June 25, 2017

U. Minnesota Press, CUNY Grad Center Develop Hybrid Publishing Platform

University of Minnesota PressThe University of Minnesota Press and the GC Digital Scholarship Lab at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) in April were awarded a $732,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to launch Manifold Scholarship, a new platform that will enable the publication of iterative, networked, electronic versions of scholarly monographs alongside the print edition of the book.

These ebook editions will allow authors to link to or incorporate content such as audio, video, and interactive files, as well as primary research documents and datasets. Reader feedback—separate from peer review—will be incorporated via social media channels, and university presses will be able to release updated versions of the ebook titles while still offering access to the original text. Similarly, all of these features could be used to publish an ebook “that makes visible its own process of creation, culminating in a formal, peer-reviewed Release Version,” according to a PowerPoint document published on Project Muse Commons by Susan Doerr, operations manager of the University of Minnesota Press.

“We’re a very author-centric scholarly publisher, and we increasingly come into contact with authors who want to do the kinds of things that Manifold will enable,” Douglas Armato, director of the University of Minnesota Press, told LJ.

User-friendly features will enable authors and readers to engage with the electronic versions by adding comments and annotations, but Manifold Scholarship is intended to be a tool for presses, rather than a platform to facilitate self-publishing, Armato explained.

“The idea of Manifold is to do the same thing we do with [print] books—put the publisher in the middle, working with scholars to get these complex, networked works online,” Armato said. “It’s a chance for us to work with authors that have these complex projects…. There’s really no place for them to go, unless the scholar has the coding talent, or access to people that do.”

In a prepared statement, professor of history and University of Minnesota Press editorial board member Kevin Murphy said that “Manifold Scholarship has the potential to transform academic publishing by giving scholars who are innovating in digital humanities the opportunity to share their research in all of its complexity, rather than to conform to traditional modes of monograph publication. The iterative approach to digital publishing allows authors to give readers access to diverse source materials to engage directly with interlocutors on sources and interpretation, thereby opening the scholarly process to collaboration.”

The University of Minnesota Press and the CUNY Graduate Center will work with Portland, OR–based Cast Iron Coding to develop the platform. Cast Iron Coding has worked with the two institutions before, to build Debates in the Digital Humanities, an open-access, print/digital hybrid book that illustrates the potential of the Manifold Scholarship concept.

Conceived as a way to publish a snapshot of current conversations in the field, Debates in the Digital Humanities includes essays from more than 40 digital humanities scholars, all of which were accepted following a web-based, open peer review process. Published in January 2012, the title had progressed from idea to printed publication within a single calendar year. In January 2013, an open access version of Debates in the Digital Humanities was published online with “social reading platform” features enabling readers to highlight passages, make comments, view the comments of others, and add terms to a crowdsourced index. For example, readers have added 23 comments, highlighted passages 85 times, and indexed 20 sentences to the essay “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” by University of Maryland Associate Professor of English Matthew Kirschenbaum.

“We are in a rich moment of open experimentation as scholars and university presses attempt to broaden the reach and scope of academic research in networked environments,” Matthew K. Gold, director of the CUNY GC Digital Scholarship Lab and associate professor of English and digital humanities at the Graduate Center, CUNY, said in an announcement. “And with its ongoing projects like Forerunners [a digital series ‘bridging informal and formal scholarly output’] and Debates in the Digital Humanities, no university press is taking smarter or more aggressive risks than the University of Minnesota Press.”

Development of Manifold Scholarship will be open from the beginning, with the three collaborators publishing preliminary works, concepts, and progress updates on the project website, and making the source code repository public throughout its creation. The final product will be an open source, customizable platform available to other presses and the public, according to an announcement from the University of Minnesota Press.

“We hope to engage stakeholders in scholarly communications and perhaps even a larger community with this open and transparent approach,” said Zach Davis, principal and chief technologist of Cast Iron Coding.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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