Towards an Ethics of Circulation: A Manifesto in Tweets

On 19 June 2015 a group of anthropologists and ethnographers met at RMIT Europe in Barcelona to discuss The Academic Book of the Future project. The aim of the workshop was to situate the future of the book in the context of broader anthropological engagements with how knowledge circulates, the form knowledge takes, and the ethical questions that these engagements raise. What follows is a series of principles designed to engage with the Project, composed by the anthropologists and ethnographers that took part in the workshop: it is their manifesto (with a twist).

The principles are written for Twitter-friendly dissemination (under 140-characters) in order to maximise their circulation and impact within the world of publishing and academia. Our manifesto highlights our dissatisfaction with the contemporary climate in the UK (and other national contexts) for Open Access, and acknowledges the limitations and closed nature of many of our conversations about the circulation of academic texts, which all too often do not really take into account our obligations to readers. In an era of ‘Impact’, we seek to re-centre our focus upon engaging in conversations with the people we work with, the public and other academics, challenging assumptions about why they may not be understood as one and the same.

  1. UK defined Gold+Green #OA support the status quo of commercial publishing. Both are inadequate responses to our ethical responsibilities.

  1. Readers matter most! Who are our readers? Who should be our readers?

  1. Do not fetishise the digital. We need a mixed media ecology in order to disseminate our work smartly.

  1. Practice Slow Publishing. The academic book’s greatest threat is denial of the time it takes to produce truly insightful and enduring work.

  1. Dismantle the academy’s fetish for individual authorship in favour of a recognition of the value of collaboration across all levels.

  1. Metrics cannot measure our full value. We also need to acknowledge value through ethical and human principles.

  1. A publication is not simply a closed and bounded object or commodity. It lives on and proceeds into an uncertain world.


signed Haidy Geismar (@haidygeismar), Heather Horst (@hahhh), Daniel Miller (@DannyAnth), Sarah Pink (@pinkydigital), Mary Murrell (@M_Murrell), Elisenda Ardevol (@Mediacciones), and Christiane Brosius.


This manifesto is intended to be thought-provoking, and to prompt further conversation. Do you agree or disagree with any parts of it, or have any questions? Get in touch!


The full programme, along with abstracts and speaker bios from the workshop are available here.




By the Book 2, Florence 18-19 June 2015: conference report

Project Team member Nick Canty (UCL) recently spoke at the two-day By the Book conference in Florence. This post is a brief report on the conference and some of the major themes and issues that emerged.

The overarching theme for this two-day conference was ‘Books and reading in an age of media overload’ – a big subject. We were fortunate the event was held in the rarefied location of the Villa Finaly outside Florence, which since 1953 has been owned by the 13 institutions which comprise the universities of Paris – this place is no stranger to big ideas.

Villa Finaly, Florence

Villa Finaly, Florence

The conference brought together scholars from the field of publishing studies to examine key issues around the digital transformation of the book, as well as to discuss the developing field of publishing studies. In total, 14 countries were represented, an increase on last year when the conference was first held.

The conference started with the evolution and transformation of reading with three presentations looking at cross-media storytelling and screen reading practices which suggested that the pdf has established itself as an influential format with its own sets of references and screen reading habits and will be likely to influence future devices and reading habits. This, it was argued, is because we see the connection to paper from the pdf. The final session was an analysis of student book-buying practices, which suggested students take little notice of reading lists and recommendations from academics, at least in Nanking, Pisa and Zadar. Of the three countries surveyed Chinese students were far more likely to be reading on smartphones.

Staying with the book, a later session considered the book as a dissemination machine with talks on design in digital textbooks, ebook trends in Poland and software as amplified content raising the question about whether software can be considered publishing. As with all large questions this defied any easy answers.

The session on scholarly publishing had three perspectives – one looking at the use of ebooks in Swedish academic libraries; a talk by Sally Hughes from Oxford Brookes University on how the Met Museum in New York had repurposed their back catalogue to create a free online resource; and a talk from Elsevier on value and exchange in scholarly publishing interactions, referencing John Thompson’s arguments around capital and value and supply chains in publishing.

Two papers specifically addressed editing. Susan Greenberg from Roehampton University talked about the poetics of editing with her definition of editing as a decision-making process – selecting, shaping and linking content – delivering the meaning of a work to its audience, and the art of seeing text as if it is not yet finished. As was pointed out, given the conference setting, this is rather like seeing the statue of David from a block of marble. Dr Greenberg argued that there were many studies which portrayed editors in a negative light, particularly in the 1940s concept as the gatekeeper, a concept now challenged as new media can democratise the field. Katherine Reeve from Bath Spa University made a powerful case for using editors better in publishing companies as they often offer the best ideas to promote and develop content – but they need to be given the opportunity to develop new skills. This was reinforced by Frania Hall from London College of Communication who discussed a recent survey with publishers in the UK which indicated that the editorial function is getting the least attention when looking at digital change.

I gave a paper on book culture, considering books in social spaces – particularly on YouTube – and how vloggers are being picked up by publishers with varying degrees of success. UCL’s Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold’s analysis of authors on WattPad asserted we are far from witnessing the death of the author and as pointed out by Professor Alexis Weedon from the University of Bedfordshire there is space to examine author brands as part of celebrity studies.

As with every conference on publishing, the issue of definitions reared its head. Zoran Velagic talked about the problems of definitions and how traditional methods to understand publishing (functional or linear chains as articulated by John Thompson) are redundant in the digital era. He suggested instead four new approaches: media-oriented – looking at what a book does to society; an author perspective – particularly because of the increase in self-publishing; a content view, which considers network participation and asks how capital can be maximised from content; and lastly a producer orientated approach, which looks at the author and content.

Claudio Piers Franco from the University of Bedfordshire introduced us to the concept of the ‘gamebook’ and to what extent different media formats have what might be considered ‘bookness’ in them, and considered the book as a social space, influenced by bloggers coming together in a shared space.

One interesting point to note is that despite various technological developments, the term ‘book’ persists.


Full programme from the 2015 conference available here:


Next year’s By the Book conference theme is audience development.

What is an academic book?

The Academic Book of the Future Project asks the fundamental question… What is an academic book?

This may seem like an odd question, but if we are going to debate the future of something, it seems like a good idea to know what that something is. One definition that can be used for the academic book is that it is a long-form publication, as opposed to a short-form publication like an article, and is the result of in-depth academic research, usually over a period of years, making an original contribution to a field of study.

An academic book can take many forms. In the past, these forms would generally have been represented in print, but increasingly print formats are being accompanied or sometimes replaced by digital versions, and digital formats are becoming increasingly functional. However, other analogue forms like film or photography have also been considered long-form research publications in visual disciplines; and these are increasingly digital.

It is becoming difficult to know, now, what the limits of an academic book are. If our key definition is as above, with only two main characteristics—long form, original contribution, — without limiting what medium the ‘book’ might be produced in, then we have an almost infinite variety of possibilities. From this flow both opportunities and concerns. The opportunities offer academics scope to explore and publish, sources, ideas, analyses, conclusions and data in formats that perhaps better suit their subject areas than conventional publication, and enable collaboration and interlinking of people and ideas as in ways never previously possible. The concerns reside around skills and training for developing new forms of publication; new models of publishing and the economics of the publishing industry; complex networks of intellectual property issues as data, sources and ideas are mashed and mingled, incorporating copyrighted works and creating new copyrights; and the thorny issue of how libraries and other institutions are going to make available new forms of publication in many new and evolving formats, and how these are to be preserved for the long term.

‘Conventional’ forms of academic books


The academic monograph is the cornerstone of academic writing in the humanities. As Geoffrey Crossick says of the monograph:

It provides the length and space needed to allow a full examination of a topic, with the objective of presenting complex and rich ideas, arguments and insights supported by carefully contextualised analysis and evidence. … Writing a monograph allows the author to weave a complex and reflective narrative, tying together a body of research in a way that is not possible with journal articles or other shorter outputs.

Typically, the monograph is in excess of 80,000 words, may be heavily illustrated in some discipline areas like art history, and may have a single or several authors. It will refer to other work on the topic with a dense network of comments and footnotes, and will have an overall thesis that offers an original contribution to the field.

Edited Collections

An edited collection will typically address a particular topic or theme. It will have one or more editors, and a series of chapters addressing that theme which will usually cross-refer. Again, it will offer an original contribution to its field.

Critical editions

In subject areas that deal with written primary sources, the critical edition is a key work of scholarship. A work , which may have a number of versions, is transcribed and the various different versions collated (in print this is done by registering variant reading from a master copy, in digital editions this is increasingly done by offering multiple versions that can be collated using technical means). Explanatory text, notes, glossaries and other ancilliary materials are added to aid interpretation for the reader. Critical editions are significant works that present a great deal of original scholarship.

Exhibition or museum/gallery catalogues

These can be considered academic books if, along with images of the works in the exhibition, they contain analytical material that is the result of research.

Other forms of long-form productions

In disciplines which are not primarily textual, non-textual analogue productions are accepted forms of research output. Research photography and film have been recognised for more than 50 years as research products in areas such as anthropology, film studies, photography studies, performance studies. Take for example the outputs of the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology in Manchester, which cover sound and performance, photographic and digital media, and art/museum installations (ee In archaeology, the field report, which incorporates maps, graphs, sketches, photographs etc is a significant research output.

The Digital Academic Book

Increasingly, academic books are being produced, published and disseminated digitally alongside or sometimes instead of in print, and print on demand from digital files is now common with most academic publishers. All of the above products are amenable to digital representation, but some things inevitably change when translated or migrated to new formats—and entirely new kinds of output are possible.


Ebooks are usually straightforward representations of print books with some limited added functionality such as annotation, dictionary lookup etc. There are a number of formats available besides the ubiquitous PDF, but they all offer much the same reading experience which tries to mimic fairly closely the print experience. So monographs and other conventional works presented as ebooks differ only in details of presentation from their print equivalents, rather than in matters of substance

Digital critical editions and archives

We group critical editions and archives together as it is sometimes difficult to see the boundaries between them. Like conventional critical editions, digital critical editions present a work in all its significant versions with a great deal of critical and explanatory materials. Where digital editions generally differ from print works is in their ability to present all the witnesses to a particular work, in high quality image form and in transcriptions, and allow the user to perform collations on these using software, and in the ability to present vastly more material than is practical in printed form, with layers of complex interlinking. Two good examples of online editions are Kathryn Sutherland’s Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts ( which incorporates images and transcriptions of all the author’s surviving fiction manuscripts and the edition of Dante’s Commedia by Prue Shaw which collates seven manuscripts of the work ( and is available in online and CD ROM form.

Given the expanded possibilities of the digital edition, these often grow into an archive around a work or a writer, for example the Walt Whitman Archive ( which presents a plethora of information about the poet and his works. One problem of defining certain digital editions or archives as academic books is that they are often deliberately mutable and unfinished, with additions and corrections made regularly, often by a large and interlinked team. Some scholars proclaim this as a benefit, given that errors can be corrected instantly, new ideas, readings or witnesses added at will, but this is antithetical to the kind of scholarship that requires stability of referent in order that scholarly debate can take place around a known and stable body of sources.

New forms of publication

Digital technology, high definition screens, and new critical modes of enquiry mean that our traditional definitions of academic products need radical rethinking. A long-form research output can now take many new forms and constraints upon certain avenues of research and publication are loosened. Take for example, Aphrodisias in Late Antiquity: The Late Roman and Byzantine Inscriptions by Charlotte Roueché. The first edition of this was published in 1989 in print form, incorporating photographs of the inscriptions, transcriptions and commentary. The second, online, edition appeared in 2004, ( now allowing much more commentary and a new approach to the organisation of the materials that strained uneasily against the print format. At the touch of a button the inscriptions can be viewed by type, by find spot, by date, etc.

More recently, see the multifaceted digital publications now planned by Stanford University Press, stimulated by a major grant from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation. (

The first publication by the Press will be Enchanting the Desert by Nicholas Bauch, a book-length examination of Henry Peabody’s 1905 slideshows of the Grand Canyon, which creates a digital prototype for studying cultural and geographical history.  The Mellon Foundation has recently funded a group of university presses in the US to create a shareable, open-source solution for born-digital complementary monograph materials as well as a working model that maximizes the publishing strengths of university presses and the preservation expertise of libraries.

Other publishers are creating innovative models of publication in digital form of existing print materials. The Oxford University Press Oxford Scholarly Editions Online initiative ( is a way of bringing the academic book of the past into the present and the future: major scholarly editions published by Oxford and other academic presses are rekeyed, marked up, and interlinked into complex online editions. Cambridge University Press have developed parallel editions in print and digital form, for instance the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson (

Rather different, but still in contention to be called academic books are books apps like the Faber/Touch Press versions of The Waste Land and Shakespeare’s Sonnets. These integrate manuscripts, editions, critical commentary, and performances and readings to create an entirely new experience of the works presented. In the Sonnets, for example, all 154 poems are performed by an all-star cast including Sir Patrick Stewart, Kim Cattrall, Stephen Fry and David Tennant. The text highlights line by line as each sonnet is performed (

It is not just in the digital world that innovation in book production is happening, but perhaps some of the innovations in physical formats are driven by responses to the digital. Visual Editions, a London-based book publisher, is publishing books, and producing apps and events that are all about making what they call ‘Great Looking Stories’ ( They produce books both on and off the screen that tell stories in a visual way, making for new kinds of reading experiences, and they call this visual writing. Are these academic books? Well, some of them are. Their first publication was a new edition of that notoriously quirky and difficult work, Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, and ‘as the review in the New York Times points out, ‘is filled with visual jokes: a closed door is illustrated by a folded page; beads of sweat by spots of varnish; and the famous “black page” in the original book is replaced by two pages on which the text is over-printed in black.’ How about Composition no. 1? The Visual Editions publication is a re-imagining of a book originally published in the 1960s. The book is the first ever “book in a box”, by French writer Marc Saporta. It is, quite literally, a book that comes in a box with loose pages. Each page has a self-contained narrative, leaving it to the reader to decide the order they read the book, and how much or how little of the book they want to read before they begin again. In many ways, Composition no.1 was published ahead of its time: the book raises all the questions we ask ourselves today about user-centric, non-linear screen driven ways of reading. Composition no. 1 also comes as an iPad app.

And if you think that the printed book is dead, have a look at Arion Press which produces sumptuous books illustrated with original art, and printed on specially produced paper. Their version of The Waste Land retails for $600, and the two volumes of Don Quixote for $2000 each. (

So, over to you—what do YOU think an academic book is? Send us examples of other works that we may not have thought of as examples of the range of what an academic book can be.

My Acts of Reading – Andrew Prescott

Andrew Prescott is Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow and Theme Leader Fellow for the ‘Digital Transformations’ strategic theme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This guest post is reproduced from his own blog, Digital Riffs, with his kind permission.

acts of reading
In an earlier post on this blog, Sue Thomas asked us to consider where and how we read. She reminded us of Alberto Manguel’s comment that ‘the act of reading in time requires a corresponding act of reading in place, and the relationship between the two acts is inextricable’. Sue reflected that this sense of reading and place is being further transformed by the device we use when we read.

Many of my most vivid memories are associated with reading, from my mother teaching me to read before I went to school, to my father taking me as a child to the children’s library on Saturday morning and the terrifying moment as a first-year postgraduate when I first tried (and failed) to read a medieval document on my own, leaving me wondering what type of career I might eventually have. As it was, I mastered medieval handwriting and went on to work at the British Library. When I first saw the World Wide Web in 1993 (thanks to that remarkable man Tim Hadlow, then the British Library’s Systems Administrator), I immediately felt it would change everything.

But it was really in the practice of writing that I first noticed the changes. By the time I left the British Library in 2000, I was already writing so little by hand that my handwriting (once a beautiful Italic hand) had deteriorated to illegibility, and I found the way in which universities are (still) so incredibly dependent on a bureaucracy of forms completed by hand a shock to the system. In 2000, I used the computer for writing, e-mail, keeping indexes on databases, looking at images, preparing Powerpoints and checking library catalogues, but not really for reading. Even when I was looking at images of manuscripts, I was viewing them more as objects than as texts to be read. It was from about 2003, as more and more academic journals were becoming available online, that I noticed that I was starting to read academic articles almost exclusively on my computer. This was part of a major and largely unstudied shift which John Regazzi has recently described in his book, Scholarly Communications: A History from Content as King to Content as Kingmaker. Humanities academics abandoned a default mode of checking bibliographies first, then monographs, then articles, and moved instead towards going first to journal articles, increasingly identified through Google. The shape, chronology and disciplinary spread of this change requires further investigation, but in my case there is no question that it turned my normal research procedure upside down.

I think this shift towards use of the online article reflects more than the unwillingness of an overweight academic to heave himself out of a comfortable chair and head to the library. It was about the easiest way of finding out the scholarly state of play on a particular subject. Using Google or a word search to find the most recent articles, and then using those articles as a gouging knife to dig out the key issues and literature on a subject is in many ways a more effective process than trying to work out the current state of play from monographs and printed bibliographies, both of which might be considerably out of date. By 2005, I found that, for my academic reading, most of my reading of journal articles was taking place online, but books were still read in the conventional way in bed, on buses, on trains and (for me) above all in libraries. I should perhaps explain that unlike many academics I have never built up a very carefully selected or extensive library. I’ve acquired many academic books over the years, but I suspect that for academic books this was more often than not a means of possessing books or authors I particularly admired, almost as trophies, rather than for use. I have always preferred to work in libraries, and have been lucky enough to either work in libraries or live in close proximity to major libraries, so my working copies of academic books tend to be library copies. I am assisted considerably in this by having been a member for nearly forty years of the wonderful London Library, with its marvellously liberal lending policies.

The next change I noticed was in my relationship with newspapers. Newspapers have always been important to me, as a kind of neutral disengaged space of reading, where I can pretend to relate to the world but actually keep at bay (think of the prisoner Fletcher in Porridge whose reading of The Sun seemed to occupy large parts of the day, as if it was a means of both forgetting the prison and remembering the outside world. Not that I’ve ever felt a prisoner, but it reflects the wonderful way a newspaper can keep your brain in a pleasant neutral gear). My childhood days were punctuated by newspapers: the arrival through the letterbox in the morning; the newspaper vendors in cloth caps and mufflers selling a choice of three London evening newspapers in makeshift shelters at street corners on dark foggy winter nights. Reading a newspaper on the top deck of a bus remained a supreme pleasure for me until well into my 40s. Then it changed: I noticed I had stopped bothering with newspapers in the week (I’ve never been one for magazines). I think the combination of television, radio and the web meant that the pretence of reading it to keep up with current events had been stripped away. I became more conscious that I read newspapers purely as a relaxation activity, and somehow that seemed to be something more appropriate for the weekend. So I read newspapers nowadays on Saturday and Sunday, and will indulge myself with a large number – its one of the high spots of the week – but my relationship with this particular act of reading has profoundly changed.

But I remained stubbornly devoted to the book. I continued to read academic books, and my leisure reading was exclusively in old-fashioned printed book form. In Ceredigion, where I live, the excellent public library service is constantly under threat of cuts, and I like to support it. But I also loved pottering round Waterstones, and my essential pre-holiday preparation was a big book purchase, and as soon as I got on holiday, establishing a drip feed of good books was an essential requirement. I didn’t contemplate a Kindle or an iPad – until last year, I had only purchased one e-book, an academic book that I needed in a desperate hurry to complete some footnotes. Last summer, I was reading Mark Ormrod’s magisterial biography of Edward III in the Yale English monarchs series. Mark’s book is a remarkable piece of historical research, but it is 720 pages long. Carrying it around, with laptop and all the other paraphernalia of modern life, started give me nasty twinges in my back. It was clear that a 720 page biography of a king who reigned for fifty years was not something I could any longer contemplate easily reading on buses and trains.

I had acquired an iPad a few months earlier, and decided that the pain in my back necessitated a switch to an e-book, and acquired Edward III as an e-biography. It was one of the greatest revelations of my life. It wasn’t just that I no longer had to lumber around that huge brick of ink, paper and card, although that was a great relief. The clarity of the screen and the backlighting seemed somehow to make it easier to connect the book and for me definitely made the reading experience more intense. Far from the iPad getting in the way, I seemed to be able to connect with the e-book much more easily. I had the iPad to hand in odd moments when it would have awkward to get the large book out, so I made much quicker progress with the book. Then, after I had flown through Edward III at a rate which thoroughly surprised me, the convenience of getting the next book was just breathtaking. One of the saddest things in life is finishing a good book just as a bus journey is beginning and not then having something to read. But our rural buses in Ceredigion now have wi-fi, and I can get another e-book while the bus is trundling through the West Wales countryside.

My e-Edward III revelation rebooted my reading habits, and seemed to give my reading renewed enthusiasm and productiveness. Eventually, I crossed what I had previously considered the rubicon, and experimented with reading books on a smartphone. I was amazed once again. The phone offered even greater flexibility with no loss of engagement or clarity. The phone meant I could read in situations where previously it was difficult – I could see what a colleague meant when he said that he was able to read a French novel in a rush hour crowd in the tube, thanks to his phone. Indeed, once I began to read on the phone, it somehow came alive for the first time, and it has become more cemented into my life as a result.

Yet there is one fundamental area where my reading practices remain unchanged. My doctoral thesis was on the records of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The three years I spent in the Public Record Office exploring medieval court records and assembling transcripts of the cases were among the most satisfying of my life. My transcription process became very set: a 2H pencil and narrow feint punched 10 x 8 writing paper. I wrote on both sides of the paper and put the archival reference on the top left hand corner of the recto of each page. My notes are probably still one of the most comprehensive collections of materials relating to the revolt, and it was the dream of somehow making all this available online that first drew me into the digital humanities. In a remarkable act of scholarly private enterprise, the legal historian Robert Palmer of the University of Houston has scanned many of the record series I worked on – over eight million images of medieval legal records – which are on a website called the Anglo-American Legal Tradition ( I could imagine nothing I would rather spend the rest of my scholarly career doing than exploring this amazing collection of material, and as a result I’ve recently been transcribing legal records again.

But here’s the odd thing. Although I put it the images on my iPad, I find it very difficult to produce typed notes on them on my laptop, which seems to me what I should now be doing. Although I can read the records fluently enough, somehow I can only process the information in it if I transcribe it – ideally with a 2H pencil, although sadly nowadays I am compelled to use A4 paper. Why do I feel this need to transcribe to process information? Is it because I got into a habit of work and thought at the Public Record Office that I now am locked into? Is it is residual irreducible marker of my digital immigrant status? There are hints that, reassuringly, it isn’t just me. Ségolène Tarte, in studying the processes used by scholars studying papyri, has found that manual transcription is also important for them, and Ségolène has suggested psychological reasons why that might be the case. Younger colleagues at King’s College London who work extensively with digital images report that they also still regard old-fashioned transcription as an important part of their armoury, while Stuart Dunn tells me that pencil and paper are still indispensable tools in looking at old maps.

So, I think that a handwritten transcription will continue to be important in studying materials like my medieval court records. It will be the last bastion of my professional practice that will remain unchanged, although obviously the availability of Robert Palmer’s marvellous AALT resource does mean that I am not now tied to going to Kew to steep myself in this material.

What is striking about this process of reshaping my reading practice over the past twenty years is its piecemeal character. It has been a process of gradual renegotiation of my reading habits, according to taste, circumstance and back pain. A lot of current discussion of digital transformations assumes that it will be a sudden, dramatic and disruptive process. A lot of this rhetoric derives from the management theorist Clayton Christensen (and misinterprets Christensen’s work in my view). The supposed disruption of the music industry by online services is frequently taken as a warning of the fate that awaits book publishers, universities, etc., if they don’t get more switched on and digital. My own experience of changed reading practices suggests that a much more common experience of digital transformation is one of gradually shifting accommodation, experiment and realignment – a piecemeal process, not less profoundly transformative for that, but a quieter slower and more gentle process than the ‘disruptions’ digital enthusiasts sometimes loudly call for, without really thinking about what they are demanding.

Now, its time for bed, and a good book.

This post was originally a guest blog entry for the blog of the Digital Reading Network.

Andrew tweets as @ajprescott.