#AcBookWeek: The Guadalajara International Book Fair (28 Nov-6 Dec 2015)

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Today’s guest post is by Simon Mahony (Department of Information Studies, UCL), who spoke about The Academic Book of the Future at the 2015 Guadalajara International Book Fair. This post is a brief summary of his talk.

I was very pleased to be invited by the British Council to take part in one of their Mexico in the UK and the UK in Mexico events and to speak in an academic panel at the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) at the start of December. This is apparently the largest literary festival and most important publishing gathering in Latin America with the reputation of being the largest book fair in the world after Frankfurt. The title of the panel organised by the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Guadalajara was ‘The Challenges of Knowledge Production in Modern Societies’ and as part of the FIL there was plenty of excuse to showcase some of our publications.

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My talk ‘Reflections on knowledge production within the framework of UK academic institutions’ finished up with some slides about The Academic Book of the Future generously given to me by my colleague Samantha Rayner. This allowed me to go full circle in my talk about knowledge production and the academy as well as traditional versus new modes of production.

My talk started with the first Free Universities in the European Enlightenment period, with scholarship built on previous scholarship, and open discourse through the publication model – this being the cornerstone of Humanities scholarship. Moving through knowledge representation, I argued strongly for the Open Access movement with the modern university as a driver for this, particularly with the mandate for open publication of research output.

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I finished up with a showcase of some open UCL output including UCL Press and followed by The Academic Book of the Future project, more specifically the Palgrave Pivot publication of the same name, edited by Rebecca Lyons and Samantha Rayner. What is a Book Fair without some promotion and product placement?

Images of me, the panel, and the books (including this volume prominently placed on the desk!) were captured in video and stills and circulated by the University of Guadalajara, as well as on Twitter and other social media platforms.

I offered the two volumes generously donated by the authors to the University of Guadalajara library so the physical medium (and reputation of the authors and editors!) would have an immediate international and trans-continental impact factor. The FIL itself was definitely impressive and certainly lived up to its reputation as the biggest book fair in the world after Frankfurt: so many books and so many publishers.

 

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#AcBookWeek: Interdisciplinary Research and Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities

In today’s guest post, independent academic publisher Rowman & Littlefield International  reflects on the highlights that the publishing industry celebrated in 2015, and especially #AcBookWeek. 

Rowman and LittlefieldWhen the first Academic Book Week was first announced earlier this year, we were thrilled to be given the opportunity to raise awareness what we do every day: publishing interdisciplinary academic books in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Academic publishing is traditionally divided up into strict segments according to what disciplines are taught by universities. As an interdisciplinary publisher, our aim is to bridge gaps between the disciplines and offer new insights based on a more inclusive, innovative approach, and Academic Book Week offered us the ideal opportunity to share these principles with the wider academic community. Our event ‘Interdisciplinary Research and Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities’ was initiated!

Martina O’Sullivan, our Senior Commissioning Editor in Cultural Studies, secured a fabulous panel of speakers who are published experts in the field of interdisciplinary research and publishing. They were joined by our Editorial Director, Sarah Campbell, to offer a broad range of perspectives on the topic. Our panel covered everything from some tips on how to get interdisciplinary work published, to alternative modes of research and publishing, right through to very practical advice for early career researchers.

The speakers were:

  • Sarah Campbell, Editorial Director, Rowman & Littlefield International
  • Gary Hall, Professor of Media and Performing Arts, Coventry University
  • Laurence Hemming, Professor, Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University
  • Danielle Sands, Lecturer in Comparative Literature and Culture, Royal Holloway
  • David Chandler, Professor of International Relations, University of Westminster

All we needed was an event location, and thanks to Peter Garner, Library Liaison Manager, and the excellent team at the Maughan Library, King’s College, we had the opportunity to secure the prestigious Weston Room, a magnificent Grade II listed edifice which is part of King’s College.

Although our event was free, we asked attendees to register their interest via the AcBookWeek website. We were sold out of tickets the day before the event and so a crowd of interested current and future academic researchers and authors entered the gates of the Maughan Library on Tuesday, 10 November. After a brief introduction from Martina O’Sullivan, Sarah Campbell opened the panel session with her talk on getting interdisciplinary work published.

See the video recording of Sarah Campbell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRY0deRkdHE


 

“What is required is an opening towards non-knowledge”―Gary Hall, Professor of Media and Performing Arts

Gary Hall, presenting on Alternative Modes of Academic Research and Publishing, focused his talk on the three keywords audience, book and interdisciplinarity, maintaining that the task of every writer should be to challenge pre-existing definitions in academic disciplines.

See the video recording of Gary Hall:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_Y551Es1Lk


 

“What is Interdisciplinary Research?”―Laurence Hemming

Laurence Hemming followed by asking: ‘What is Interdisciplinary Research?’ and pointed out that many publishers nowadays publish books in increasingly more narrow categories, likening the current situation of interdisciplinary research to a house without a heating system, thereby also stressing the importance of letting traditional phenomena speak for themselves, based on traditional knowledge of a discipline.

See the video recording of Laurence Hemming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY7szuOGhYU


 

“Tips for Early Career Researchers”―Danielle Sands

But how to go about it and where to start as an early career researcher? Danielle Sands’ engaging and useful lecture contained tips and advice for interdisciplinary researchers, including how to navigate one’s way through academic conferences and job adverts as an academic with an interdisciplinary approach.

See the video recording of Danielle Sands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wqJ5G_FChg


 

“The problems of the world call for interdisciplinarity”―David Chandler, Professor of International Relations

David Chandler rounded up the session with his lively panel about how interdisciplinary projects are perceived, and how they act in today’s academic world.

See the video recording of David Chandler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O89z-cn4x4


 

In the Q&A session that followed, our panellists answered a range of detailed questions from the audience, and the lively discussion continued until late into the evening with drinks and canapés. For us, it was a brilliant event which not only provided us with a chance to meet upcoming interdisciplinary scholars, but also an opportunity to listen to first-hand experiences of top academics who do interdisciplinary work; inspiring us to bring the ever-evolving academic book publishing process into its next age. A round-up of the event can be viewed alongside all other videos here.

We from Rowman & Littlefield International are sure that Academic Book Week will prove to be another highlight for us in 2016, and indeed become a regular highlight in the diary of every academic. For now, I would very much like to thank the organisers of Academic Book Week for providing us with a platform to create an event like this; our panellists and the Maughan Library again for making this stimulating event happen; and everyone who contributed with their attendance and questions. I hope to see you again next year!

 

 

#AcBookWeek: Students and the digital edition. A polemic.

This post first appeared on the blog of the Institute of Historical Research on November 18, 2015. The Academic Book of the Future is reblogging it for the #AcBookWeek review with kind permission from IHR.


 

This post has kindly been provided for us by Dr Stephen Gregg of Bath Spa University, and is the text of a talk given to the panel session ‘Opening the book: reading and the evolving technology(ies) of the book’ as part of Academic Book Week.

I want to talk about the undergraduate perspective on a particular kind of academic book – the edition. In fact my starting point is that, from the student perspective (and according to some scholars), there is no longer a clear idea of what that is.

The place and perceived value of the printed critical edition seems to be still firmly established. I once asked my students to identify and compare value markers of their printed text in front of them and of an online version of the same text, and they made a pretty good case for the printed text, citing everything from the name of the publisher, to modes of reading, navigation, and interaction, and even pointing to the durability of its medium. And this in a digital humanities module. However, asking them to tell me how and why either of these versions look the way they do was a far more tricky question. So my polemic will be a plea for teaching in a way that puts students themselves in the position of editors and curators of literary texts: and that the best way of doing this is an engagement with digital editing and curating.

But first, I’m going to begin by outlining how a dramatic rise in the online availability of our literary heritage drives certain changes in reading and studying practices.[1] When a lot of academics are running to catch up with the accelerating process in disseminating the world’s literary heritage online – even in their own field, and I include myself – is it any wonder that our students, stepping off the path of the printed set text, also find themselves slightly taken aback and click on the top hit in Google? Because there is indeed a chaotic mass of types of texts they can find. In addition to catalogue entries and Amazon hits, there are texts from web sites and web ventures that essentially depend upon some form of commercial revenue or profit (e.g. Google, Luminarium, editions via Kindle, and even apps), non-profit web organisations (e.g. Project Gutenberg, Poemhunter, Internet Archive, Hathi Trust), nationally-supported or privately-endowed institutions (e.g. Folger digital texts, British Library Shakespeare Folios), University libraries (e.g. SCETI, Virginia, Adelaide, Bodleian), a whole host of academic projects (e.g. Rosetti Archive, EEBO-TCP, the Correspondence of William Godwin, the Walt Whitman Archive) and, of course, via institutionally-accessed and pay-walled commercial publishers (like Cengage or ProQuest). My essential point is that there is a blurring of the definition of the ‘edition’. What we see – for sometimes good reasons – are projects that describe themselves as digital archives, databases, digital library collections, social editions (like Transcribe Bentham), and apps (e.g. Touchpress’s The Wasteland). And texts that come via these platforms look, feel and function very differently.

Between the printed and digital text, there’s a two-way process happening. The easy and quick availability of texts online drives a certain kind of reading of printed editions which makes invisible ‘the history of their own making’ (D. F. McKenzie).[2] At the same time, undergraduates don’t often spot the distinction between the kinds of texts they find online and the one in their printed critical editions. This partly because they see only the text in their editions, and not the ‘edition’ (introduction, textual note, annotations, etc.): the actual edition becomes invisible. I don’t want to denigrate undergraduates’ skills and this isn’t entirely the students’ fault: it’s partly how English literary studies – at least in many seminar rooms – is still running with the idea of the literary text as an immaterial abstraction (despite the influence of various kinds of historicization). It’s this that renders invisible the processes that shape the form of the book in their hands. So I guess my rant is partly a plea for a serious consideration for the materiality of the book and a bigger role for the history of the book in English Studies.

But I’m also thinking about the lack of attention (at undergraduate level) paid to how editions and texts end up on the web in the ways they do. Formats vary hugely, from poorly catalogued page facsimiles, to unattributed HTML editing of dodgy nineteenth-century editions, to scholarly high-standard editing with XML/TEI encoding. But there are still plenty of these digital versions and collections that make it very difficult to see who these resources are for and how they got to look and function the way they do. And, as I’ve hinted at earlier, issues of format and accessibility are linked to how the various sites and projects are funded. In significant ways a lot of texts available digitally do much worse than the print edition at signalling ‘The history of their own making.’

So, the second half of my polemic is about how we should be making our students more aware of how the edition is remediated based on an understanding of the limits and affordances of digital technology and of how the internet works.[3] Because this is where digital technology can open their books in a vital way. I’ve found it intensely interesting that the digital humanities community has been using a variety of material and haptic metaphors to describe what it is they are doing – ‘making’ or ‘building.’[4] For me, this is wonderfully suggestive. In asking my students to understand the processes involved in transforming a material book into an printed edition and then a digital edition is a necessarily haptic experience. This experience – a process that involves decisions about audience, purpose, authority, and technological affordances and restraints – enables a student to understand their literary object of study in a vital and transformative way. It might seem odd that I’m emphasising materiality in a debate thinking through the effects of what is, ostensibly, an immaterial medium, but technology is material and digital editing should involve the material aspects of the book and material work. My undergraduate dissertation student is producing a digital edition of a work by Henry Fielding: she will be going to the British Library to see the source text as an essential part of her learning. In a few weeks time, my students will be building a digital scanner partly out of cardboard; after that even our training in digital markup will start with pencil and a printed sheet of paper.

So I’m arguing that we give students the opportunity to be academic editors of books, and not just in theory but in practice; to enable them to be creators and not merely consumers of texts, because the electronic editions of the future should be powered by an early and vital experience of digital making.

Notes to Students and the digital edition. A polemic.

[1] Leaving aside why there is an increasing use by undergraduates of online texts instead of printed ones in class – though I suspect it’s partly down to the increasing centrality of the mobile device as well as an expectation that everything is, or should be, freely accessible.

[2]D. F. McKenzie, quoted in Jerome McGann, ‘Coda. Why digital textual scholarship matters; or, philology in a new key,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, eds, Neil Fraistat and Julia Flanders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 274-88 (p.274).

[3] I’m always reminded of internet hacktivist Aaron Swartz’s maxim: ‘It’s not OK not to understand the internet anymore.’

[4] Most notably Stephen Ramsay, On Building.