SUP director, Alan Harvey, on the Press’s new publishing paradigm.
About a year ago I, along with Editor-in-Chief, Kate Wahl, and Stanford University Librarian, Mike Keller, began a series of round-table meetings with key Stanford faculty to discuss their impressions of scholarly publishing and to field recommendations for the Press’s future development. The theme of born-digital research quickly surged to the center of these discussions, and it soon became clear that some scholars were heading in directions that were beyond the scope of traditional academic publishing models.
What became evident from our conversations was that an entirely new digital publishing product was needed.
What became evident from our conversations was that an entirely new digital publishing product was needed; one that elevated digital-born projects to the same level of academic credibility as the traditional monograph. In this void, both publishers and academics were missing out on crucial opportunities for collaboration.
These conversations spun into a year-long dialog with faculty, authors and advisors—a dialog that has culminated in a new mandate for us at SUP: to create a system for the formal publication of peer-reviewed digital humanities and social science projects. This brave, new digital initiative, generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Scholarly Communications Program, will work in cooperation with Stanford Libraries, and Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, whose Digital Scholarship Lab will be a vital collaborator.
Our goal with this program is to rectify a conflict increasingly encountered by digital H&SS scholars; while researchers have long been able to present their digital work online, this form of self-publishing—though it affords the author the benefits of speed and control—lacks the simple component of authentication that would permit digital-born projects to be held to the rigorous standards comparable with traditional monograph publishing. To address this disconnect, we intend to begin publishing digital work in its native form, but with all the benefits of copy-editing, design, robust peer-review, and marketing. We plan to promote these works alongside our traditional book-based output in ads and catalogs, thus reinforcing our claim that each of these pieces is of equal significance.
New forms of digital interaction have revolutionized global media and communication, and the academy is no exception—nor are its communication partners, university presses. Academic publishers have been diligently experimenting with digital access models for more than two decades, from the early days of telnet-based journals, to ebook publishing, to philosophical debates and daring experiments in open access. While all of these steps represent crucial advances in the ecosystem of scholarship, many of these models are ultimately digitized iterations of the traditional long-form monograph, transitioning from codex to pixel. One cannot overstate the functional benefits of search, linking, or annotation, but they fundamentally presume that the presentation of research continues unchanged—or, at the very least, that new research methodologies are backward-compatible with our established publishing paradigm.
At SUP, we view our pending foray into digital project publishing as yet another endeavor to keep academic publishing in lockstep with the evolving modes of modern academia. But this type of bold experiment would be useless if conducted in private and documented only for the benefit of the funders. Our reporting will thus be ongoing and public, enabling the entire community to see what we achieve, where we stumble, and how we overcome. This, we hope, will encourage others in the research and publishing community to join us, learning from our mistakes and benefiting from our successes.