after a meeting organised by the British Library.

National Library in Vienna

Figure 1. Art, text, sculpture all hold sway in the library of humankind –National Library in Vienna, image by author.

In April 2016, my MA supervisor, Dr Sara Perry, invited me to a meeting with the British Library to explore how PhD theses could manifest as knowledge that is not necessarily written. We were to discuss how multimodal (mixed media) methods can develop an argument within PhD research and the subsequent difficulties in submitting non-textual work. This Multimodal Thesis meeting was organised and hosted by the British Library’s EThOS team (who hold over 400,000 theses in their digital repository). It was also attended by a group of archaeological students, Dr Debbie Maxwell, TFTV lecturer, from the University of York and researchers from The Academic book of the Future project. Amongst us were representatives from Internet Archaeology, Judith Winters, and Director of Publications at the American Numismatic Society, Andrew Reinhard. There was an international presence from the States, Canada and New Zealand (and some of us had to be skyped in!)

As we discussed the potential of multimodal work, some exciting examples came to the fore (including a thesis which had been submitted to the British Library with a cassette tape, years after the emergence of later technologies such as CDROM and USB). The variety of multimodal work is the result of different technologies and material forms—and a good definition can be found here at the MODE website, Institute of Education. Multimodal work also often has connections to participatory work. Here are some examples:

It should be noted that in this discussion our group was not representative for the whole of academia – there was a high percentage of archaeologists in the room. But as archaeologists, we felt confident talking about different modes of knowing because within practice we are caught between ways of ‘looking’ at material remains and translating (interpreting) an understanding of them into writing or drawing. Archaeologists also make use of such technologies as 3D models, digital photographs, and virtual realities. We are also extremely reflective on how these impact knowledge gain (for further reading into this area, see below).

Beyond archaeology however, the point about the multimodal work is that researchers across the academy gain valuable insight if they experiment and know through different modes. This gain is often achieved through praxis or ‘practice-based’ research, a methodology which advocates knowledge-gain through multimodal techniques, often adopted within in arts research. An extensive report on practice-based research by Candy (2006) gives the rudiments of this approach. At the meeting, we were keen to hear about this kind of research and how submission issues were handled across different social disciplines, because there are definite challenges at university, departmental and library levels in accepting any non-textual work. In particular, the following challenges or questions came to the fore.

Handling, storing, and accessing non-text-based research outputs

Firstly, we discussed how, at the library level, there are the practicalities of handling, storing and providing access to thesis research outputs which are not text based. Traditional book formats sit nicely on shelves, are catalogued, and findable through search indexes. The digital equivalent – PDFs – are also pretty easy to describe, index, store, and access; after all, they are really just books dressed up as digital files – same structure, pagination, chapters, start and finish. When it comes to massive data files, or computer games or apps, then not only are these hard to organise along traditional library lines but options for accessing them are equally tricky. PhD researchers often seek to enable non-researchers and research participants to access research for a guaranteed amount of time (often ten years): is this at risk with multimodal PhD research? Whose role is it to ensure long-term preservation, readability, access to the underlying read software, and version updates? Another interesting question is whether university libraries – the natural home for their PhDs – are technically capable of taking on this role in any case? And, as Dr Perry has raised, in the interests of longer term future-proofing, a limitation may be placed on the objectives and the scope of the argument that an aspiring researcher wishes to lay out.

Embracing multimodal research outputs in academia

National Library, Vienna

Figure 2. “a book is not an image of the world” (Deleuze and Guttari 2003, 11). Imagine a library where some of the books were filled with puzzles, photographic essays holographric performances, music and film pieces…? Books in National Library, Vienna, image by author

Secondly, we discussed whether there may be some wariness on the part of academic committees, heads of research, and even PhD supervisors, to embrace the world of multimodal research outputs. As a result, the libraries are left grappling with the problems without the direction and support that those at a higher-level in the university could be providing. It’s widely agreed that there is still a need for at least part of the ‘thesis’ to be a written, critical analysis of the research. But does it make sense, for example, for a student to describe the way a ‘mobile app’ works by using written words rather than allow the student to submit the app itself as part of the PhD thesis, simply because the rules say the thesis must be a bound volume? Arguably, a vital moment of reckoning lies in the moment an examiner ‘opens’ a thesis, with their expectations of what they are to examine and corresponding skills to do so. Therefore, in the aspiration towards creating new knowledge, the PhD examination process must also drive the communication of excellent research (and certainly towards the innovative and the original!). At this time then, how can examiners – and others involved in the flow of new knowledge – be involved and embrace new technologies to ensure the research is communicated and built on by others?

There are a lot of questions here. This is the beginning of an ongoing investigation and, to build momentum, the value of the multi-modal thesis must be demonstrated across a wider sphere.

 

Digital Conversation event: British Library, 29 September 2016

To this end, I’m drawing attention to a British Library “Digital Conversation” event on 29 September. A panel of PhD students (past and present) will describe their own text and non-text thesis outputs, and discuss ways to open up access to and acceptance of multi-modal, non-text research outputs. You are all invited to join us and support what is essentially a call of action towards reconfiguring the PhD thesis at a quintessential level.

Please book here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/digital-conversations-british-library-ethos-multimedia-phd-theses-tickets-27326014846. to claim your free ticket.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Followin Katrina on Twitter: @kfoxton9


Further reading materials

Archaeology in relation to visual-knowledge

Hodder, I and Hutson, S. (2003) Reading the Past: Current approaches to interpretation in     archaeology. (3rd Ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Morgan, C. L. (2009) ‘(Re)Building Catalhoyuk: Changing virtual reality in archaeology’,      Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress, 5: 468-87.

Olsen, B., Shanks, M., Webmore, T., and Witmore, C. (2012) Archaeology: The Discipline of           Things. Berkely: University of California Press.

Shanks, M. and Tilley, C. (1987) Re-Constructing Archaeology: theory and practice,             Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shanks, M. and Webmoor, T. (2013) ‘A political economy of visual media in archaeology’, in           Bonde, S. & Houston, S. (eds.) Re-presenting the Past: archaeology through image     and text, Providence: Brown University, 85‐108.

#AcBookWeek 2015: Publisher Workshop at Stationers Hall

To celebrate the recent announcement of the next Academic Book Week (23-28 January 2017), we’re revisiting some highlights from last year’s #AcBookWeek! The first post considers the gathering of academic publishers at the historic Stationers Hall to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities facing the industry. There were 25 individuals representing seven academic publishers, all of which publish books in print and/or digital format. The participants were asked to work in groups and address some of the core questions first posed at the launch of The Academic Book of the Future project. Project co-investigator Nick Canty (UCL) reflects back on this event.

The questions and issues we put to the assembled publishers spanned three main areas, as follows:

 

1. Changes in the nature of research, the research environment and the research process

What do academic books do?

We started off by asking publishers for their views of what purposes they think academic books fulfil. Answers were varied, with some participants asking how we define which books relate to research and which are for reference. This point was picked up by another participant who argued that publishers’ categories (reference or textbook) don’t matter – what matters is the prestige of where you find your content and being providing with trusted credible content. There is a glut of information today with undergraduate students and researchers drawing on a broader pool of resources than in the past (including Wikipedia), which has partly been enabled by digital technologies, although it was questioned whether the structures were in place for interdisciplinary research.

Additional purposes for the academic book were offered, for instance: for academics to achieve tenure, or to publish their PhD thesis; while another participant observed that academic books are now required as a tool for metrics to help define impact, as well as working for libraries to gauge interest through bibliographic data. A more apt starting point might be to ask what the book is doing: proving a hypothesis, making an argument, or communicating an idea – but this doesn’t answer whether textbooks, reference, and professional books should be considered academic books, too. Our seemingly simple question clearly has several possible complex and multi-faceted answers.

 

What changes have taken place in the research environment?

Moving on, we looked at how research is changing in academia. This shook out some fascinating points. As well as comments about the REF (Research Excellence Framework), several participants mentioned the pressure to produce research outputs and the ‘need for speed’, which was pushing researchers to journals and away from books (presumably because of their longer production times). The pressure to publish quickly has had big changes on the production process and there has been advances on this side of publishing. However the sales cycle with library wholesalers hasn’t moved as quickly, and advance notice to market is still at least six months. As someone else said, the rate of change is quite slow.

Alternative ways of research were picked up, including real-time feedback and peer review, crowdfunding and the Knowledge Unlatched publishing model and a question about whether Amazon’s classifications are becoming more important – presumably for discoverability.

 

New forms of books

We wanted to find how books might change because of new technologies and Open Access (OA). There was agreement that OA is having the greatest influence on journals, with books following more slowly behind. Several participants remarked that OA and new media offer more opportunity for collaboration with peer-adopted books with extra resources such as data and video. Shorter book formats, such as Palgrave’s Pivot series, are also a response to a changing environment. New media might herald new virtual collections, such as chapters and articles which are led by XML and metrics, although other participants sounded a note of caution: books are still books and they are not changing – they are still driven by market demand and the activity of publishers is still the traditional model of print with some digital offerings.

There were observations that with booksellers increasingly resistant to stock niche books and the academic book more challenged in terms of sales it was hard to find books in bookstores now and they are mostly just in libraries, although book authors still want print copies. This reflects broader concerns about the visibility of books in brick and mortar stores as the online space expands.

 

2. How are the processes through which books are commissioned, approved or accepted, edited, produced, published, marketed, distributed, made accessible, and preserved changing, and what are the implications for the following?

Publishers

Needless to say this elicited lots of responses, with publishers seen as moving from B2B operations to B2C, and more functions outsourced to attempt to lower costs. While some participants didn’t think marketing had changed much over the last decade, others saw changes to staff recruitment as new skillsets are needed as consumer marketing becomes more important. Clearly there are differences between publishers here. There was a comment that nowadays publishers have to do more direct marketing and rely less on channel marketing.

Authors were seen as becoming more ‘savvy’, more demanding, and more knowledgeable on all aspects of publishing – but particularly in marketing, where for example, they understand the importance of Amazon profiles. However there was very little change to the commissioning process, which was still based on a conversation, a campus visit, or a meeting at a conference. Academics are therefore still ‘student intermediaries’. There is a need to make books available everywhere but it is difficult to push every channel and there is therefore more pressure on authors to help with marketing via their profile in academia. The publishing industry increasingly values media skills and as a consequence there is a convergence of academic and trade publishing at this point.

The publisher brand and the website are important but editors still need to actively reach out in the commissioning process. Editors need usage data to inform commissioning decisions but they aren’t getting this at the moment.

In terms of the publishing process as well as new distribution formats (XML, video) reference works can published in stages with no single publication date, raising the question: what is ‘enough’ content to launch with? Finally, there was general agreement that while there are experiments with peer review it is ‘here to stay’ and ‘still central’ to academic publishing.

 

Aggregators

Pressures and tensions were noted here. These revolve around asking how sustainable the aggregator business model is, with publishers improving discoverability and free searches from Google. There is also tension in that libraries still want aggregators and value their services and small publishers need aggregators (‘in thrall to them’), but publishers are selling complete books – not bits of content. The situation is made more complicated by centralisation and mergers in the sector.

 

Booksellers

In addition to the points about booksellers above, participants noted the disappearance of campus bookstores and the emphasis on stocking high sales books rather than niche ones, therefore questioning the value of bookstores to publishers today.

 

Libraries 

The issue of preservation came through here, in addition to comments about squeezed library budgets (although new models such as just-in-time purchasing and PDA were mentioned as solutions). There was concern about what happens when publishers merge, and features of online access are no longer available with the new company (the example cited was in relation of viewing PDFs after a merger). Further concerns were that although libraries keep digital archives, what happens when formats change? This has implications for future access and preservation.

 

How might the relationships between the different kinds of agents in the publishing supply chain develop in the future?

The last question looked at the supply chain and how publishers and other intermediaries might work together in the future. Once again, some tensions were noted. Libraries are concerned about the power of aggregators, but they choose to work with them rather than with individual publishers. This makes it hard to resolve problems, as it is unclear who is ultimately responsible for problems: the aggregator or the publisher? One group suggested we need to ask what an intermediary is in the supply chain; can we consider the library as an aggregator today? Another group defined intermediaries as ‘anyone/thing that intervenes between point of production and point of use/reading.’

Publishers increasingly want direct access to end-user data from aggregators to drive usage to their online collections to improve renewals, but this desire to drive users to their sites puts them in conflict with aggregators, who provide little information to publishers. Open Access is a possible way to sidestep aggregators, but it then needs something like Amazon or Google for users to discover the books.

 

Conclusion

The workshop was an opportunity for the publishing industry to address some key issues the project has sought to address. While there were bound to be contradictions among participants, what came through were questions about the future role of aggregators in the supply chain, changes in the research environment and perhaps as a consequence, changes in how authors work with publishers, and changes in the way publishers operate. There was agreement however that the book, whether print or digital, was here to stay.

Creative writing theses: guidelines on discoverability and open access

On 5th May 2016, the Project attended a meeting at the British Library to discuss the issue of discoverability of creative writing theses. The meeting was organised by Dr Susan L. Greenberg (Senior Lecturer in the University of Roehampton’s Department of English and Creative Writing). She acted on behalf of the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) whose remit includes supporting the work of creative writing academics in the UK. The meeting brought together leading academics in the field of creative writing, as well as library staff from the British Library and university libraries. Discussions expanded well beyond the initial topic of discoverability, touching upon a wide range of issues. This blog post is a summary of the discussions that took place, and includes some important advice for those submitting creative writing PhD theses.

Discoverability

The initial topic of conversation was discoverability. A core concern is that it is difficult for researchers to find creative writing theses, particularly without an author name, and it is also difficult to advise students on how to find them. Dr Greenberg outlined this in an earlier blog post, but the conversation at the British Library meeting extended the scope of debate. The following issues may hamper the discoverability of creative writing theses:

  • The title of the thesis is often metaphorical, and may not be explicit.
  • Often there are no abstracts.
  • Accompanying metadata is often unclear, or even missing altogether.
  • The thesis can be in two parts – creative work and critical analysis – but this is not always the case. How are the different parts catalogued and searched for?
  • At an institutional level, the forms that must be filled in by PhD students are designed for other disciplines, and may not contain the fields required to make creative writing theses discoverable.
  • Creative theses that incorporate a media element cannot currently be deposited in EThOS.
  • International barriers exist: for example, a UK researcher faces difficulties finding and accessing theses from Australia.
  • There is a lack of consensus across institutions about terminology: creative writing PhDs are catalogued and described on EThOS in different ways, for instance:
    • PhD in Creative Writing
    • PhD in English Literature
    • PhD in English with Creative Writing
    • PhD in Critical and Creative Writing

EThOS does not have an option to catalogue a thesis under ‘creative writing’, so it must be included in the abstract/keywords if it is to appear.

In the meeting it became clear that there are numerous reasons for the difficulties outlined above, including a lack of clarity about who is responsible for training students in the use of electronic repositories. Should this be the role of specialist subject supervisors, graduate schools, or research training departments? As increasing technical demands are made on researchers, it is an issue that must be resolved.

Although the day was ostensibly about discoverability, it soon emerged that there were several other interconnected issues around creative writing theses in current and emerging academic and publishing contexts, which are described in the rest of this post.

Open Access mandates and institutional repositories

The major issues seemed to hinge on Open Access. UK university institutions now mandate their researchers to deposit their work in Open Access repositories, which has specific implications for creative writing researchers, as outlined below.

Intellectual Property

When EThOS was established, research by Charles Oppenheim on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) concluded that publishing theses in repositories posed a very low risk to the rights of authors. But this is not the case for creative writing theses. While academic publishers are by and large prepared to publish a thesis available on a repository as long as it has been substantially revised, trade publishers may refuse publication of a creative writing theses in a similar position. Greenberg summarised the issue: ‘Having a pre-existing version anywhere, on any conditions, seems to be anathema.’

Version control

Creative writing theses that are later developed by publishers may be amended, ranging from the correction of minor typos to the incorporation of major plot changes. As one writer-academic stated at the meeting: ‘I’d much rather people accessed the revised, published version than the legally available version in a repository.’

Piracy

There is a major issue with piracy; one academic reported the example of a novel that became available as a free Torrent download within weeks of publication.

Embargoes

Researchers have the option to place their thesis under embargo for a fixed period – usually three to five years. This action can help with some of the issues discussed above, but prompts questions of its own. The first concerns knowledge: do all PhD students know that this option is open to them? If not, whose responsibility is it to make them aware? The second is the fixed-term nature of the embargo: can “never” be an option? And whose responsibility is it to renew embargoes once they expire, the library or the author? Libraries will probably not have current contact details for authors after 5 years, and the authors may forget.

From the non-author point of view, embargoes can have an adverse effect on the dissemination of research, impacting for example on individual scholars who would like to access the thesis to inform their own work. How is this overcome?

Policies on embargoes currently operate on a university-by-university level: perhaps national guidance on policy for creative writing theses is required.

Ethics

Creative writing theses that involve nonfiction accounts of living subjects raise specific issues. One participant described the case of a PhD supervisee writing a memoir which included anecdotes gathered from family funerals and other events. In the social sciences, the default assumption is that all identities are anonymised before thesis submission, but in the case of creative nonfiction (as with journalism) full anonymity is not always possible or desirable. This can create difficulties with ethics committees, because the projects do not fit into standard models built with other disciplines in mind. A different form and different process is required, but how will this be brought about?

Clearly, there are many complex issues and questions to be addressed:

  • Who should be the gatekeepers for creative writing theses: libraries and institutional repositories, or the authors?
  • How should this gatekeeping be managed so that creative writing theses are available for research, but not so publicly available that they hinder trade publication?
  • How are creative writing PhD students being trained in writing abstracts and metadata; using repositories; copyright? Who should deliver and teach this training?

All of the issues boil down to the fact that creative writing is a very distinct discipline with unique requirements. As Greenberg stated: ‘Creative writing as a relatively new discipline has had to constantly negotiate its way through the academic system in order to be recognised.’ These issues are highlighted anew by the mandate to move towards Open Access. Creative writing academics present at the meeting agree that now is the time to address them.

Practical Guidance for Creative Writing PhD Theses

One immediate practical outcome of the meeting is the launch of a new one-page document, backed by NAWE and the British Library, which gives staff and students advice on how to submit the electronic copy of their PhD thesis. The document has a Creative Commons license, allowing universities and other organisations to share it freely. You can download the document using the link below and share it freely.

NAWE-BL-General-Guidelines (pdf)

The Project would like to extend its thanks to all attendees of the meeting, in particular Dr Susan Greenberg for organising it, and Dr Ros Barber for creating the initial draft of the guidelines document.

Quadrivium XI – Day Two

Day Two of Quadrivium XI at De Montfort University highlighted the past, present and future of academic books for medievalists.

We started with hands-on workshops: ‘The making of a book in pre-digital age. How was a book “created” before digital technologies were introduced in the world of publishing? The participants made and wrote with quill pens in the Trinity House Scriptorium and experienced type-setting and hand-pressing in the printing workshop at the Centre for Textual Studies.

One thing for sure: we — as medievalists — appreciate handwriting and printing technologies, but we cannot ignore the impact of the digital technologies either.

Earlier in the 20th century, an academic book for medievalists was relatively easy to identify. It often embodied at least 20 years of rigorous scholarship. It was often a thick volume, hardcover, and published by a reputable publisher. It was often expensive, but that was acceptable, as the book was meant to be bought by university libraries and guaranteed to be kept on their shelves for hundreds of years. It was a big, significant and eye-opening book, which would be read, referred to and used over and over by all scholars in the field. Digital technologies have brought about a modification in the methodologies for researching, producing and delivering scholarship, however, and the impact of digital environments on scholarly publishing seems to be more than self-evident.

Prof. Wendy Scase remembers the days when she was a student. A computer back then was a huge machine, which filled up an entire room in a university. Since then, things have changed rapidly. In 2012, she and her team published a facsimile of the Vernon manuscript — one of the largest surviving medieval manuscripts, 22 kg, 350 leaves, 544mm x 393mm — on a single DVD-Rom.

For Dr Ryan Perry, the key academic book was, and still is, A manual of the Writings in Middle English. He was, however, also involved in many manuscript based online projects (Imagining History, Geographies of Orthodoxy), and is now thinking about a new project with ambitious digital aspects.

Dr Orietta Da Rold‘s career as a medievalist also started with a multi-volume hardcover academic book: Manly and Rickert’s The Text of the Canterbury Tales. Scrutinising a catalogue description in this book made her think further about the use of paper in Medieval England, and she is now working on a digital project The Mapping Paper in Medieval England.

Dr Hollie Morgan is probably one of the first medieval scholars to used “word clouds” in her PhD, ‘Between the Sheets: Reading Beds and Chambers in Late-Medieval England’. She is now working on Imprint Project, where the medieval texts meet the material and cutting-edge digital technologies.

Dr Takako Kato asked the participants to come up with their own ideas of how they would tackle the challenges and difficulties they might encounter, should they start digital projects now. Using The Production and Use of English Manuscripts 1060 to 1220 as a springboard, the participants discussed topics such as:

  • Longevity of the research data and how to keep the data updated.
  • Ideally the online framework should be updated regularly to incorporate the new technologies, such as apps for reading on hand-held devices.
  • An option to print the websites as books on demand.
  • The significance of sophisticated search engines.
  • Possibility of incorporating subscription fees to maintain the website.
  • Create a collaborative working environments using social media.
  • Interactive resources, for example, pronunciation guide.
  • Use of manuscript images online.
  • Use of word crowd.
  • Collaboration with other digital projects.

After two days of intensive discussions, QuadXI concluded with food for thought:

  • Do we read differently in print and on screen? Some of us do, some don’t; it depends on the nature of the texts too.
  • What are the perceptions of digital books? Are we happy to publish digital-only monographs? Or, do we still consider print books to be “better”?
  • Are current PhD students more equipped and trained to work in digital environment than PhD students 10-20 years ago? Not necessarily! We identified that current PhD students strongly feel the necessity of training in how to ask right questions using digital technologies.
  • Using digital technologies would make medievalists talk to specialists from different disciplines, like Dr Morgan, who now regularly discusses the taxonomy with a Forensic team.
  • If you work as a team member in a digital project, how is your work recognised?

We hope to see you at  Quadrium XII in Glasgow to continue these discussions!

 

Life and times of an independent researcher: Publish or be damned?

This guest post is written by Catherine White, an independent researcher currently writing a biography on May Morris – the daughter of William Morris, Pre-Raphaelite, Socialist, and leader of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Catherine met the Project’s Research Associate, Rebecca Lyons, at the recent two-day conference on May Morris, co-organised by the V&A’s Clothworkers’ Centre, The William Morris Society, and the William Morris Gallery. Catherine’s experience of writing a distinctly interdisciplinary crossover book (i.e. one with appeal to both academia and the general public, and which crosses several areas of interest) and searching for a publisher whilst both an independent researcher and a new mother touches upon several key areas of the Project. Here she openly shares that experience.

May Morris

Image of May Morris from the George Grantham Bain collection at the Library of Congress.

In 2011, I saw a reference to May Morris. I had studied the Pre-Raphaelites and their circle for my Art History degree but had never come across her before. I subsequently found out she was a designer, embroiderer, jewellery-maker, writer, Socialist, part of the Arts & Crafts movement, and the daughter of William Morris. I was hooked. There has never been a sole biography of May, and so I decided that I would write one. Just after this, by sheer coincidence, I was introduced to a lady whose great aunt had worked for May Morris. She has generously allowed me to research her family archive, which contains an unpublished memoir and letters – and the rest is (art) history.

At the time I had a young daughter at home, and I took the chance to read as much as I could, whenever I could, to prepare for writing the book. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, any second-hand book I wanted to order could be delivered to my door. For those that were outrageously priced, I discovered that I could order in books from the British Library to my local library. Once my daughter started preschool, I used the two mornings a week to write. It was occasionally frustrating to have to leave a section mid-sentence, but it was mainly beneficial to have thinking time between each instalment. I recently came across a book called The Ladybird book of The Mid-life Crisis (Michael Joseph 2015), which had an illustration with the text caption of ‘Gwen has a 2:1 in Ancient History. She always planned to write a series of novels about Boadicea. Gwen is covered in apple sauce and has spent the afternoon clapping.’ Luckily it proved possible to combine the two (apple sauce and the book). It doesn’t seem to have done my daughter any harm, except that she has grown up sure that May Morris must be part of our family somehow.

In 2013, I approached my first publisher. Whilst knowing this would not be easy, I was fairly hopeful that the book was an attractive proposition because it was intended for a general rather than a specific audience. Although it is footnoted, and has unpublished information of interest to the academic community, May’s life has an appeal for a much wider audience, including those interested in the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts & Crafts Movement, or social and political history, including the changing role of women – plus did I mention that May had a significant liaison with George Bernard Shaw? Yet this concept has actually brought its own challenges because it does not fit in a traditional publishing box. Publishers have expressed an interest in the proposal, but so far say that it doesn’t quite fit with their catalogue. It appears that academic publishers are more interested in a sole subject book, but this is not a purely academic book. I want this book to be accessible because it has such a great story to tell. An academic price tag of perhaps £50 or more would take it out of the reach of my core audience; those having heard of May Morris, or visiting an historic house associated with her, are unlikely to make such a purchase on a whim. General interest publishers could make this book affordable, but seem more wary of investing in a book on the single subject of May.

My other problem is that this book has to be illustrated. May Morris was responsible for making exquisite textiles and jewellery, and these have to be included, and in colour – which doubles the cost of production. This cost also means that self-publishing isn’t viable, nor was the offer from a publisher (my favourite rejection to date) who said they would publish it if I found £10,000 or a gallery willing to purchase 1000 copies of my book!

So where does this leave me? I am continuing to write the book, of course, and continuing to submit it to publishers. Finding a publisher has never been easy, and even May Morris despaired of finding one for her final book, which was eventually produced in 1936, just two years before her death. Overall, so far, I do not feel my book has suffered from not having a confirmed publisher; it has meant it could evolve at its own pace without the pressure of a deadline. There is a tipping point on the horizon though, which is a major May Morris exhibition planned by the William Morris Gallery in the autumn of 2017. Confirming a publisher now would enable me to prioritise my writing and aim for completion in time for the exhibition, but without one, I need to continue to combine writing with other work. But watch this (hopefully book-shaped) space!

#AcBookWeek: Book sprints and collaborative ways of working

This guest post has been written by Dr Spencer Jordan (Assistant Professor in Creative Writing, University of Nottingham). Dr Jordan led a book sprint with ten students at the University of Nottingham during Academic Book Week (9-16 November 2015), which involved writing a book in just three days. The challenge was a huge success, and this post outlines the event itself, as well as some of the lessons learned, which have broader implications for thinking about the way we work as academics.
University of Nottingham book sprint
Could you write, edit and publish a book in three days? That was the challenge I set ten first-year School of English students at the University of Nottingham who applied to my open invitation. The challenge used the methodology of ‘book sprinting’, where a book is produced collaboratively over a very short period of time, normally between three or five days. In part the challenge was a practical examination of academic publishing, as part of Academic Book Week. But it was also a fantastic way for English students to immerse themselves in the real-life practicalities of book publishing.The event took place between the 9th and 11th November 2015. I acted as the facilitator but essentially everything was done by the students. It was decided early on that the book would be a student’s guide to starting university, a sort of rough guide to student life that would complement the existing, more official, documentation supplied by the University and UCAS. Interestingly, it was decided to include factual as well as creative responses, including poems and short stories as well as photographs taken by the students.

As you can imagine the three days involved lots of writing. Everything was done using Google Documents, so that all copy could be instantly shared and collaboratively edited from any networked computer. This saved an enormous amount of time and meant that the students could continue working well into the night, if they wanted to (which some did). By the end of day two we had over 25,000 words, as well as a variety of photographs, poems, and stories. Day three was where the students brought all this together into the final format of the document, placing case studies, student profiles and photographs alongside each section. A front cover was completed, with a name – ‘An Insider’s Guide to Starting University’ – aimed at students going through the very experiences that they had gone through themselves just months before. Harriet Williams was one of the students involved. Her interest in publishing and a desire to understand more about the process led her to volunteer. She said: “Taking part in the Book Sprint was the one of the best opportunities I could have had in my first year here at Nottingham. It was a brilliant way to meet like-minded people in order to write something meaningful and useful.”

The legacy of the book sprint isn’t just the book. It’s also the video that Eve Wood and Simon Barnett took over the three days and then edited. I think the video shows that the book sprint really did make an important contribution to The Academic Book of the Future. The students worked collaboratively, mainly online, using cloud computing. This allowed them to work 24/7, very often in different places. The students were able to make collaborative decisions, either face to face, or virtually. This meant that they were able to maximise their time, making as much use of the three days as possible. Sometimes as academics, particularly in the Arts and Humanities, we forget about collaboration. In my own work, collaboration has been laborious and difficult. And yet the benefits of collaborative working, particularly interdisciplinary work, can add a new dimension to our research. This synthesis comes not only through a shared academic interest but also through a willingness to engage with what might be called a collaborative methodology. I think the students have shown us the way here through the three-day Book Sprint, and I personally want to thank them.

The full video of the book sprint can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUABtFOnx74&feature=youtu.be

The Academic Book of the Future project would like to thank Dr Jordan, all of the students who took part in the book sprint, and Neil Smyth, for organising this wonderful activity for Academic Book Week.

Musical Scholarship and the Future of Academic Publishing

This guest post was written by Richard Lewis (Goldsmiths) of the AHRC Transforming Musicology project. It outlines a workshop on ‘Musical Scholarship and the Future of Academic Publishing’, sponsored by The Academic Book of the Future project, and held at Goldsmiths, University of London on Monday 11th April 2016. This post first appeared on the Transforming Musicology project website, and is reproduced here with kind permission from Richard.

A couple of months ago Marilyn Deegan, who is emeritus professor at King’s College London, approached Tim Crawford asking him to put together a workshop as part of their Academic Book of the Future project (2014-2016, PI: Samantha Rayner). The project is a partnership between King’s and the UCL Centre for Publishing, and is funded by the British Library and the AHRC. The project has included a lot of work with practising scholars but Marilyn was keen to engage the musical community so we accepted her invitation.

The workshop was held at Goldsmiths on Monday 11 April and attracted just under 40 delegates. The programme comprised six invited presentations and a roundtable discussion with a mixture of scholars, musicians, and library professionals. This post is a report on the proceedings of the day.

The day began with an introduction to The Academic Book of the Future project from Rebecca Lyons (UCL) who is the research associate on the project. Bex described the background of the project and some of its activities so far, including the inaugural Academic Book Week in November 2015. She described how much of their early work has been involved with forming a community coalition by consulting with publishers, academics, and other stakeholders in the academic book, and attempting to address fundamental questions around the nature of academic publishing. Bex outlined some of their future plans, which include an online modular publication, called a BOOC, which will gather together content from a variety of sources including audio, essays, blog posts, and Storifies.

Mark Everist‘s (Southampton) presentation was pitched as a warning against the apparent benefits of Open Access publishing. Mark spoke from three different perspectives: as president of the RMA, as head of a research-intensive music department, and as a publishing academic. He argued through some of the hypothetical implications to the RMA of going fully Open Access. The RMA runs three publications: the Journal of the RMA, the RMA Research Chronicle, and a monograph series and publishes with Routledge. Mark described some of the benefits of digital documents over paper, including convenience of access and searchability. But he argued that online publication of scholarship does not involve any less work than paper publication: authoring and review is carried out by academics as part of their contractual responsibilities, but copy editing (including fact checking and typesetting), maintenance and sustainability, and promotion and marketing are carried out by professional publishers and these cost money. Mark argued that if scholarship were to go online and be Open Access, none of these processes could be avoided and so the costs would still need to be covered. Mark summarised by arguing that the biggest question around going Open Access is: who takes the risk? Currently it’s a commercial publisher, but if the RMA were to move completely to Open Access it would have to absorb that risk itself.

Following his presentation, Mark answered questions on alternative business models for publishing including that of the Open Library of Humanities which is funded by the Mellon Foundation and by library subscriptions. Another question concerned the practice in science publishing of requiring authors to produce so-called camera-ready copy using a template. Mark responded that science articles are normally short and so proof-reading and fact-checking is much more tractable for authors or reviewers, whereas humanities articles tend to be much longer so these copy editing tasks are better handled by specialist professionals. Mark also noted that he believes, because of the relative ease of science publication, the drive for Open Access is coming from the sciences.

Tim Crawford and I gave a presentation of our work on the plans for the final publication of the Transforming Musicology project. We described our original plan to publish a book which collects together the work of the project and which has a significant online component, but said that now we are intending instead to produce a fully-online publication with a possible future print version. We described how our work so far on the project has successfully led to the creation of a number of Linked Data resources which will feed directly into the publication. We reported that we now have a good idea of the expected content of the publication. Now we are in the position where we need to make plans about the required information architecture for the publication. It needs an authoring and editing strategy which will result in high quality hypertext. We are looking for a publication platform that is based on sound Web architecture principles. We hope to be able to include features such as embedded – but also interactive – music notation examples; Tim gave a demonstration of some of the work we have done on providing such features for lute tablature. We described our intention to curate dynamic reading paths through the publication’s content. While we are expecting authors to produce essentially prose chapters, we intend to edit them into re-combinable chunks, each bearing semantics describing how it may be related to other content chunks from the publication. As editors, we will then define a number of reading paths that address the needs and interests of different audiences, such as:

  • A research findings report on Transforming Musicology
  • A handbook on digital musicology methods
  • Readings paths on particular digital methods (MIR, Linked Data)
  • A reviews and comments reading path
  • Authorial/editorial reading path (i.e. conventional book)

We described our intention to make use of the affordances of the Web to help widen access to our research, in particular by allowing commenting, custom citation, and reader contributions (especially contributing to our data sets such as leitmotive identification or optical music recognition correction). Similarly, we outlined our intentions to use the publication as an access point for researchers who may want to make use of our data sets in their own research.

John Baily (Goldsmiths) began his presentation by mentioning his recently published book, War, Exile, and the Music of Afghanistan (Ashgate), which includes a DVD of films which John described as integral to the text, going on to argue for the complementary properties of text, sound, and video. He gave an account of his extensive use of film-making technology over the course of his career as an ethnographer and observational film-maker, arguing that technological developments have had a significant impact on the practice of ethnography. Following John’s presentation there was some discussion on the relation of the DVD to the text of his book and whether a digital publication may have provided richer opportunities for integrating the two. John partly answered this by demonstrating his online Afghan rubab tutor which mixes text, music notation, and three-camera videos.

Laurent Pugin (RISM) spoke about the initial meeting of a new NEH-funded project, Music Scholarship Online (MuSO). The project may become part of ARC (which backs other online projects including NINES and 18thconnect) and make use of the Collex (COLLections and EXhibits) Semantic Web archive management system. Laurent described several other tools published by ARC including TypeWright for correcting optical recognition output and BigDIVA for making visualisations from large data sets. Laurent argued that it’s not yet clear how MuSO may fit into the Collex system as that system’s affordances for text and metadata may not serve musical content so well. He gave the example of Collex’s full-text search system arguing that it wouldn’t be applicable for searching in music notation collections. Similarly, he argued that the FRBR concepts used in Collex are not necessarily suitable for music sources. Laurent went on to describe RISM’s intention to work with the other so-called “R projects”: RILM, RIdIM, and RIPM to build bibliographic research tools for music scholars. He demonstrated how the traditional RISM and RILM referencing schemes may be updated for online usage. For RISM, this is now largely completed in the shape of their Linked Data interface. Laurent reported that RISM and RILM are in active negotiation over improving their inter-resource hyperlinking.

Yun Fan/樊昀 (RILM) reported on some early-stage work at RILM in producing a Semantic Web ontology for musical concepts to help them develop their database of music literature. As motivation for their work Yun gave the example of being able to answer a natural language query about music: who composed the music for Star Wars? And showed how the search engine Google is already able to deal with this. She argued that Google is effectively using something like an ontology to help make this query possible. She began by describing some of the key properties of Semantic Web ontologies and the benefits they can bring. She mentioned Yves Raimond’s Music Ontology arguing that it was too focused on recorded music production to be suitable for RILM’s needs. She described how their increasing internationalisation is requiring that they update their indexing and cross-search to allow them to relate concepts in different languages. They are hoping that developing an ontology will assist in this aim. Yun gave some examples of RILM’s existing hierarchical subject headings, demonstrating how they are very biased towards European art music. She spoke about some of the difficulties in formalising musical concepts, giving the example of an encyclopedia definition of gospel music which is richly detailed and argued that it is difficult to pick out the precise concepts embedded in such prose knowledge. Following her presentation, there was discussion about the importance of re-use in ontology design: where suitable concepts already exist in other ontologies it’s best practice to point to them rather than replace them. There was also discussion about how RILM, which is a closed access resource, will actually make its ontology public.

Zoltán Kőmíves‘s (Tido Music) presentation was centred around Tido Music’s vision for the future of music publishing. He argued that print music publishing is not going to provide value in the long term and outlined their goals to create enriched and connected musical objects, musical objects as “living creatures”. He showed some examples of the iOS software they are developing for displaying musical scores in a dynamic and responsive way and for integrating extra-musical content into scores. Zoltán argued that academic and what he called “trade” publication needs are quite different (although individuals can be and often are members of both audiences). He gave the example of “preserving uncertainty”, describing how academic audiences often want to know about the uncertainties in musical sources, whereas trade audiences (especially performers) instead want to be presented with a single editorial selection in such cases. As illustrations of this he showed the Online Chopin Variorum Edition and the Lost Voices project. Following his presentation, Zoltán answered questions on the future publication strategy of Tido explaining that their next publications will be piano works for beginners. Discussion also covered the current restriction of Tido’s software to iOS and how this is not good for long-term sustainability.

Following the presentations there was a round table discussion chaired by Simon McVeigh (Goldsmiths). The speakers were joined by: Paul Cassidy, Sarah Westwood, and James Bulley (all PhD students in Music), Jonathan Clinch (Research Associate at Cambridge), and Richard Chesser (head of music at the British Library).

Following introductions, Richard Chesser began the discussion, arguing that everything that had been presented during the day was vital to the work of the British Library. He mentioned that digital publications already come under the rules of legal deposit and questioned how the restrictions of legal deposit will interact with the rights afforded to users of resources that are also open access. He also argued that legal deposit may help to address some of the sustainability issues of digital resources.

Mark Everist next raised a topic that had been introduced earlier – prestige and open access publication, suggesting it’s going to be somewhat of an obstacle or milestone. He argued that most academics know the value of a particular journal or publisher and will want to profit from that as much as possible and that therefore open access publications need to retain the brand of the publisher. Tim Crawford mentioned that prestige and quality are not necessarily correlated with impact, pointing out that it’s possible to perform well under various publication metrics – especially on the Web – without necessarily producing high quality work. Mark argued that impact factors are currently more significant in the sciences than they are in the humanities but that a move to online publication may alter this.

Laurent Pugin described the patchy uptake of digital techniques in publishing and libraries. He noted how libraries are now often digitising books that were actually digitally printed and argued that it would be better for libraries to be allowed to archive the original digital versions. Richard Chesser mentioned that under legal deposit legislation libraries are entitled to the best version available.

A question from the audience was asked about how people make use of Tido’s scores, particularly whether they know of performers playing from tablet computers, and whether their software is useful for ensemble performance. Zoltán Kőmíves argued that print music publications may still have their place in performance situations but also mentioned possible future display technologies that may be more suitable for performance. Tim Crawford and Jonathan Clinch discussed potential problems such as computers crashing or malfunctioning during a performance, or systems where the conductor gets to dictate the page turns. Zoltán argues that a potentially useful feature would be to allow annotations to be shared between performers.

Another question from the audience addressed the topic of reading habits and what reading of the future may be like. One member of the audience responded that Amazon have done some research based on the data they can retrieve from Kindle devices about how people read their eBooks, including where they start and stop. Amazon’s findings include that non-academics read books more closely.

From the day’s discussions it seems that there is a strong drive for increasing open access, but there are numerous serious issues that need to be resolved before it can become more widespread. It also seems that digital publication (whether open or closed) is not likely to replace print entirely in the near future, especially for music publication, but innovations will continue to push the boundaries.