News

Report on the 6th Gutenberg-e Workshop

Deirdre Murphy, November 2002

When Gutenberg-e prizewinners from different years convened for the sixth Gutenberg-e Authors' Workshop in New York on September 23 and 24, they shared their varied experiences in transforming dissertations into manuscripts. They had conversations with Columbia University Press staff, former prizewinners, the current Gutenberg-e Prize Committee, and AHA staff on strategies for engaging the publishing process. And at this workshop, participants considered designs for virtual tours of World War I POW camps, watched as small children were paraded past boisterous crowds (in Soviet propaganda film footage), and one of them even mulled over the possible effects of artillery blasts (included as sound clips) on readers of his text.

These prizewinners were selected in the fourth annual Gutenberg-e Prize competition, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The themes of the competition were military history and the history of foreign relations. Now, they are burgeoning authors, firmly entrenched in the activities of bringing an e-book to completion. Part of what this means is constructing a compelling argument based on solid research, just as it does for any writer of a scholarly text. Another part of what it means though, is working with the electronic publishing group at Columbia University Press to gain familiarity with new media that can be incorporated into the e-texts they are currently revising.

Participants at the workshop expressed the feeling that Gutenberg-e authors balance on the brink of new trends in historical scholarship. Paula Fass, professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley and a member of the 2002 Gutenberg-e Prize Committee, explained the committee's sense that the e-book is expected to maintain the intellectual level and historical quality of scholarship in a new form. Michael Grossberg, editor of the AHR, which is planning to publish reviews of some of the completed e-books, concurred with this belief, noting that the journal will review such books according to the same rigorous standards it applies to traditional printed books. At the same time though, prize committee member Saul Cornell expressed a common hope that the Gutenberg project could be used as part of a larger process within academia to construct "models for growing a new generation of scholars" who are trained to make the most of the "potentialities of new media."

For new author Chistopher O'Sullivan, whose manuscript is entitled Sumner Welles, Postwar Planning, and the Quest for a New World Order, 1937–1943, the possibility of using materials such as recorded speeches, film clips, scanned documents, or even links to related sites has meant "thinking about my evidence in a whole new way." For Daniel Kowalsky, revising The Soviet Union and the Spanish Republic: Diplomatic, Military, and Cultural Relations, 1936–1939 has offered the opportunity to integrate a range of multimedia materials from several international archives. On the other hand, Kenneth Estes, author of A European Anabasis: Western European Volunteers in the German Army and SS, 1940–1945, notes that while the sequential organization of his argument will not change with the adaptation of his manuscript to the e-book format, he is anxious to revisit subjects from previously conducted oral interviews in the hope of including their exchanges within his completed online text.

An overriding goal stressed by all of the authors, however, was to use new forms of evidence in order to offer the clearest and most precise discussion of their topics. In revising 'The Infantry Cannot Do With a Gun Less': The Place of Artillery in the BEF, 1914–1918, author Sanders Marble explained that most people do not understand how World War I-era artillery functions. In a variety of ways, the e-text will permit him to relate this basic information in a vivid manner. Likewise, Kenneth Steuer, author of Pursuit of an ‘Unparalleled Opportunity': The American YMCA and Prisoner of War Diplomacy among the Central Power Nations During World War I, 1914-1923, is sorting through his scanned archive of 1600 photographs and documents for that evidence which will reveal meaningfully the daily existence of inmates in a World War I POW camp Indeed, many prizewinners explained that the online format was an attractive concept to them in the first place because it permits them to "show" aspects of their topics more explicitly whether these are the speeches of former statesmen, the progression of troop movements across war-torn Europe, or the look and sound of World War One British artillery.

While these current prizewinners continue revising their manuscripts for publication, the e-books of six former Gutenberg-e winners are already online, and can be visited at: http://www.Gutenberg-e.org.

—Deirdre Murphy is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at the University of Minnesota and is a research associate at the AHA.