From the News column of the October 2003 Perspectives
The Latest Gutenberg-e Workshop: A Report
Elizabeth Fairhead, November 2003
Instituting protocols, "normalization," and standardizing processes —these phrases came up often at the most recent workshop held September 22–23, 2003, at Columbia University's Butler Library for the winners of the Gutenberg-e Prize. The twice-a-year workshop brings together authors, editors, designers, and programmers to facilitate the conversion of the prizewinning dissertations into electronic books. The workshop this fall included reports on developments that have brought order to processes on the "frontier" of publishing. Protocols for reviewing the e-books are being accepted, procedures for inclusion of multimedia are being fine-tuned, and database development is being standardized. Momentum is building as the processes of putting scholarship online become more formalized.
During the first day of the workshop, author presentations highlighted the progress of each project. With nine books online (at http://www.gutenberg-e.org), published authors were able to make anecdotal reports about responses to their books. For those authors whose books focus on international topics, access to readers abroad is an especially valuable benefit of an e-publication. A number of authors reported excitedly that they have received comments from Europe, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Anne Hardgrove, whose work focuses on Marwari culture of Northern India, reported that scholars in India have seen her book. Mary Halavais, author of Like Wheat to the Miller: Community, Convivencia, and the Construction of Morisco Identity in Sixteenth Century Aragon, observed that readers seem to respond differently to online authors; authors are perceived as more accessible. She described having her book online as "like teaching at a public university." Electronic publishing had an additional advantage for another author. Gregory Brown described his research on French theater as having a more "active afterlife" than if it had appeared as a print publication.
Two of the most recent prizewinners, who received the prize for their dissertations in the field of "History of North America before 1900," discussed their plans for the development of their books. John Haddad's dissertation, "'The American Marco Polo': Excursions to a Virtual China in U.S. Popular Culture, 1784–1912," focuses on how Americans learned about the Chinese in the 19th century. As he works to update his analysis, he is creating a database of images that makes use the online medium to preserve a large number of primary sources. This extensive database echoes the efforts of a number of the authors to preserve and disseminate rare and fragile documents. Willeen Keough, in "The Slender Thread: Irish Women on the Southern Avalon, 1750–1860," examines women's public roles and their resistance to the intrusion of gender ideology during the 19th century. She is hoping to create a glossary of terms that makes use of images as well as text to help readers better understand the Irish culture in Newfoundland that was based on the transient lives of fishermen.
Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and awarded by the American Historical Association, the Gutenberg-e Prize supports an author during the conversion of his or her dissertation into an e-book published by the Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia (Columbia University Press). Now in its fifth year, the prize is awarded to up to six dissertations each year.
—Elizabeth Fairhead is an American Studies PhD student at Michigan State University and is research associate at the AHA.