Whether the application of the commercial book publishing model to the world of academic discourse was ever appropriate is debatable; what is clear now is that the model is inadequate in the Internet-mediated world of present-day higher education. In an era of increasing inter-institutional collaboration, cost-sharing, and digitally driven experimentation, the packaging of scholarly argument into a printed and bound book accessible only to those willing to pay high prices for it is counterproductive at best.
Yet established academic presses continue to operate on that model, even as cost equations grow ever more dire, university administrators ever less generous, and readers of printed academic discourse ever more rare. There has been a distressing lack of effort in the academy toward launching a publishing experiment in tune with present-day realities.
The migration of students, graduate students, and young faculty to digital devices for producing and consuming academic research and instruction is a case in point. By and large, older faculty, university administrators, and tenure-and-promotion committees have failed to acknowledge the growing body of digital research in the humanities going on all around them, and the consequent lack of interest among young academic researchers in producing traditional monographs. In every respect but the administrative one, we have entered a post-monograph age of scholarly argument. What is needed is a post-monograph publisher to provide editing, peer review, and distribution of this new form of scholarship.
Hence the experiment, launched recently by CLIR in collaboration with the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), of Anvil Academic, which is dedicated to publishing born-digital and born-again-digital scholarship. Anvil intends to bring the good from traditional academic publishing (rigorous editing and editorial selection, peer review, and promotion and distribution) while jettisoning impediments such as restricted access because of medium or cost, and traditional copyright, which in my view has historically served the interests of corporate entities at the expense of authors and their audience. Anvil hopes to bring to light some of the most exciting academic research in the humanities currently being undertaken, promote it aggressively in the tenure-and-promotion marketplace, make it openly accessible to everyone, and discover and develop a revenue model to make all this work. (While fully understanding how difficult are the technological challenges we face with this effort, we regard the financial challenges as being the most daunting.)
As CLIR’s new report One Culture: Computationally Intensive Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (discussed in this space by Charles Henry last week) demonstrates, there is now a wealth of research making use of databases, analytical algorithms, data visualization, and other 21st-century tools of discourse to produce entirely new (and, in the best sense of the word, unprintable) forms of scholarly argument. Many of these projects are simply being displayed on the web for all to see. But bereft of the services (and the imprimatur) provided by a respected academic publisher, they go unimproved, unedited, and unappreciated in the larger academic community—a circumstance that harms the community no less than it does the authors.