The Gutenberg-e Program: Background
Report on the Third Year
(c. January 1, 2001 to c. December 31, 2001)
Now that the Gutenberg-e program has reached the half-way point of its six-year life span, I can offer some reflections on its progress. We launched the first e-books at the American Historical Association meeting last month in San Francisco. It was a happy moment. Superb presentations by two of the winners from our first class, Ignacio Gallup-Diaz and Michael Katten, combined with the announcement of the new winners, who make up our third class, produced a mood of triumphalism. That, of course, is dangerous. I think we may indulge in a modest amount of self-congratulation, but we have encountered problems. I would like to discuss them, and our proposals for solving them, leaving the details of the year’s activities to the report by the AHA staff, which follows these remarks.
From the beginning in 1998, we intended to set a fast pace and to aim high. I now think that the pace may have been too fast. The first competition took place in 1999; the first winners were announced in January 2000; the first workshops were held in 2000-2001; and the first e-books were published in January 2002. But there were only two of them. True, a third book was submitted in January, and a fourth should be completed by March. Moreover, those who missed the deadline had valid excuses. But I think the deadline set by Columbia University Press—originally one year, extended to two—was not realistic. The winners face the difficulties of publishing their first book while coping with many other demands, such as finding a job, moving house, preparing their first lectures, and founding families. We therefore decided to set a two-year deadline and to be flexible. There will not be an annual “launch” of six e-books, but Columbia will put them on line as they become available. Some, in fact, will be finished ahead of time. Greg Brown from class two is only weeks away from submitting his final text, which will be published before some of the e-books from class one. Now that the first books have appeared, Columbia will turn out a continuous stream of products. That may create some difficulties for its marketing department, which had planned to sell an annual packet of six books (the current price is $195 for all six, very inexpensive, in my view.) But there are ways around that obstacle. For my part, I think I made the mistake of setting the stakes too high. In the first years, I stressed the innovative potential of e-books as a new form of scholarly communication, and the first winners probably felt compelled to come up with something too elaborate to be feasible within a short time. In subsequent pep talks with the winners, I stressed the importance of sheer quality and the need to avoid the temptation of “bells and whistles” (please forgive that tired metaphor.)
The second problem concerns our high aims. We tried to do too many things at once: to help solve the problem of the threatened monograph, to create a new kind of book, to legitimize it in the eyes of the history profession, to help young historians get over the first hurdle in their careers, and to favor independent historians who do not have teaching positions in higher education. Instead of being deluged with applications, as I had expected, we received relatively few dissertations in each of the first three years. As the deadline for last year’s competition approached, we had only four submissions. We rescheduled things, broadened the scope of the competition, and soon found ourselves with forty competitors. In the end, we were happy with the result—but chastised. I now believe it is best to concentrate on producing excellent e-books, the sort that will set a standard and that will legitimize the medium at the same time. We therefore plan to enlarge the scope of the next competitions instead of restricting them to the fields in which it is most difficult to publish.
A third problem concerns the administration of the program. Last year the AHA Council voted to take the day-to-day supervision of Gutenberg-e out of my hands and to assign it to the Research Division under the direction of an AHA vice president. I don’t think anyone was dissatisfied with my stewardship, but there was a sense that instead of being Darnton’s pet project, Gutenberg-e should be folded into the normal operations of the Association. That decision suited me, because Gutenberg-e has occupied a vast amount of my time and energy for the last four years. I retired into the background as a member of a supervisory committee, whose main function is to choose the topics and the judges for the annual competition. But despite excellent work by the AHA staff, no one coordinated all the aspects of the program. There are a lot of them, and minor hitches are always snagging things. Therefore at the San Francisco meeting we decided to remove the management of the program from the Research Division and to assign it to the executive director of the AHA, Arnita Jones. Arnita appreciates how important Gutenberg-e is to the AHA, and she has promised to devote a great deal of her considerable energy to making it work. She also has hired a half-time assistant with a history Ph.D. to help with the daily tasks. I think this solution is perfect, and I shall continue to participate actively in the program as a member of the supervisory committee.
The details of the year’s activities can be studied from the narrative and financial reports, which follow. I would like to mention only one final issue: What is to become of this initiative after the program comes to the end of its second cycle? Be assured, I am not going to ask for a renewal. But I think the AHA should capitalize on the success of the program—and it clearly is successful, even at this early stage—in order to establish electronic publishing as a legitimate form of communicating knowledge. Although my ideas are somewhat vague at this point, I think the AHA should use its new History Cooperative Web Site to create a series that could be called “The History Cooperative Monographs.” It should publish first-rate dissertations without restriction as to field or number, but it should guarantee their quality by submitting them to a panel of well-qualified judges. There might be several panels, each representing a general field of study, or perhaps the editorial board of The American Historical Review could supervise the refereeing, thereby extending its gatekeeper function in the vetting of articles. The dissertations could be published in their current form, or they could be reworked as e-books. But they needn’t involve the elaborate editorial and electronic transformation that has characterized the Gutenberg-e-books. Columbia University Press should be given the opportunity of publishing the series itself, if it wanted to continue the Gutenberg-e initiative in another form, one that would involve less editing and more dissertations. Or the University of Illinois Press, which is a partner in the History Cooperative, might want to be the publisher. Many possibilities need to be explored, and many problems, including financing, need to be solved. Whatever happens, we should devise some kind of follow-up for Gutenberg-e, and we should be thinking now about a future that is only four years away.
During the year under review, the third Gutenberg-e workshop—in the series organized by Columbia University Press with financial support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—was held in New York, March 11–12, 2001. As in the case of previous workshops, the primary aim was to orient the winners of the 2000 competition to the objectives and possibilities of the Gutenberg-e program. In addition to the various experts in the fields of traditional and electronic publication, the first set of Gutenberg-e winners were also present at this workshop, thus allowing the new winners to draw upon and benefit from their experience as well in navigating the uncharted terrain of e-publication. The participants in the workshop heard synoptic presentations from the six winners of the 2000 competition. Gregory Brown, discussed his dissertation, “A Field of Honor: Writers between Court Culture and Public Theater in the Age of Enlightenment (Columbia Univ., 1997), which focused on the Comédie Française. Wayne Hanley gave an overview of his dissertation, “The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda” (Univ. of Missouri at Columbia, 1998), which took a novel approach to the emperor, looking at the actual mechanics of the image making that enabled Napoleon Bonaparte to rise from obscurity to fame in three years. Sarah Lowengard’s dissertation, “Color Practices, Color Theories, and the Creation of Color in Objects: Britain and France in the Eighteenth Century” (SUNY at Stonybrook, 1999), examined—in a comparative perspective—the relationship between science and art in terms of the use of color as a practice as well as a branch of optical theory. William MacLehose contested the traditional views about childhood in medieval Europe in his dissertation, “’A Tender Age’: Cultural Anxieties over the Child in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries” (Johns Hopkins Univ., 1999). Michael Smith’s dissertation, “Anti-Radical Expression: Counter-revolutionary Thought in the Age of Revolution” (Univ. of California at Riverside, 1999) challenged existing notions about the development of antirevolutionary ideology in Britain at the end of the 18th century. Mary Halavais explored the relations between communities in her dissertation, “Like Wheat to the Miller: Community, Convivencia, and the Construction of Morisco Identity in Sixteenth-Century Aragon” (Univ. of California at San Diego, 1997). Professor Robert Darnton emphasized to the authors that the object of the Gutenberg-e Prize program is to help the transformation of a good dissertation into a better e-book, and Michael Grossberg, editor of the American Historical Review described how he and his colleagues were developing guidelines for reviewing the new forms of scholarship.
The fourth workshop in the series was held on September 24, 2001. Anxieties consequent to the September 11 tragedies and dislocation of flight schedules affected participation in this workshop; nevertheless, it yielded some productive results. In discussing the challenges they encountered in revision of their dissertations, a couple of the 2000 winners demonstrated that they had progressed far on the path toward transforming their work into an e-book. However, for a variety of reasons, which included personal problems and ill health of family members, and probably—in one or two cases—an overambitious attempt to explore the potentialities of the medium, only two of the winners of the 1999 competition had, it became clear, completed the revision of their manuscripts.
Oversight and Staff
As noted in the previous report, the Research Division of the AHA was given the oversight role for the Gutenberg-e project. The division performs this task through a special committee consisting of Professor Robert Darnton, Dr. Christopher Tomlins, Dr. James O'Donnell, and Professor Gabrielle Spiegel, vice president of the division (who participated in the September workshop). The day-to-day running of the program on the AHA side remained in the hands of staff members Pillarisetti Sudhir and Robert Townsend who worked with the guidance of AHA’s executive director, Arnita Jones.
The 2001 Competition
As mentioned in the previous report, the 2001 competition was publicized much 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 and an advertisement was placed in the May 18, 2001, issue of the Chronicle. Despite all this additional publicity, very few entries had been received as the deadline of June 1, 2001 approached. On the justifiable assumption that the paucity of entries was primarily due to the limitations imposed by the phrase “not primarily of the United States,” it was decided that the competition should be opened up to include also dissertations (in the two competition fields of military history and the history of foreign relations) that focused on the United States. The widening of the themes necessitated an extension of the deadline to October 1, 2001. The change in the thematic focus and the deadline was widely publicized. In addition, specific, individually targeted notices were sent to scholars who had recently completed their dissertations in the competition fields (their names having been elicited from the AHA’s annual Directory of History Departments and Organizations), informing them about the competition. The changes in the themes and the deadline and the additional effort to secure wider participation produced the desired results, it seemed, for ultimately, a total of 40 entries were received.
The entries were read during November and December 2001 by the ad hoc prize committee constituted for evaluating the submissions. The committee, consisting of: Denis E. Showalter, Colorado College (currently at the United States Military Academy), chair; Peter Duus, Stanford Univ.; Carole Fink, Ohio State Univ.; and Stephen A. Schuker, Univ. of Virginia, arrived at a decision about the six winners who were then informed of the results of the competition. All six prize winners accepted their awards in person at the 116th annual meeting of the AHA in San Francisco. The winners of the 2001 competition are:
(1) Tonio Andrade, SUNY Brockport, for his 2000 Yale University dissertation, “Commerce, Culture, and Conflict: Taiwan under European Rule, 1623–1662.”
(2) Kenneth W. Estes, independent scholar, for his 1984 University of Maryland dissertation, “A European Anabasis: Western European Volunteers in the German Army and SS, 1940–1945.”
(3) Daniel Kowalsky, Washington University (St. Louis), for his 2001 University of Wisconsin-Madison dissertation, “The Soviet Union and the Spanish Republic: Diplomatic, Military, and Cultural Relations, 1936–1939.”
(4) Sanders Marble, independent scholar, for his 1998 (King’s College) University of London dissertation, “The Infantry Cannot Do with a Gun Less”: The Place of the Artillery in the BEF, 1914–1918.”
(5) Christopher O’ Sullivan, Santa Rosa Junior College (California), for his 1999 (LSE) University of London dissertation “Sumner Welles, Postwar Planning, and the Quest for a New World Order, 1937–1943.”
(6) Kenneth Steuer, Center for the Study of Global Change at Indiana University, for his 1998 University of Minnesota dissertation, “Pursuit of an ‘Unparalleled Opportunity’: The American YMCA and Prisoner of War Diplomacy among the Central Power Nations during World War I, 1914–1923.”
A detailed statement of the budgeted amounts and actual expenditures under the various heads for the year in question is attached. It should be noted that the apparently large balances under some heads are the result not only of economies secured in the running of the program, but also of payment schedules. A change in the schedule of prize payments meant, for example, that no installments of the prize money ($120,000) for the winners of the 2001 competition have been paid out and the amount is still shown as part of the balances. Columbia University Press usually claims its share of the expenses in the early part of the year and this amount (approximately $94,000 for 2002) is also shown as unspent balance. Similarly, honoraria for three of the prize committee members were sent in January 2002. Then there were some unforeseen events that also resulted in larger balances being shown. Again, because we did not always have six members in the prize committees, some of the anticipated expenditure on their honoraria was reduced. Similarly, although an amount had been set aside for the travel of prize committee members, none of the three committees could, for lack of time, meet face-to-face. (We propose, however, that beginning with the 2002 competition, such a meeting to finalize the results should be an essential component of the evaluation process. Besides, the 2002 prize committee is expected to have six members.) A summary statement provided by Columbia University Press shows the expenditures on the Gutenberg-e Project incurred by the Press during the year under review.
Launch of the First Set of Gutenberg-e Books
Two of the e-books that were produced by the authors who won the first Gutenberg-e prizes (for the 1999 competition) were launched at a special function held during the 116th annual meeting of the AHA. At this well-attended event, Ignacio Gallup-Diaz presented his book, The ‘Door of the Seas and the Key to the Universe’: Indian Politics and Imperial Rivalry in the Darién, 1640–1750, and Michael Katten introduced his book Colonial Lists/Indian Power: Identity Politics in Nineteenth-Century Telugu Speaking India. Both the e-books have been placed online (at http://www.gutenberg-e.org) by Columbia University Press. The Press has since added a third book (Community and Public Culture: The Marwaris in Calcutta, c. 1897–1997, by Anne Hardgrove) and it is expected that the remaining three authors will also complete their revisions in the near future. The Press is in the process of working out the modalities of marketing the e-books.
The Second Phase of the Gutenberg-e Program
During the early part of 2001, the AHA requested—in collaboration with Columbia University Press—the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to renew the grant for the Gutenberg-e program for a further period of three years, to enable the continuation of this important experiment intended not only to provide new opportunities for publication of outstanding research monographs, but also to produce a substantial body of electronic texts that would set standards and elevate the prestige of e-publications. The Mellon Foundation generously agreed to the request, and made a grant of $980,000, which would enable the AHA to run the Gutenberg-e competitions in 2002, 2003, and 2004, leading to the publication of 18 more e-books.
The 2002 Competition
With the Mellon Foundation grant for the second phase in place, the 2002 competition has been launched with notices published in the AHA newsmagazine, Perspectives, and on the AHA web site. We will undertake much more extensive publicity for the competition even though we expect that its theme, the History of North America before 1900 will secure a large number of entries. In addition to the various customary forums—such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, H-Net, and the OAH newsletter—where the competition may be advertised, we propose also to target the advertising at scholars in the field (who may then urge students and colleagues to enter the competition). The process of setting up a prize committee has also begun. In view of the broader theme of the competition, it was decided that the 2002 prize committee should have six members. With two acceptances already in, we hope the full committee will be in place fairly soon.
Last Updated: March 7, 2008