Publication Date

September 1, 1999

In a major new effort to promote the validity of electronic publication, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will give the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) $3 million to assist collaborations between scholars and university presses in the electronic publishing of history monographs. The program's sponsors intend to publish and market 85 new electronic books over a period of five years, and to convert 500 influential backlist titles and reviews of those books into digital form.

According to ACLS president John H. D' Arms, "Although we are confident that the printed book will long remain fundamental to scholarly communication, we believe the ACLS should accelerate the involvement of our member societies in the evolution of electronic scholarly communications: the humanities and related social sciences have been slower than other fields to embrace scholarly applications of information technology in organized and systematic ways, particularly as regards book-length studies." He added that "the field of history offers an especial! y fertile test bed for electronic scholarship, since historians always need to determine the optimal relationship between the narrative (text) and the supporting data (notes), and the electronic environment offers opportunities to reconceptualize this relationship in fresh and potentially very exciting ways."

AHA president Robert Darnton (Princeton Univ.) concurred, noting that "the new ACLS program will expand the electronic publishing of advanced scholarship across a broad front. It complements the AHA's Gutenberg-e project, which concerns recent dissertations, by providing new possibilities for online publishing by mature scholars. Taken together, the ACLS and AHA programs will open up an important new mode of scholarly communication." Indeed, Darnton has already committed to producing one of the first books in the ACLS series; a history of the book trade in Enlightenment France, which will be "a new kind of multilayered book, designed not merely to convey more information but also to elicit new modes of reading."

In addition to the AHA, the Organization of American Historians, the Society for the History of Technology, the Middle East Studies Association, and the Renaissance Society of America have also agreed to participate in the initial stages of the project. Seven university presses will join in the effort, including Columbia University Press, Harvard University Press, Johns Hopkins University Press, New York University Press, Oxford University Press, Rutgers University Press, and the University of Michigan Press.

NYU Press will serve as publishing coordinator and provide a home for the project's administrative office, and Carol Mandel, dean of the NYU Libraries, Press, and University Archives, will serve as adviser as the project goes forward. Dean Mandel, formerly deputy university librarian at Columbia University, helped to develop the Columbia Online Books Evaluation Project.

The new project has five major goals: to foster broader acceptance by the scholarly community of electronic monograph-length texts as valid scholarly publications by creating electronic texts of high quality in the discipline of history; to promote collaboration among the ACLS, its constituent scholarly societies, university presses, and libraries in electronic publishing; to create the framework for a centralized, noncommercial, electronic publication space; to develop publishing processes that will help streamline production and make the creation and dissemination of electronic texts more cost-effective; and to establish the viability of publishing small-market, specialized scholarly texts in electronic format. "While a major aim is to establish an electronic publishing program that is responsive to scholars ' evolving needs, the program, at the same time, must prove to be viable economically," said D'Arms.

A primary goal of the project is promoting greater acceptance of the electronic book as a valid form of scholarly publication by selecting works of the highest quality for this new form of publication. Initially, the ACLS, the societies, and the presses will seek to identify, recruit, and solicit proposals from well-established scholars.

According to an ACLS press release, "For each book in our initial series, the strong endorsement of the ACLS, the societies joined in this project, and a university press specializing in the specific subject matter, should help significantly to establish greater credibility. The fact that these electronic texts will be products of the standard academic publishing process, including the peer review which university presses carry out so effectively, will also reassure scholars, university faculty, and others in the scholarly community."

The University of Michigan's Digital Library Production Service (DLPS) will function as an initial distributor for the electronic publications in this series. DLPS, with extensive experience in creating and distributing full-text electronic texts, will work with the presses to develop standards for formatting and advise on the development of the interface, searching, access, and usage logging mechanisms for this central publication space.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.