Landmark Digital History Monograph Project Goes Open Access





Without much fanfare, Columbia University Press has radically restructured Gutenberg-e, its high-profile experiment with digital history monographs, from a subscription-only series to an open-access model. The 36 titles will also be available—in somewhat different form, and enhanced with related scholarship—through Humanities E-Book, a subscription-only collection of digital versions of humanities monographs administered by the American Council of Learned Societies, or ACLS.

The Columbia press has been quietly making the monographs freely available on its Web site since last fall, but the American Historical Association, its partner in publishing Gutenberg-e, announced the news on its blog only this month. Gutenberg-e's switch to open access highlights some of the financial and logistical difficulties that can hamper attempts to establish a viable e-monograph series in the humanities—not that many have yet tried.

Gutenberg-e was created in 1999 in collaboration with the historical association, with financial backing from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The idea was to hold a yearly competition for the six best dissertations in subdisciplines that were considered difficult to publish in, including African and colonial Latin American history. The series has also focused on women's and gender history, military history, pre-1800 Europe, and pre-1900 North America.

Cost, unsurprisingly, proved to be one of the bigger obstacles to the success of the original Gutenberg-e model. That platform allowed authors to do a multitude of things, in various media, that they wouldn't have been able to do in print. For instance, one scholar, Helena Pohlandt-McCormick, created an interactive archive of 1,300 digital images for her book 'I Saw a Nightmare...': Doing Violence to Memory: The Soweto Uprising, June 16, 1976. But adding such innovations required a large investment of technological as well as editorial and authorial expertise, and subscription revenues didn't generate enough to meet that burden....


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