Report on the Second Year

January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2000

Two workshops were held in March and September 2000 by Columbia University Press (with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) for the six winners of the 1999 Gutenberg-e Prizes. These workshops proved extremely useful, especially in so far as they provided opportunities for interaction between the authors and the staff of the Press and other experts in the field of electronic publishing. The authors also benefited from sharing experiences about the challenges and problems they faced as they traveled down the little traveled path of electronic publishing. (See Appendices A and B for reports on the workshops.)

One noteworthy feature of the second workshop was the participation of Michael Grossberg, editor of The American Historical Review, who assessed the entire program from the perspective of a journal editor. An aspect of the program that had not been considered at the outset concerns the reception of the e-books.  It had been assumed that Columbia University Press would market and publicize them in the usual manner, but no one knew what a review of an e-book should entail.  As Grossberg put it, what exactly would a reviewer review? How should journal editors choose the reviewers of e-books—according to their expertise in the subject area of the book or their command of electronic projects? What sort of protocol for reviewing should they follow?  What would be communicated to them, and what reward could entice them to take on such a job in the first place?  The result of all this consultation and reflection is a set of guidelines for reviewing e-books that was approved by the Council of the AHA and that promises to serve as a model for reviewing practices throughout much of the scholarly world.  First, the AHR will not segregate e-books into a separate category of scholarly publications.  Instead, it will review them along with other books in the same field and will seek out reviewers who are experts in that field.  Second, it will ask the reviewers to take the special qualities of the electronic medium into account, and it will run special review articles about the emergence of this new means of communication.  But it will put the scholarship first and do everything possible to integrate e-books into the ongoing debates about history in general.

The six winners of the 2000 competition were announced at the 115th annual meeting of the American Historical Association held at Boston in January 2001. They are: Gregory S. Brown, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, for “A Field of Honor: The Cultural Politics of Playwriting in Eighteenth-Century France,” Columbia University, 1997; Mary Halavais, Sonoma State University, for “Like Wheat to the Miller: Community, Convivencia, and the Construction of Morisco Identity in Sixteenth-Century Aragon,” University of California at San Diego, 1997; Wayne Hanley, West Chester University, for “The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda, 1796 to 1799,” University of Missouri, 1998; Sarah Lowengard, Independent Scholar, for “Color Practices, Color Theories, and the Creation of Color in Objects: Britain and France in the Eighteenth Century,” State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1999; William F. MacLehose, Independent Scholar, for “‘A Tender Age’: Cultural Anxieties over the Child in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries,” Johns Hopkins University, 1999; Michael S. Smith, Independent Scholar, for “Anti-Radical Expression: Counter-Revolutionary Thought in the Age of Revolution,” University of California at Riverside, 1999. (See Appendix C for summary reports on the winning dissertations.)

At this Boston meeting of the AHA, the six winners of the 1999 competition made presentations at a special panel session organized by the Research Division. In this well-attended session chaired by Professor Robert Darnton, the panelists presented examples of their work-in-progress, and briefly discussed the advantages of electronic publishing as well as the problems that were inherent in translating traditional scholarship into e-texts. Many of the winners of the 2000 competition also attended this session, thus gaining a preview of the tasks that lay ahead of them.

In light of the experience gained from the 1999 and 2000 competitions, the 2001 competition was publicized more intensively. Apart from notices published in all the relevant issues of Perspectives and on the AHA’s web site, announcements were also posted on the H-Net lists and specially designed brochures and posters were circulated to chairs of history departments. A brief notice also appeared for several weeks in the Chronicle of Higher Education (the May 18 issue of which also carried an advertisement). The development by the AHR editors of guidelines for review of e-texts may mitigate some anxieties in future competitions, but this may need to be supplemented also by a change in the perceptions of members of tenure, peer-review, and search committees about e-publications.

The administration of the program has taken place as planned.  It owes its success in large part to the talented staff at AHA headquarters in Washington—above all to Pillarisetti Sudhir, who managed it on a day-to-day basis, and to Robert Townsend, the department head for publications and membership, who supervised general operations.  Sharon Tune, the AHA's convention director, saw to it that Gutenberg-e occupied a prominent place in the last three annual meetings of the AHA, and Randy Norell kept watch over the budget.  A special committee of the AHA—Stanley Katz (Princeton), Gale Stokes (Rice) and Professor Darnton as chair—took initial responsibility for overseeing the program.  To ensure continuity of oversight and to bring it within the structures of the Association, the Council of the AHA decided to fold Gutenberg-e into the normal operations of its Research Division. A special committee of the division has been named to supervise it for the next three years, assuming that its life should be extended by a renewal of the grant.

It now seems that most of the 1999 winners can be expected to complete their e-books soon, but Columbia University Press, which will publish all six of them as a package to be sold to libraries through on-site licenses, plans to postpone the publication date until January 2002.  In that way, we will have a superb set of e-books to announce (along with the names of the 2001 prize winners) at a special function at the next meeting of the AHA, to be held in San Francisco January 3–6, 2002.

The delay in the production schedule means that there are as yet no final products as evidence of a Gutenberg-e list now available for inspection.  But, as Professor Robert Darnton declared, “It is the sheer quality of the work that I would stress as the principal rationale for continuing the program. The dissertations were excellent in the first place, and the jury did a fine job in selecting them. But they have improved enormously while undergoing the transformation into e-books.”