From the News column of the April 2008 issue of Perspectives on History
Gutenberg-e Books: Available Now with Easier Access and in Two Formats
Robert B. Townsend, April 2008
The electronic monographs published by Columbia University Press in the Gutenberg-e Project are now available in an open-access form through the university's libraries, and are also being made available on a subscription basis through the ACLS Humanities E-Book (HEB) program. This new step will continue the project's ongoing experiment with different forms of electronic publication, and will also enable us to determine whether open-access publications will garner greater use and more citations from students and scholars.
The two sites will offer distinct benefits and experiences. The open-access books published by Columbia University Press will represent the authors' specific visions for their publications, within the template of the project. The books made available through the press will incorporate a range of different approaches to their subject—some incorporating a more open, nonlinear narrative style (see, for instance, Heidi Gengenbach's Binding Memories: Women as Makers and Tellers of History in Magude, Mozambique). Others add a range and depth of multimedia and archival supplementary materials (most recently Helena Pohlandt-McCormick's "I Saw a Nightmare…" Doing Violence to Memory: The Soweto Uprising, June 16, 1976 and Sarah Lowengard's The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe).
In comparison, the books published in the Humanities E-Book collection, while offering the same content, will be more deeply integrated into the related scholarship for their subject, incorporating online reviews, for example, as well as hyperlinks (from the historiographic references in the text and notes) to other books that are readily available on the HEB site. Searches within the E-Book project will allow readers to see the Gutenberg-e books either as a distinct series or in a larger scholarly context. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation started both Gutenberg-e and the Humanities E-Book projects in 1999 to experiment with different models of online publication in history, so it seems natural now to bring these two projects together.
We hope that making the books available in these two new forms promotes increased interest, attention, and use in the academy. One of the great concerns for this project has been the seeming reluctance or inability of many scholarly journals to review these online publications. Fortunately, authors who have come up for tenure have received it, despite sometimes limited numbers of reviews. But since the traditional networks of scholarly legitimization seem unable or unwilling to handle these books, we hope this switch to open access will circumvent that problem by making the works more discoverable by interested students and scholars.
Unfortunately, despite the hopes of many in the open-access movement, we have not been able to create a sustainable financial model for the publication of these online scholarly monographs. Our success to date was only made possible by the very generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the library and press at Columbia University. The incorporation of the Gutenberg-e series into ACLS Humanities E-Book has been made possible by the press's additional investment and HEB's own sustainability model. Quite apart from the fellowships given to the authors and the costs of administering the selection process for these books, it appears that the basic costs of preparing the Gutenberg-e titles for online publication were not sustainable without a significant revenue stream or outside support. As planned, we will complete the publication of the 36 monographs that received prizes in the program, and continue to make the published titles available through both Columbia and ACLS.
Nevertheless, we firmly believe that these books stand as models of exceptional scholarship in the discipline and rich examples of how new media can transform the traditional monograph form. We hope scholars in the subject fields will take this opportunity to read the books, and we hope that anyone interested in the transformational nature of new media will consider the different form of the books in both open-access Gutenberg-e and ACLS Humanities E-Book's subscription model, and assess whether and how the medium can shape and transform the message.
—Robert B. Townsend is the AHA's assistant director for research and publications. He has been involved with the Gutenberg-e Books program since its inception. This article has been adapted from a post (of February 13, 2008) on the AHA Blog, AHA Today.