20 Academic Books that Changed the World: a perspective on the list

20 Academic Books that Changed the World: a perspective on the list

The list of 20 Academic Books that Changed the World is now closed but had been open to public vote to choose the most influential academic book of all time. The list of 20 books, spanning a wide range of subjects, including science, philosophy, religion, feminism and literature, was generated and voted for by leading academic booksellers, librarians and publishers. Its announcement has sparked debate and prompted questions around what an academic book is. This guest post has been submitted by a member of the public, Emily Tee, and offers one reaction to the list. This post was written before the announcement of the winner. 

Public voting is now closed and the winner has been announced! On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin gained the most votes.

Originally a list of more than 200 titles had been narrowed down to just 20:

  1. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
  2. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft
  3. Critique of Pure Reason – Immanuel Kant
  4. Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
  5. On the Origins of Species – Charles Darwin
  6. Orientalism – Edward Said
  7. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
  8. The Communist Manifesto – Marx & Engels
  9. The Complete Works – William Shakespeare
  10. The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer
  11. The Making of the English Working Class – E P Thompson
  12. The Meaning of Relativity – Albert Einstein
  13. The Naked Ape – Desmond Morris
  14. The Prince – Niccolo Machiavelli
  15. The Republic – Plato
  16. The Rights of Man – Thomas Paine
  17. The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
  18. The Uses of Literacy – Richard Hoggart
  19. The Wealth of Nations – Adam Smith
  20. Ways of Seeing – John Berger

Whilst I am eager to find out the winner, I am slightly reserved about the decision-making process behind voting. For me, I have only entirely read one of the texts (George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four), and extracts from around five or six others. I’m immediately on the back foot. How many others will be in a similar situation to me? Will this add a certain bias to the voting? There will be very few individuals who have read all 20 texts, and therefore few who can submit a subjective vote.

The subject areas of the nominations are so varied that people are likely to vote for books within the subject that they are interested in or their specialist area. For me, that would be The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare has shaped and influenced the arts and literature world in a way that no other within the subject area has, however, has he been as influential on the world as Einstein or Darwin? I would argue that he probably hasn’t.

Significantly, there are only four women on the list. Three of those are writing about feminism, which seems rather niche compared to the male-authored books on the list. Although feminism is important, some variety would have been welcomed.

The list is also dominated by English speakers. Could it be culturally biased, or is this bound to happen in a world where the English language is dominant?

However, I’ll base my shortlist on what I know:

  • Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’ has sold more than 20 million copies and has simplified science and physics so that it can be understood by non-academic readers;
  • Mary Wollstonecraft was the first woman to voice her opinion on a woman’s place in society and their equality to men, ultimately changing the way women are perceived to this day;
  • Albert Einstein gave us the world’s most famous equation and is now synonymous with the word ‘genius’;
  • Charles Darwin wrote the foundation of evolutionary biology
  • Plato explained to us why we need justice in ‘The Republic’.

All of these touch on pivotal moments in the world’s history and it’s academic progress, ranging from 380BC to the present day. I am now a few steps closer to determining which book I’m going to vote for, but I’ll have to wait until Academic Book Week in November to find out the winner.

Who will you vote for?

Emily Tee, 27, is a lifelong reader, writer and reviewer of books. Currently working for a large international organisation in the professional area of business proposal writing. Whilst juggling life with two young children, she reads and recites stories on a daily basis and shares her thoughts on them via her personal blog, which also includes her original poetry and short stories. This year she has started to study towards a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing.

 

Check out Emily’s blog here: http://mrsemilytee.blogspot.co.uk/

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#AcBookWeek Events!

Academic Book Week (9-16 Nov) is next week! With a constellation of events being showcased all around the UK from Sussex to Edinburgh, this week highlights the wonderful work done by booksellers, libraries, academics, and publishers, and discusses the academic book across a spectrum of perspectives. Here we have collected events by location so scroll through to see what is happening near you!

We have also just announced some competitions and offers that will be happening during the week! Including but not limited to winning an #AcBookWeek tote bag, winning a special leather-bound edition of “The Complete Works of Shakespeare”, and 50% of all academic books and classics at Southcart Books. Find out about them more on this page and keep checking because more are being added all the time!

Cambridge

Cambridge will be hosting an exhibit for the entire week at the University Library, presenting a selection of books showing examples of the way readers have interacted with their textbooks from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries. And on the 9th November Dr Rosalind Grooms and Kevin Taylor explore how Cambridge has shaped the world of academic publishing, starting way back in 1534.

Oxford

There are four events taking place in Oxford throughout the week. On the 9th November Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, discusses his new book “The Power of Reading”. Furedi has constructed an eclectic and entirely original history of reading, and will deliver a similarly exciting discussion on the historical relevance of the reader. Peter Lang Oxford are showcasing a book exhibit presenting the past and present of the academic book from the 9th-16th November, this event requires no registration so just drop in anytime to have a look! On the 11th November Peter Lang again presents J. Khalfa and I. Chol who have recently published “Spaces of the Book”, exploring the life of books ‘beyond the page’. This launch will be followed by a drinks reception and discussion of the aforementioned week-long exhibit. The Oxford events culminate on the 12th November with a panel discussion on The Future of the Academic Monograph; four panelists and two respondents will address issues from their personal perspectives including academic librarianship, academic publishing, and academic bookselling.

Edinburgh

Edinburgh plays host to a series of debates around digital text during the week. The first is on the 9th November and the debate will cover online text and learning, the second on the 10th covers digital text and publishing, the third on the 11th covers open access textbooks, and the fourth on the 12th covers online learning. With speakers from eclectic backgrounds and unique perspectives these offer informative and insightful discussions. The week in Edinburgh finishes up on the 13th with a debate on the subject Is the Book Dead? This promises to be an interesting event with speakers from the Bookseller’s Association and Scottish Publishing covering issues about the future of books and reading.

Liverpool

Liverpool launches their Academic Book Week events with a talk at the University of Liverpool with Simon Tanner, from King’s College London, and member of the project team, as keynote speaker, and a subsequent overview of the week’s events. Simon will speak on ‘The Academic Book of the Future and Communities of Practice’ with Charles Forsdick and Claire Taylor responding from the perspectives of Translating Cultures and Digital Transformations, respectively. On the 10th November Claire Hooper of Liverpool University Press and Charlie Rapple from Kudos present ideas on how to promote your academic book via Kudos and social media, a fitting topic when thinking specifically about the future of the academic book. On the 11th Gina D’Oca of Palgrave MacMillan will speak about open access monographs and a representative from Liverpool University Press will give their perspective. The last event in Liverpool takes place on the 12th and will focus on the academic book as a free available source for students. Academics, librarians, and university presses should work together to create free open access sources for students, but how? Find out here!

Glasgow

John Smith’s Glasgow hosts all of the events taking place in the city throughout the week. The first night on the 9th the bookstore will stay open late and from 5:30-7:30pm all customers will receive special one-night-only discounts on items not already discounted! There will also be refreshments so there’s no excuse not to come and celebrate the longstanding partnership between John Smith’s and the University of Glasgow. On the 10th the bookstore hosts the launch of Iain Macwhirter’s new book, “Tsuanmi: Scotland’s Democratic Revolution”. On the 11th – purposefully coinciding with Armistice Day – John Smith’s caters an evening of discussion and readings exploring Edwin Morgan’s unique contribution to Scotland’s poetry in response to war. With readings and contributions from friends and trustees of Edwin Morgan this evening will be a personal and creative contribution to the week. John Smith’s unique events don’t stop there! On the 12th Louise Welsh, Professor of Creative Writing at Glasgow University, discusses her recent novels and the editing of a new anthology of supernatural stories – a perfectly atmospheric evening for the cold autumn evenings. John Smith’s last event takes place on the 13th, author and astronomer (what a combination!) Dr. Pippa Goldschmidt discusses co-editing a new collection “I Am Because You Are”. She will be joined by contributor Neil Williamson as they talk science and fiction. 

London

London has a large amount of events happening starting with a debate focusing on how the evolving technologies of the book have changed the way we read at The School of Advanced Study. The 10th sees two other events: Blackwell’s at UCL hosts the book launch of Shirley Simon’s “Narratives of Doctoral Studies in Science Education” and Rowman & Littlefield International offer a panel event on interdisciplinary publishing and research. The question being asked is how do academics and publishers reach a diverse, multidisciplinary audience and the panel will be followed by a Q&A session. The 11th plays host to two events: Palgrave MacMillan’s premiere academic series in the history of the book is being launched and elsewhere Charlotte Frost outlines the future of the art history book. She asks ‘what should the art history book of the future look like and what should it do differently for the discipline to evolve?’ Since 2015 marks the 400th anniversary of Richard Baxter’s birth, a symposium to honour his life and assess his significance takes place on the 13th, as well as a panel discussion at the Wellcome Collection specifically targeting questions related to STM publishing and issues facing humanities research. The 12th November also sees The Independent Publishers Guild Autumn Conference with representatives from Academic Book Week, Dr Samantha Rayner, Richard Fisher, Eben Muse and Peter Lake, speaking on a panel.

Hertfordshire & Cardiff

We have one event happening in Hertfordshire in conjunction with the University of Hertfordshire Press and Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies! This is for anyone considering getting their research published as it addresses local history and publishing combined in an effort to help and advise about writing book proposals and approaching publishers. Similarly, in Cardiff there is an event on the 11th November utilising a forum to discuss innovative Open Access academic publishing ventures.

Manchester & Bristol

In Manchester on the 11th there will be a panel discussion presented by Digital Humanities Manchester and the University of Manchester Library as they get to the root of the issues presented in academic publishing. Multiple perspectives will make this a fascinating event as panelists attempt to answer questions such as what is the future of the academic long-form publication in the evolving publishing landscape? And is there still a future for the physical book? And in Bristol on the 10th November a panel tackles the questions facing the academic book from the perspective of the panel and the audience.

Sussex & Sheffield

In Sussex on the 11th there is a similar panel discussion; three speakers from different backgrounds grapple with the transformation of the academic book and what that will mean for the future. On the 11th in Sheffield an important and fascinating question is asked: Should we trust Wikipedia? Librarians and scholars from a range of backgrounds discuss the validity of information on there and address questions of integrity surrounding digital publishing. Sheffield finishes off Academic Book Week on the 13th with an open afternoon in the University of Sheffield Library’s Special Collections, introducing visitors to treasures from their collection.

Dundee & Stirling

Dundee and Stirling partake in the excitement of the week also! On the 11th November Dundee presents the Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon as part of the NEoN Digital Arts Festival and on the 13th a mini-symposium focused on the intersection of tradition and craft with the digital transformation of art and design. In Stirling on the 12th John Watson, Commissioning Editor for Law, Scottish Studies & Scottish History at Edinburgh University Press will be speaking to students of the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication about academic publishing and his role as a commissioning editor.

Leicester & Nottingham

When we mentioned that events were happening all over the country we really mean it! If you are near the Midlands, DeMontford University is bringing together PhD students to think about the future of the English PhD and the future training of English academics. And last but not least on the 12th in Nottingham Sprinting to the Open FuTure takes place – a panel discussion event bringing together those who interact with academic books to explore questions about how students and staff publish, and the challenges they face.

With so much happening, it will be hard to choose  – we know we are already having trouble deciding between events. Come to as many as you can, and help support the future of the academic book!

Acts of Reading: when, how, and where do academics and their audiences read in the digital age?

How academics and their audiences read is a topic inextricably tied in with the future of the academic book. On the 24th September 2015, Professor Andrew Prescott, Dr Bronwen Thomas, and Professor Miri Rubin, chaired by Dr Sara Perry, discussed Acts of Reading as part of The British Library’s ‘Digital Conversations’ series of events. The event was held at The British Library and co-organised by The Academic Book of the Future project, and was prompted by a previous blog post on a related topic by Prof. Andrew Prescott.

The panel considered such questions as: Have acts of academic reading changed in recent years and are they still changing? What formats and devices are academics reading in and on, and how has this affected their research and writing? What is the future of academic reading, and what consequences will this have for the academic book? How have these changes impacted public consumption of academic research and might this portend for academia and the public in the future?

panel

The panel, as captured by a talented attendee! (© Lisamaria Laxholm: https://twitter.com/LLaxholm/status/647133130697121792)

Migratory reading

Dr Bronwen Thomas (Bournemouth University) began by outlining new opportunities that digital reading offers. She uses email and her university’s Intranet not only for collecting and aggregating links, but also for sharing them with her students. Reading becomes an act of community, of social connection and discussion, but the act of reading is also put off until the links themselves are clicked.

Digital reading offers a greater array of options for academics than hard-copy reading alone. “Even if a book is on my shelf, I am more likely to find a specific quote using a digital search, e.g. on Google Books.” But conversely, as Thomas highlights, citing Naomi Baron’s Words Onscreen (which she brought with her to the event – in hard copy format) people tend to do more re-reading in print. The reasons for this are various, although the main one for Thomas is that with physical books there are less likely to be Internet-related distractions, e.g. Twitter, Facebook, emails.

Some researchers have also argued that when reading a physical book there is a greater sense of the internal topography and structure of the book, with readers having more of a sense of themselves within the space of the book, as well as an awareness of external space, and a memory of the situations of reading: How much is left of the book? Where was I when I read this – on the bus, in my office, in the bath? Thomas asks: what counts as reading? Does it finish when you finish the book, or does an insight strike you 5 years later?

Thomas described herself as a migratory reader – migrating between different kinds of modalities and media. She referred to the “PowerPoint state of mind”, an argument often cited with reference to digital reading. It describes a fragmentary style of reading; dipping in and out of texts. This type of reading, Thomas suggests, can occur with both physical and digital texts, but is arguably being heightened by an increase in digital reading.

You can read Bronwen Thomas’ reflection on the event here: http://www.digitalreadingnetwork.com/academic-acts-of-reading-event-at-the-british-library/.

Academic ebooks: pdf hell?

Prof. Andrew Prescott (University of Glasgow, AHRC) reflected on the issue of reading in blog posts before (https://academicbookfuture.org/2015/03/19/my-acts-of-reading-andrew-prescott/) and after the Digital Conversations event at The British Library (http://digitalriffs.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/acts-of-reading-redux.html).

He agreed with Thomas’ assertion regarding the sense-memory of physical books, recalling “one cold Christmas in the 1960s”, when he had received a book as a gift and taken it back to his warm bed to read. Prescott went on to explain why and how he had gradually turned to digital reading, because of the great advantages it offers: ebook devices are lighter to carry than most hard-copy books; there is immediate access to content through downloads, and faster access to recently published books. He described himself as an “e-reading convert” but expressed dissatisfaction with the cost of academic books – he often still has to consult academic books in a library, rather than buying his own copy or e-version. “We need,” he suggests, “an academic text version of iPlayer.”

But has there been a transformation in reading practices, prompted by digital text? Prescott suggests that he doesn’t use his phone or device to do anything that he didn’t already do before: “Pleased as I am with ebooks, they are very very boring products.” Academic ebooks have not, he argues, capitalised on the advantages offered by digital technology for scholarly purposes. For example, it would be incredibly useful, in a history ebook for instance, to link directly to the primary source it refers to – a digitised version of a medieval document, a database of coins, a virtual tour of a long-gone city. Instead, ebooks tend to be glorified pdfs, and fairly flat. “My dystopian view of the future,’ says Prescott, “is that journals will consist of pdfs of journal articles.”

He then went on to say: “this is partly why I got into the Digital Humanities. I want to see ebooks that encourage me to read more deeply.”

Contextual deep reading

Prof. Miri Rubin (Queen Mary University of London) referred to the linguistic turn of the 1990s and the intertextuality of texts, and how this is a useful frame through which to consider academic reading: everything that humans produce and how we communicate with and understand each other is coded in texts. Rubin explained how we have become “supple, multi-skilled readers of text” by learning to deconstruct texts and to acknowledge the importance of context.

Nowadays scholars undertake a great deal of research via databases and searches. Often, we aren’t physically embedded in reading contexts – we are no longer immersed in journals in the stacks, or flicking through pages of physical text, accidentally discovering other information in the process. Rubin asks: Does this new reading change the way we understand content? She gives an example of a colleague who was researching the 1975 referendum. Due to copyright issues, he had to look through the original articles in physical newspapers, rather than viewing them in a digital context. Seeing them embedded in their original contexts, surrounded by the adverts and other articles on the page, the referendum articles took on new meanings and relevance. This is not something that can always be fully appreciated when using digitally-reproduced sources.

But, Rubin asks, what about reading poems, or cult or sacred literature? Are there inherent issues in reading the Lord’s Prayer, for instance, in a fragment? Rubin suggests the “notion that the reading act is not complete until it is complete.”

The academic book of the future: born digital?

Bronwen Thomas recently wrote a textbook that included links to relevant web pages, but she admitted that this is an “unsatisfactory way of trying to connect. The links will probably be dead by the time the book is published.” Seeking permissions for images can also discourage the kind of engaging, interactive e-text that Prescott would like to see. Despite this, Thomas thinks that the academic book of the future will be born digital – conceived as digital right from the outset, and including audio-visual content, links, and interactive features. Rubin added to this, suggesting that academic books of the future should be able to create a completely holistic reading experience for research and writing, for example when researching the Magnificat, the music itself could be playing in the background via an ebook.

On the other hand, Thomas suggests that the idea of the ‘digital native’ is a “mythology” – her students wanted paperbacks, because they thought e-reading devices to be ugly and like something their parents would use. “Books,” Thomas suggests, “are becoming retro, like vinyl, and going into bookshops is visually exciting, so books still hold charm and appeal.”

Measurement and evaluation

Sara Perry highlighted that there are strong links between the analogue and digital, and our ways of reading. Perhaps, she suggests, there are “larger concerns around the sharing economy: bureaucratic shackles, politics, longer-term engagement, personal safety, the divides between communities, surveillance and data analysis, and corporate control.” She questions how acts of reading are affected by the academic contexts in which we find ourselves, for example academics are subject to the REF, the impact agenda, metrics, etc. She cited one of her PhD students who has created video games to advance archaeological research, deploying them alongside the trowel or camera as a toolkit of the archaeologist. This student wants her examiners to literally play her thesis, rather than read it, but she is being forced to battle with the assumption that the PhD should be a monograph. Hence, the game will probably become an appendix at the end of her thesis, eliminating the potential and possibility of it.

AHRC funding encourages people to collaborate and create new book forms and potentially new reading experiences, but whether that is a REF-able output is another matter. Andrew Prescott explains that someone submitted a totem pole to the recent REF, and it was accepted. But whether this is encouraged within the frameworks of individual institutions and their structures is another question. He sees this it as a problem that we have in terms of the structure of knowledge, which “is now being driven more by Wikipedia than academia.”

Finally, there were some thought-provoking questions from the audience:

 

“I usually forage – for a particular quote or piece of information, but when I find a book I enjoy, I tend to buy it and read it for a different reason. What do you think of re-reading, and what academic books do you re-read and why?”

AP: Vivian Hunter-Galbraith’s book on using Public Records: it has haunted me since I was about 20. Now it is only available in a 1960s reprint. I constantly refer back to it. I would probably buy the ebook, like you said, to find a particular quote more quickly.

BT: For me re-reading is literary re-reading, like reading Jane Eyre 50 times. I re-read it every time I teach it. I don’t read ‘academic’ books in that way.

MR: I do the foraging and the researching but then if like it I buy it and re-read it more fully.

 

“If you could have access to everything EVER published on something the size of a matchbox, would you say yes?”

AP: It’s not something I would turn down if you offered it to me, but I would point out that this idea is a deception, because in the foreseeable future I don’t think it could exist. Take the example of Tristram Shandy: Sterne went to great effort and expense to insert a DIFFERENT piece of marbled paper in every single one of the first copies of this book. How would you recreate something like this?

BT: Absolutely not: It would be meaningless! Going back to the idea of foraging, part of the process of reading is the discovery, the creation of my own library of content – it would be a meaningless mess of everything.

MR: Yes, absolutely!