Publishing Makerspace on the Road: Madison BH + DH Conference

The history of the book and its future—in both traditional and nontraditional forms—are connected in fascinating and useful ways: this is a principle that resonates strongly with the members of the Publishing Makerspace Working Group, which explains why we were attracted by the dual theme of the Book History + Digital Humanities conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Three members of the group, Sylvia Miller, David Phillips, and Carrie Johnston, formed a panel for the conference entitled Reshaping Publishing – Collaborative Multimodal Approaches to the Humanities Monograph 2.0.  Following is a summary of what we covered in our presentations on September 23, 2017.

“Humanities Publishing at the Crossroads: The Humanities Center as Publishing Makerspace” (Sylvia Miller)

Sylvia’s presentation was intended to serve as an introduction upon which the other two presentations would build.  To serve that purpose, it touched on the topic in its official title (above) and covered a lot of additional ground; subheadings below delineate the main topics that she touched upon.

Publishing Makerspace. Sylvia’s presentation began with a primer on Publishing Makerspace as a concept and a type of workshop that encourages creative collaboration on multi-modal projects. She briefly reviewed the Publishing Makerspace Working Group’s design-charrette visioning technique and evolving list of principles: (1) collaboration, as expressed in the  Collaborators’ Bill of Rights; (2) replicability and extensibility, not only of systems or platforms but of the workshop technique itself, on the do-it-yourself THATCamp model; (3) interoperability, an aspirational goal in the context of all the digital publishing systems that do not talk to each other; and (4) publishing literacy, with a goal of making what traditional publishers do more transparent and democratizing the publishing process.

            The Publishing Makerspace approach encourages integration of the components of a multi-modal project to make the reader/user’s experience with the content more exciting and meaningful, and also, potentially, to make production of those components more efficient.  Building on that idea, Sylvia suggested additional reasons that it might be useful to define “publishing” broadly, to apply to many modes and forms of scholarship: publishing principles might help to bring a needed aesthetic frame to new forms of scholarship and provide practical approaches to peer review.

Monograph 2.0. Next she turned to what the book (“monograph 2.0”) is starting to look like in a new multi-modal publishing ecosystem. After sharing examples including an enhanced e-book, a “portal book” that includes outbound links to archives, and Scalar projects linked to university press books, she took a step back to propose that, while the monograph might in some cases be situated at the center of a hub-and-spoke structure of multimodality, it might in other instances be viewed as occurring at different moments in a temporal trajectory of a research project (and not always at the end, as a culminating event).

Humanities Centers. Based on her experience with the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University and the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes, Sylvia articulated a view of humanities centers as extra-territorial, interdisciplinary, cross-functional spaces that encourage collaboration and creativity and are ideal for nurturing publishing in multiple forms. She shared examples of print and digital publications from humanities centers and described types of workshops that can be helpful: Manuscript Workshops for a monograph that is ready for peer review and Publishing Makerspace Workshops that can serve as flexible interventions at nearly any stage of a project.

Challenges. In the final section of her talk, Sylvia used examples of digital, interactive publications to highlight the twin challenges of sustainability and archiving, as forms of publishing continue to evolve.  Noting that the material turn in publishing and maker cultures makes the multimodality of scholarship and the interplay of digital and physical forms of expression more exciting and challenging than ever, she concluded by proposing the idea that the humanities may have already entered a postdigital world.

           The title of Sylvia’s talk also presaged future work: Publishing at the Crossroads is the name of a new blog that she started several months later.

“Don’t Discard the Baby With the Bathwater: Rethinking Humanities Research and Publishing in the Age of DH”  (David Phillips)

In this presentation, David explored the landscape of DH projects as an outgrowth, extension, and challenge to traditional humanities publishing. He examined a range of current DH scholarship that innovatively explores new methodologies for effectively integrating DH research through experimentation with publication formats, and he proposed guidelines for enhancing such research through the collaborative publishing team model.

            He began by identifying key principles of traditional monograph writing as well as “unwritten rules” and expectations of scholars in reading and evaluating monographs.  Among these were an emphasis on narrative; value represented as a culmination of the scholarly production of one individual; written material in which linkages are in the form of citations; and a static end product. In David’s view, these characteristics are aspects of the humanities monograph that require transformative thinking toward establishment of a new paradigm.  Nevertheless, he was not proposing to displace the monograph as foundational to the pursuit of humanities research, hence his exhortation that we “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!”

            Turning to DH scholarship, he noted that it is just beginning to “find its feet” in drawing on the traditions of text-based scholarship, as it experiments with non-textual and hybrid forms of representation. In conceptualizing the monograph 2.0, David built on the Publishing Makerspace concept to propose a collaborative model of research and publishing, in which the humanities researcher works with a team of DH technologists, librarians, editors, and publishers in  a way that makes the research material central to the investigation and allows open-ended exploration.

            In the last section of his talk, he discussed several examples of projects, bringing out different themes and questions related to each. The Scalar project Digital Paxton shows the potential to use visualizations to guide the reader through multiple lines of inquiry or “vectors of investigation.” Lauren F. Klein and Matthew K. Gold’s Debates in the Digital Humanities, which allows readers to interact with the text and contribute content, conceives of the publication as both processual and evolving.  City Nature and Enchanting the Desert illustrate one of the important ways in which DH work can be central to the reworking of the epistemology of the text, in these cases highlighting the role of spatial narration.

            Finally, David reflected on how we can gauge the effectiveness of DH scholarship that demands to be taken just as seriously as the traditional monograph.  He suggested that humanists will need to be vigilant in demanding that humanities research continue to engage in critical inquiry but at the same time allow the monograph to change in ways that are responsive, transformative, and dynamic. Digital humanists, he concluded, have an important role to play in determining the future of the monograph.

“Keeping the H in DH: Opportunities for DH Research Teams to Bridge Scholarship and Publishing” (Carrie Johnston)

Picking up the baton from David, in this talk Carrie addressed the contributions of humanistic inquiry to the computational tools and methods taken up by digital humanities practitioners, as they employ new research methodologies, produce new research outcomes, and explore new forms of publication to share them.

            She began by sharing projects from an MLA panel with the same name (“Keeping the H in DH”) that she had organized.  In particular, Alicia Peaker’s visualizations of the fictional ecosystems in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Ubervilles (1891) and Mary Webb’s Gone to Earth (1917) placed both makers and readers in new and idiosyncratic relations to each novel, inviting reflection about human and nonhuman traces in the Anthropocene.  Spencer Keralis interrogated traditional methodologies and archival practices that are so pervasive they seem “logical” or natural.

            Projects like these, using new methods that lead to new kinds of humanistic thinking, beg the question: How do we (as scholars, teachers), and (in Carrie’s case) in a DH position in an academic library, support these projects and encourage more like them?  There is no formulaic answer, but it is important to use humanistic inquiry to improve digital tools, which is one of the goals of the Publishing Makerspace team, and to foreground humanistic inquiry and methodologies (“instead of privileging the shiny, finished product”) to both create better research questions and negotiate the limits of traditional monographs.  DH scholarship is not a magic bullet, but supporting its interrogation of methodologies and publishing practices is important to help us address “the cultural, gendered, political blindspots and biases baked into every form of communication.”

            To suggest specific models for creating digital projects that go beyond representing data to perform robust cultural, social, and political critique, Carrie next turned to additional examples.  She pointed out that, while many humanists acknowledge the ways that technology can enhance conventional scholarship and pedagogy, difficult work remains to be done to establish practices through which humanities disciplines can support digital work while also addressing the limitations of digital tools.  For example, Lynn Book’s four-decade project to document performance art demands a formal data management plan, media server, and institutional repository. At the same time, informal methods, such as unconferences and Publishing Makerspace Workshops, are also important to create a community of practice engaged around common goals (in Book’s case, to address the difficult question of how to represent the ephemeral). Informal communities are also necessary to teach DH in libraries, given the rapid pace of methodological and technological change.

            In conclusion, Carrie suggested that in order to support DH in a way that is legible to traditional departments and institutions, we must keep humanistic inquiry at the center: “the more robust our research questions, the more ways we can allow for texts to evolve and expand–both the texts that constitute our objects of study and the work that we produce.”

The panelists would like to thank Dorothea Salo of the University of Wisconsin-Madison for her kind and efficient chairing of this panel.