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To: Tom Dwyer (Acquisitions Editor, University of Michigan Press), Shana Kimball (Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library)
From: Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki
Re:Proposal for a web-based edited volume: Writing History in the Digital Age
Date: November 16, 2010
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Tom Scheinfeldt from the Center for History & New Media suggested that we write to both of you regarding our proposal for an edited volume, Writing History in the Digital Age, which builds on our recent experiment in web-based scholarly communication and the innovative leadership in digital publishing by the University of Michigan.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Writing History began as a one-month experiment in October 2010, featuring chapter-length essays by scholars drawing on our experiences with digital technology to rethink traditional practices of researching, writing, and publishing, and its broader implications for the historical profession. We posted our essays and discussion topics on a WordPress platform with a special plug-in, allowing readers to add paragraph-level comments in the margins, which transformed our work into socially networked texts. With minimal publicity, our first installment drew an enthusiastic audience at a conference in our historical subfield, over fifty comments on the texts, and over a thousand unique visitors to our site from across the globe, with many who stayed online for a significant period of time to read our work. See our current essays online at (http://WritingHistory.trincoll.edu).
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 We recognize the bold steps that the University of Michigan Press and Library have taken into the dynamic world of digital publishing, and we believe that your institution is uniquely positioned to bring our vision for Writing History in the Digital Age to fruition. Our edited volume will contribute to the “digital culture books” series focus on writing, technology, and public scholarship (exemplified by forthcoming works such as Hacking the Academy, The Ivory Tower and the Open Web, and The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age) and also bridge with your prize-winning print backlist in the field of history. We also share a goal with the Press for making high-quality scholarship freely accessible through the Creative Commons license, and readable through a cross-platform “book-in-browser” format.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 With encouragement from Tom Scheinfeldt and other prospective contributors, we propose to partner with the Press to produce a second installment of Writing History essays and commentary for broader publication. Our model is similar to Tom and Dan Cohen’s forthcoming volume, Hacking the Academy, but with key differences. Whereas Tom and Dan collected essays and then brought in the Press during the editing process, we invite the Press to participate more fully in all stages of our next round. Together, we could co-host the process of welcoming new chapter submissions, sparking online commentary, soliciting invited and open peer review, and developing an audience that participates in the shaping of the final product. A better analogy is the recent “open review” Shakespeare Quarterly special journal issue, in partnership with Media Commons Press, but our end goal is to produce an edited book.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Our first installment of Writing History challenged the disciplinary tradition of hiding our professional craft away from public view, and sought to make our “writing process” more public with first-person essays on our interactive website. Both junior and senior scholars welcomed our fresh perspectives on working with digital technology at both the pragmatic and theoretical levels. Featured essays on our site currently include:
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- Ansley Erickson (Syracuse University), in “Historical Research and the Problem of Categories,” illustrates how database tools reshaped her analysis while writing her dissertation and connects her personal story to broader themes in the social history of knowledge.
- Sarah Manekin (Johns Hopkins University) and Natalia Mehlman Petrzela (The New School), in “The Accountability Partnership,” paint a vivid portrait of two individuals who transformed the solitary dissertation writing process into a mutually-supportive partnership with daily digital interactions.
- Jack Dougherty (Trinity College), in “Storytelling and Civil Rights,” contends that proprietary advancements in digital publishing may hinder our scholarly goals, and questions the ethics of placing civil rights history behind a fee-based digital pay wall.
- John McClymer (Assumption College), in “How Might Web-Born History Differ from Traditional Historical Writing?” reflects on his decades of experience with digital history projects and journal editing, and ways to rethink “gatekeeping” practices in academic publishing.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 A collaboration to expand and publish Writing History in the Digital Age has mutual benefits for both parties. As co-editors, working with the Press and its digital culture series would help us to reach out to a broader pool of potential contributors and to secure the highest-quality essays, particularly from pre-tenure scholars who are highly motivated to publish with an established academic press. In turn, the Press would benefit from our experience in building scholarly connections between historians using Web 2.0 technology, and building broader awareness of the University’s leading role in digital publishing. As a born-digital book, Writing History in the Digital Age will cut across disciplinary subfields and gain readership in both undergraduate and graduate courses in history and American studies, and also among individual scholars looking for a way to enter the conversation. Many colleagues tell us that they feel torn between publishing their newest scholarly work on the Web, or with a leading academic press. Our book will demonstrate that you can have it both ways, and will encourage a rising generation of digital history scholars to select the University of Michigan Press as its first choice for publishing future work.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 At present, our scholarly product is a website with dynamic content (essays and commentary), on a server hosted by Trinity College. If the Press agreed to work with us, we could decide to maintain the current site (at no cost) or move it to a University of Michigan server. We are working closely with developers of our open-source WordPress plug-in (digress.it) on modifications for the forthcoming version 3, which we could decide to adopt, modify, or use a related product. Most important, we would reach a mutual agreement with the Press on the desired formats of our final product: print and/or online, stable and/or dynamic content.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 If the Press wishes to build on our momentum, we are prepared to jointly issue a call for a second round of Writing History essays and commentary in Spring 2011. In addition to using our digital networks, Jack and other contributors will be attending the Organization of American History meeting in March 2011, and Kristen can meet with historians in Germany, to build more personal connections with prospective authors. The commenting/peer review period could last a month (or longer), and we could commit to completing editing and revising by the end of Summer 2011.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 As co-editors of the proposed volume, we share a common vision, complimentary skills, and a history of digital collaboration. Jack is an associate professor at Trinity College (Connecticut) and author of a prize-winning book, More Than One Struggle: The Evolution of Black School Reform in Milwaukee (UNC Press). He recently received a one-year National Endowment for the Humanities digital fellowship to complete his next project, a web-book on the history of schooling, housing, and civil rights in metropolitan Hartford. Kristen, who earned her PhD in History from the University of Michigan in 2005, is a Senior Research Fellow at Roehampton University, London and lecturer at Heidelberg School of Education in Germany. Her research compares European and US social policy and she serves as editor of the Writing History website. We have worked together since 2000 to generate scholarly dialogue and community through online technology, via H-Education, an H-Net affiliate. Both of us have experience in guest editing special issues of leading journals in our fields. Our curricula vitae are attached.