Published Date

January 1, 2003

Resource Type

AHA Archival Document

AHA Topics

AHA Initiatives & Projects

This resource is part of the AHA’s reports on the Gutenberg-e Program over the course of its ten years from conception to completion.


Last year as the Gutenberg-e program reached the halfway point of its six-year run, we changed course slightly. We reorganized the administration of the program, broadened the topics of the prize competition, and decided to find areas for improvement by conducting some modest survey research. Now we can report on those changes.

First, we are pleased to announce that we have seven e-books online. More will be published in the near future. Instead of sending them off together in annual “launches,” we will keep up a steady flow of new works; and we expect them to be mutually reinforcing. The first, brief reviews have been very encouraging. Full-scale reviews will begin to appear in February to be followed by a review article on the program as a whole in the American Historical Review. It took longer than expected to bring the first books to publication, but the series is now picking up momentum. Thirty libraries have subscribed, and a focus-group meeting of key librarians with Kate Wittenberg at Columbia suggests that the demand for the books will grow as they continue to appear.

As reported last year, we shifted the administrative responsibility for the program from the Research Division, where an AHA vice president was in charge of it, to the Executive Director, Arnita Jones, who now is responsible for day-to-day operations. Pillarisetti Sudhir, in AHA’s publications department, devotes a large portion of his time to the program and is doing an excellent job of coordinating its different sectors. He has been helped by part-time assistants, who have handled some of the special projects described below. Thanks to this reorganization, activities are now concentrated in the headquarters of the AHA, although the Research Division and its new vice president, Roy A. Rosenzweig, an expert on electronic history projects, continues to be involved, as does Robert Darnton.

We also improved the way in which the competition was judged. The panel that judged the competition in 2002 was composed of energetic historians some of whom were actively engaged with technological issues. Not only did they do everything with dispatch, but they also participated in the fall workshop, provided plentiful suggestions to the winners for improving their dissertations, and helped us reassess the program as a whole. The workshop, attended by the directors of the ACLS’s History-E project as well as by other observers, seemed to be especially effective this year, in part because of the participation of former winners who provided advice on how to bring e-books to publication. We think the workshop could be used to develop and coordinate other e-projects, perhaps by opening it up to the senior historians who are now working on e-books for History-E. The workshop included a thorough report by Michael Grossberg, editor of the American Historical Review, who explained the efforts of the AHR to develop protocols and policies for reviewing e-books.

The first series of competitions, in 1999, 2000, and 2001, restricted applications to fields that are least attractive to university presses. To our surprise, we received relatively few applications: 25 in 1999 and 16 in 2000. The slightly larger number of entries—40—for the 2001 competition was secured only after the scope of the competition was widened and the deadline extended. We opened up our 2002competition to one of the most popular fields, American history before 1900, in order to see whether the electronic medium might have more appeal in the most popular and populated sector of the discipline. To our continued surprise, only 14 people competed, although the quality of the winning dissertations was superb. This year we are trying again to appeal to a large constituency: historians working in women’s history and gender studies. We therefore are dropping one of our dual objectives—to rescue the monograph in the endangered fields—in order to concentrate on the other—the attempt to develop, promote, and legitimize electronic publication.

Why have so few recent PhDs competed for such an attractive prize? Occasionally we hear talk about department chairs and senior historians who refuse to consider e-books as genuine books and who would judge them inadequate as a qualification for tenure. To test the prevalence of those views, the AHA staff conducted a survey of 400 historians who received their Ph.D.s during the last four years. The results, discussed below, indicate that Gutenberg-e still is not widely known, despite extensive publicity, and that young historians would have been eager to compete for the prizes had they known about them. We can hardly publicize the program more than we have already done, but we hope to attract more competitors by targeting specific groups—this year by contacting dissertation advisors in the field of women and gender studies. An informal series of interviews conducted with past winners suggested that the prize has indeed promoted their careers and that they have not encountered prejudice against electronic publication on the part of their chairs.

What to conclude from the stepped-up activities of the last twelve months? The response to the competition remains disappointing, but the program is beginning to gather momentum now that the first e-books have appeared. Perhaps the greatest danger is that it will be completed before we can gather enough results to assess it adequately. We are not requesting a renewal of Gutenberg-e, but we feel more urgently than ever that something should be done to find a future for it.

Awards and Workshops

The year under review commenced for the Gutenberg-e program with the announcement at the 116th annual meeting (January 3–6, 2002) of the AHA of the six winners of the 2001 Gutenberg-e competition (as already mentioned in the report for 2001). Five of these six winners (along with seven of the previous prizewinners) were among the participants of the fifth Gutenberg-e workshop, held in New York, March 11–12, 2002. As in the case of previous workshops, the primary aim of this workshop was to provide guidance to the winners of the 2001 competition about the objectives of the Gutenberg-e program and the technical possibilities and challenges of electronic publication well as inherent limitations. The participants in the workshop heard brief presentations from the winners of the 2001 competition. Daniel Kowalsky, talked about his University of Wisconsin-Madison dissertation, “The Soviet Union and the Spanish Republic: Diplomatic, Military, and Cultural Relations, 1936–1939,” which made use of previously unutilized Soviet and Spanish archival records. Sanders Marble discussed his King’s College, University of London dissertation, “The Infantry Cannot Do with a Gun Less”: The Place of the Artillery in the BEF, 1914–1918,” and said he saw exciting possibilities for transforming his manuscript into an e-book. Kenneth Estes, also saw almost limitless possibilities in transforming his University of Maryland dissertation, “A European Anabasis: Western European Volunteers in the German Army and SS, 1940–1945.” Kenneth Steuer said that he could take advantage of the new medium while transforming his University of Minnesota dissertation, “Pursuit of an ‘Unparalleled Opportunity’: The American YMCA and Prisoner of War Diplomacy among the Central Power Nations during World War I, 1914–1923,” by further exploring strands of inquiry such as the YMCA’s role in socializing prisoners. Christopher O’ Sullivan, whose University of London dissertation was entitled, “Sumner Welles, Postwar Planning, and the Quest for a New World Order, 1937–1943,” said that he hoped to use part of his fellowship to return to the archives for additional primary source material that could be linked to his published book. Professor Robert Darnton emphasized to this third set of authors (as he had to the previous winners) that what mattered was the scholarship, and reminded them that Columbia University Press’s electronic publishing team would help them with the technological aspects of their books.

The sixth workshop in the series was held September 23–24, 2002. Aside from the usual beneficent discussions between authors and the staff of Columbia University Press, a notable feature of the workshop was the participation of some members of the 2002 prize committee, who shared their thoughts on the program and offered suggestions.

Oversight and Staff

At the January 2002 annual meeting of the AHA, a meeting of the Gutenberg-e program managers was convened to discuss various aspects of the program. One of the decisions reached was that Arnita Jones, the executive director of the AHA, will oversee and manage (the competition side of) the program with the (part-time) assistance of AHA staff member, Pillarisetti Sudhir, and another staff member. Frances Clarke, who joined the AHA staff (in January 2002) as a part-time research associate for the Research Division, helped with the day-to-day work of running the program until she relinquished her position (in August 2002) to accept a teaching position at the University of Sydney. Deirdre Murphy, who joined the AHA (as a part-time research associate) in September 2002 in the place of Frances Clarke, now helps with the running of the program.

The 2002 Competition

As mentioned in the previous report, the 2002 competition (on the theme, “The History of North America before 1900”) was publicized intensively. Apart from notices published in all the relevant issues of Perspectives and on the AHA’s web site, announcements were also posted on the H-Net lists and specially designed brochures and posters were circulated to chairs of history departments. Notices and advertisements were placed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Academe, the Independent Scholar, the OAH Newsletter, NWS Action Newsletter, and the Adjunct Advocate. A letter over the signature of James McPherson, the 2002 president-elect of the AHA, was sent to department chairs and other scholars in the competition field. Despite the extensive publicity, however, the response belied expectations, and only 14 entries were received by the closing date. It may be worth noting that the topic for this competition (the history of North America before 1900) was chosen in part to test the hypothesis that such a popular PhD field may yield many more entries than in previous years. The reasons for the poor response are many, and some of these can be inferred from the responses to a survey conducted by Frances Clarke.

The 14 entries were read during the summer of 2002 by the ad hoc prize committee constituted for evaluating the submissions. The committee—consisting of: Saul Cornell (Ohio State University); Paula Fass (University of California at Berkeley); Jane Kamensky (Brandeis University); Gary Kornblith (Oberlin College); James H. Merrell (Vassar College); and Paula Petrik (George Mason University)—conferred by telephone prior to meeting in person in New York on September 22, 2002, where they discussed the short list and selected three winners. The three prizewinners were announced at the 117th annual meeting of the AHA in Chicago on January 3, 2003.


A detailed statement of the budgeted amounts and actual expenditures under the various heads for the year in question is attached. It should be noted that this statement showing expenses incurred until December 31, 2002 includes the first grant of $772,488 and the amount of $32,000 received as the first installment of the second grant as well as the amount of $51,650 as allocation for 2002 from the second grant, but not yet received.

Gutenberg-e Books Online

Seven of the e-books that were produced by the authors who won the Gutenberg-e prizes are now online. These are, in alphabetical order (with competition years in parentheses after the titles): Gregory Brown’s Writers, Court Culture, and Public Theater in French Literary Life from Racine to the Revolution (2000); Ignacio Gallup-Diaz’s The ‘Door of the Seas and the Key to the Universe’: Indian Politics and Imperial Rivalry in the Darién, 1640–1750 (1999); Mary Halavais’ Like Wheat to the Miller: Community, Convivencia, and the Construction of Morisco Identity in Sixteenth-Century Aragon (2000); Wayne Hanley’s The Genesis of Napoleonic Propaganda (2000); Anne Hardgrove’s Community and Public Culture: The Marwaris in Calcutta, c. 1897–1997; Jacqueline Holler’s Escogidas Plantas: Nuns and Beatas in Mexico City, 1531–1601 (1999); Michael Katten’s Colonial Lists/Indian Power: Identity Politics in Nineteenth-Century Telugu Speaking India (1999). Various journals (including the American Historical Review) are in the process of reviewing the individual titles. The American Historical Review has, in fact, developed new policies and guidelines for dealing with electronic books. The first generic review of the site as a whole appeared in the Library Journal 127:20 (December 2002), 188 and although brief, is a favorable report.

Impact of the Prizes on Academic Careers

As the individual books have not yet been reviewed, it is difficult to assess the reception by the scholarly world of these new type of books. But the impressionistic evidence that we have suggests that there is a perceptible, if slight, change in attitudes toward electronic publications. A series of informal telephone conversations that Deirdre Murphy has had with a few (8 in all so far) of the previous winners reveals, for instance, that in general, the winning of the prize and (in some cases) the subsequent publication of the book has had a positive impact on the authors’ careers, especially if they were in tenure-track academic positions. It may be worth noting also in this context that at least in one case, a major university (Emory) indicated to a winner that a Gutenberg-e book would be considered a regular book for purposes of tenure reviews.


Survey of Potential Participants in the Gutenberg-e Prizes Competition: Summary Analysis of Responses

To discover what the reasons might be for the apparent lack of interest in the Gutenberg-e competition, Frances Clarke, AHA research associate, sent a brief questionnaire to about 400 scholars who received a PhD between 1999 and 2002, in all fields of history. Apart from asking them about their field of study, the questions sought to find out whether the scholars had heard of the Gutenberg-e Prizes; and if they did, why they did not apply; and finally, if they would apply if there was a competition in their field. From the 116 responses received, what we learn is that a significant number claim not to have heard about the competition (despite all the publicity). Going beyond the purely statistical and reading the comments, it would appear that quite a few skipped over the ad because it referred to something electronic, and some others simply did not have the time, preoccupied as they were with job hunts and coping with the pressures of starting to teach, to even notice a competition such as this.

Hearteningly, the survey also suggests that a large number of scholars is interested in the concept—more than 75 indicated that they would enter a competition if one were held in their field and they came to know about it. There were quite a few skeptics too, however, such as the one respondent who explained the reluctance to enter by declaring (and also echoing thoughts of many others) that “the value of e-books is still unproven,” especially for tenure and jobs.

Disturbingly, however, a significantly large number (about 12) of eligible scholars indicated that they may have entered the 2002 competition had they known about it, thus indicating that the publicity for the competition needed to be more focused. We decided, therefore, that for the 2003 competition, we should more systematically implement a procedure that we had tried earlier—less rigorously, but with a degree of success—of targeting the specific scholars in the selected competition fields (women’s history and history of gender). We plan, therefore, to first identify at least the scholars eligible to compete for the five general prizes (that is, those who completed (or are expected to complete) their PhDs in the selected field between January 1, 2000 and August 15, 2003), and send them all the information needed to compete if they choose to do so. This will be in addition to all the other regular modes of publicizing the competition.