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From the News column of the May 2006 Perspectives

The Final Workshop of the Gutenberg-e Project

Elizabeth Fairhead, May 2006

The Gutenberg-e Prize is a great way to start a career," Robert Darnton said while opening the latest workshop of the Gutenberg-e program at Columbia University on March 13, 2006. Darnton had helped to establish the prize program in 1999 (when he was president of the AHA) with a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to encourage and support the electronic publication of the best, new historical scholarship. Designed as a pioneering experiment in electronic academic publishing, the program has come to an end in its present form. The March 2006 workshop was thus the last in a series that had been organized to bring the prizewinning authors together to report on progress, to act as resources for each other as they revise their dissertations into the best e-books, and to benefit from consultations with editorial and web design professionals at Columbia University Press, the publisher of the resulting e-books.

The prize winners from the 2003 and 2004 competitions who came to this last gathering with editors, programmers, and administrators were very positive as they shared stories of their successful searches and negotiations for academic positions. Nearly all of these last 17 winners appeared secure and happy in their current positions, and were no longer on the job market. Bin Yang, who won the prize in the 2004 competition for his dissertation, Between Winds and Clouds: The Making of Yunnan (Second Century BCE–Twentieth Century CE), and Erika Lindgren who won in 2003, for her study, Environment and Spirituality of German Dominican Women, 1230–1370, shared stories of interviews and c.v.'s and the role that the Gutenberg-e Prize played in their recent successful job searches.

Progress reports presented at the workshop revealed that the authors were at various stages of revising and editing. For some, the prize made it possible to take time off from teaching to travel and to do supplemental research and as well as work on revisions. Time is the most valuable commodity for a newly established scholar working for tenure and the Gutenberg-e's $20,000 award was very helpful in securing that commodity. Daniella Kostroun (2003, Undermining Obedience in Absolutist France: The Case of the Port Royal Nuns, 1609–1709) described the exciting discoveries she made during an extended research trip to France. Tim Hodgdon (2003, Manhood in the Age of Aquarius: Masculinity in Two Countercultural Communities, 1965–83) outlined how he planned to dedicate the upcoming month to his project.

The process of turning a dissertation into a monograph is a challenge that almost every scholar faces. Rhonda M. Gonzales (2004, Continuity and Change: Thought, Belief, and Practice in the History of the Ruvu Peoples of Central East Tanzania, c. 200 B.C. to A.D. 1800) and Laura Mitchell (2004, Contested Terrains: Property and Labor on the Cedarberg Frontier, 1725–c. 1830) are revising their work, for example, with a renewed sense of enthusiasm as they work independently, making significant changes to the text, and in one case, even to the title.

The discussion turned to the concerns about dealing with historical topics that are in the headlines today. Shah Hanifi (2004, Inter-Regional Trade and Colonial State Formation in Nineteenth-Century Afghanistan) and Kirsten Rambo (2003, "Trivial Complaint": The Role of Privacy in Domestic Violence Law and Activism in the U.S.), whose works focus on Afghanistan and legal definitions of privacy respectively, shared strategies for dealing with writing that is "burdened by the present."

These authors, like all new scholars, are working to create the best scholarship possible, though some of the issues they face—because of the publication in an electronic format—are new. Ann Pfau (2003, Miss Yourlovin: Women in the Culture of American World War II Soldiers) and Sarah Gordon (2004, "Make It Yourself": Home Sewing, Gender and Culture, 1890–1930) discussed their plans to use audiovisual technology to further the arguments of their works. First-hand experience of radio programs and the process of hand sewing a garment will allow readers to experience the materials in ways print texts could not.

The exciting possibilities of publishing in an electronic format also bring new challenges as archives and other rights holders are still formulating their own polices and procedures for inclusion in electronic publications. Jennifer Langdon-Teclaw (2004, Caught in the Crossfire: Anti-Fascism, Anti-Communism, and the Politics of Americanism in the Hollywood Career of Adrian Scott), whose work includes analyses of historic film clips, reported progress in tracking down the ownership of the images she hopes to include. Sherry Fields (2004, Pestilence and Headcolds: Encountering Illness in Colonial Mexico) has made strides with the international institutions that hold images essential to her work.

All of the authors are getting closer to completed manuscripts. Jeri McIntosh, (2003, Sovereign Princesses: Mary and Elizabeth Tudor as Heads of Princely Households and the Accomplishment of the Female Succession, 1516–1553) described an advantage (or a disadvantage, depending on the perspective) of an electronic publication. Because of the novelty of the medium, she imagines that the electronic publications will be held to a higher standard than a print text. Finally, Josh Greenberg (2003, Advocating "The Mam": Masculinity, Organized Labor and the Market Revolution in New York, 1800–1840) announced that he was ready to submit his completed manuscript to the publication staff. Advocating "The Man" will be available to Gutenberg-e readers in the upcoming months.

Following the author presentations, the workshop attendees turned their attention to the other important questions of cataloging, marketing, and sale of the published texts. With 15,000 hits per week to the Gutenberg-e web site, the 13 books that have been published are receiving positive responses. As more and more of the winning titles are published, the project has entered its final stage. These authors can be sure that the momentum of the project is moving them toward successful launches of their careers.

—Elizabeth Fairhead, who recently received her PhD degree from Michigan State University, is a research associate for the AHA's Research Division and has been coordinating the Gutenberg-e Prizes program for the past several years.