2002 Gutenberg-e Workshop

Frances M. Clarke, May 2002

Most scholars who transform their dissertations into books find the experience a lonely one, lacking even the solace of fellow sufferers that a graduate school setting provides. But this is not so for the winners of the Gutenberg-e Prizes, who receive $20,000 toward revision of their manuscripts, which will then be published as e-books by Columbia University Press. Each year, the press organizes a workshop that brings together Gutenberg-e authors and the press's editors and designers. At the fifth workshop in this series, held in New York on March 11 and 12, five of this year's Gutenberg-e authors discussed their projects and tentative plans for revisions while seven former recipients of the prize were on hand to offer the benefit of their experience and to preview their new and forthcoming books. As a recently published Gutenberg-e author explained to workshop participants, one of the added benefits of being involved in the Gutenberg-e program is that authors are drawn together due to their shared goals and mutual excitement in pioneering innovative scholarship—a novel collegiality that's reinforced by regular opportunities to meet and swap ideas.

Robert Darnton helped to originate and launch the Gutenberg-e program in 1999, with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He opened the workshop with a few words of advice. "What matters is the scholarship," he told new authors, reminding them that Columbia University Press's electronic publishing team would take care of all the technological and design aspects of their books. The five most recent winners—who were awarded the 2001 Gutenberg-e prizes for their work in the fields of military history and the history of foreign relations—then briefly discussed their projects as well as their initial plans to take advantage of web technology to enhance their books.

Daniel Kowalsky was the first to give an overview of his project, which makes use of previously inaccessible Soviet archival sources as well as those from Spain to examine the ill-fated bilateral relationship between these two countries during the Spanish Civil War. Kowalsky went on to detail some of the numerous possibilities he envisaged for employing technology to augment his research. To cite just one example, he described how the use of video would greatly enrich his discussion of cultural exchanges between Spain and the USSR. Short clips of Soviet newsreels or films, he explained, could provide dramatic examples of the way authorities mobilized the nation's cinematographers, inundating Spain with Russian culture and propaganda in an effort to advance Stalin's vision of a grand solidarity movement between the two nations.

Sanders Marble likewise foresaw a multitude of exciting possibilities for transforming his manuscript—an examination of the role of British artillery battalions in World War I—into an e-book. For instance, Marble noted that an electronic format would allow him to include enhancements such as oral interviews with veterans or film clippings depicting artillery bombardments. Likewise, Marble explained that a great deal of British military planning during World War I took place on maps. By using a series of animated maps, he envisaged a novel means to analyze the evolution of battle plans during the conflict, as well as a new way to explore the wartime history of cartography.

Kenneth Estes began his presentation by noting that the biggest problem he now faced was one of having almost limitless possibilities. Estes's project deals with western European volunteers in the German Army during World War II—a topic that he foresees bringing to life through wartime documentary footage and select primary documents. Since his work entails a series of complex comparisons between the motivations, experiences, and performance of combat units from various west European nationalities, however, Estes also anticipated how useful it would be if he provided links to a wide range of different side discussions—such as a statistical and demographic analysis of volunteer units; biographies of key figures; information relating to weapons and equipment; or crucial military particulars, such as unit histories or details of notable battles and campaigns.

Kenneth Steuer came up with a range of similarly interesting ideas for transforming his manuscript. Having written on the YMCA's role in providing relief to POWs during World War I, Steuer stated that electronic publication offered a number of opportunities for further exploring topics like the Y's role in socializing prisoners. Describing a few of the sources contained in the YMCA's rich archives that he might make use of to illustrate and enhance his analysis, Steuer listed an extensive photograph and pamphlet collection, the writings of YMCA spokesmen, and masses of equipment used in the organization's wartime programs.

Christopher O'Sullivan's research, which focused on the role of undersecretary Sumner Welles in postwar planning, entails a reassessment of America's foreign policy during World War II. Like most of the other Gutenberg-e authors, O'Sullivan stated his intention to use part of his fellowship to return to the archives in order to gather additional primary source material to link to his published book.

After the new authors sketched out the possibilities for online presentations of their scholarship, former Gutenberg-e Prize winners Gregory Brown, Mary Halavais, Anne Hardgrove, Michael Katten, and Sarah Lowengard gave fascinating presentations of their newly published or almost-published books.

Frances Clarke is a research associate for the AHA's Research Division.