New Developments in the Gutenberg-e Prize

Deirdre Murphy | Apr 1, 2003

You are benefiting from a momentum that has built up. We have seven e-books online now, so go with that momentum," Robert Darnton advised the most recent round of prizewinners at the seventh Gutenberg-e Prize authors' workshop held at Columbia University on March 10 and 11. Darnton launched the Gutenberg-e Prizes in 1999 during his tenure as president of the AHA with the support of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and in collaboration with Columbia University Press (CUP). He opened the workshop by commenting on the ongoing evolution of the Gutenberg-e publishing project. Darnton reflected that with the accretion of several years' worth of experience, CUP staff members have become adept in "overcoming the difficulties of online publishing and turning book manuscripts into online texts." He encouraged new writers to take advantage of that acquired knowledge in their interactions with CUP staff, and to "get on with what you have to write. Focus on writing a good book and get the job done rapidly . . . you need to get published, and that's good for CUP, too."

In extending her welcome to the new authors on behalf of the American Historical Association, Executive Director Arnita Jones echoed these sentiments. Jones recalled that at its inception, the competition pursued the goal of saving the "endangered monograph" by soliciting and awarding the prizes to dissertations in fields in which market forces precluded publication. She added that although the Gutenberg-e project has always been "committed to getting the best, most interesting scholarship," this objective has recently developed into facilitating the publication of the best scholarship (without regard, that is, to the intentions and motives of traditional publishers). This transition, according to Jones, coheres with the AHA's desire to meet the needs of academics just starting their careers. Explaining that "the AHA has learned a lot" from its contact with Gutenberg-e authors, Jones went on to emphasize that, "it's important that we understand what new scholars are facing on the job market currently."

The project's new focus on attracting works that reflect recent trends in historical scholarship is manifested in the increasing expansion of competition themes. Whereas the previous three competitions were limited to fields that were more narrowly delimited, the 2002 competition was on a much broader theme, the "History of North America Before 1900." The three winners of this competition (announced at the 117th annual meeting of the AHA held in Chicago in January 2003) will each receive—like the pervious recipients—$20,000 to help defray costs they may incur in revising their dissertations. John Rogers Haddad won with his dissertation, "'The American Marco Polo': Excursions to a Virtual China in U.S. Popular Culture, 1784–1912," which he completed at the University of Texas at Austin in 2002. Willeen Keough received the prize for her dissertation, "The Slender Thread: Irish Women on the Southern Avalon, 1750–1860," which she finished at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2001. Dorothea McCullough won with her dissertation, "'By Cash and Eggs': Gender in Washington County during Indiana's Pioneer Period," which she completed at the University of Indiana in 2001.

Haddad and Keough gave participants in the workshop glimpses into their dissertations and their plans for adaptating them for online publication. John Haddad's research centers on representations of Chinese culture in 19th-century America in the form of museum exhibits, material objects, and even exhibited persons. He views his evidence as a series of "popular educational events" in which Americans sought to learn about Chinese culture, even as Chinese individuals maintained control over their own self-representation. As such, his study challenges the notion of orientalism as a one-way flow of knowledge wherein the West constructs ideas about the East that further western aims of hegemony. Willeen Keough takes up the history of women who co-founded fishing villages on the Southern Avalon in Newfoundland in the 18th and 19th centuries. Her work presents a counter-narrative to both the ideology of separate spheres and the historical emphasis on Irish immigrants as a people forced from their homeland. Keough uses court and land documents, personal memoirs, and newspaper articles to uncover the daily lives of hardworking women who cooperated with and challenged their male counterparts in the course of maintaining their positions as community builders.

As they began to think about the transition from a dissertation manuscript to an online e-book, the two prizewinners mentioned considerations commonly faced by first-time authors. How could long dissertation manuscripts be reduced in length without compromising arguments? To what sort of an audience, exactly, should their books be pitched? How could these published works function as effective teaching tools? At the same time though, some of their interests were unique to online publication. Keough wondered how she might make the most of taped oral histories within her e-book, and how folk songs, performed by local musicians and included as sound clips, might contribute to her arguments. For Haddad, whose work relies heavily on visual evidence and print media, the reproduction of trade cards, printer catalogues, popular engravings, and exhibition imagery holds out many possibilities. For both new authors, the promises of online publication are intriguing, even as they represent options requiring decisions.

In response to such concerns, CUP and AHA staff members came to the March meeting with advice and encouragement, and a sizeable contingent of former prizewinners whose e-books are already published, came with pointed suggestions of their own. Michael Katten, author of Colonial Lists/Indian Power: Identity Politics in Nineteenth-Century Telugu-Speaking India, was one of the first authors to have his e-book go online. He encouraged the new class of writers to "migrate into thinking of your work as an e-book, not a print book." By this, Katten meant that while authors should enjoy the opportunity to "be creative in including archival material and visual evidence," in constructing his own e-book he found that the "real challenge is to create a readable text with the integration of various materials." Gregory Brown, who wrote A Field of Honor: Writers, Court Culture, and Public Theater in French Literary Life from Racine to the Revolution, concurred with Katten's suggestion, noting that it helped to think about how different types of evidence could be used to "reveal the text." He found it useful to "think in terms of the overall outline of the text in order to avoid adding in imagery by quantity rather than quality."

Other advice from former prizewinners was of a more practical bent. Chris O'Sullivan, who wrote the soon to be published Sumner Welles, Postwar Planning, and and the Quest for a New World Order, 1937–1943 was one of several earlier prize recipients who strongly urged the new winners to secure leave time from their institutions in order to complete the revising process. Wayne Hanley, author of The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda, 1796–1799, and Anne Hardgrove, who wrote Community and Public Culture: the Marwaris in Calcutta, c. 1897–1997, addressed the ways in which the Gutenberg-e Prize could be used as a stepping stone to gain additional funding for further research and the more mundane but no less important problem of how to deal with the prize money in filing tax returns.

Past prizewinners at various stages of finishing their e-books also joined the meeting with insightful comments on their own revision experiences. Sanders Marble, who has nearly completed revision of his book, 'The Infantry Cannot Do with a Gun Less': The Place of Artillery in the BEF, 1914–1918, explained that in developing his manuscript into a publishable text, he has had to privilege a thematic organizational approach over a chronological one. He noted, however, that the online format provided some balance between the two options by permitting him to include an indexing component which will offer readers a vivid chronological awareness of his subject. Kenneth Estes plans to ready his book, A European Anabasis: Western European Volunteers in the German Army and SS, 1940–1945, by this summer. Kenneth Steuer is seeking copyright permissions for materials he will include in Pursuit of an 'Unparalleled Opportunity': the American YMCA and Prisoner of War Diplomacy among the Central Power Nations During World War I, 1914–1923, as is Daniel Kowalsky, who continues to move between archives in Spain and Russia while completing The Soviet Union and the Spanish Republic: Diplomatic, Military, and Cultural Relations, 1936–1939. Each author shared advice on maneuvering through the occasionally tricky process of obtaining permissions from international archives. Finally, Tonio Andrade, at work on Commerce, Culture, and Conflict: Taiwan under European Rule, 1623–1662, sparked discussion on the possible ways in which a reading audience might be encouraged to respond online to his e-book.

As the most recent prizewinners embark on the course toward publication, the theme for the 2003 Gutenberg-e Prize Competition has already been announced. Nominations for dissertations and first-time book manuscripts will be accepted within the fields of women's history and the history of gender until the September 1, 2003 deadline. Detailed information on the competition is available online at: and the seven e-books that have already been published can be visited online at:

—Deirdre Murphy, a PhD student in American studies at the University of Minnesota, is a research associate of the AHA's Research Division and helps to coordinate the Gutenberg-e Prizes program.

Tags: Scholarly Communication


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