New Visions For The Book, Part 1

This post, by Janneke Adema, originally appeared on Open Reflections on 9/13/10.

A few weeks ago the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University brought together a group of digital humanists of diverse disciplinary backgrounds as part of the unique summer institute One Week | One Tool. The aim of One Week | One Tool was to come up with an (open source) digital tool to aid humanities scholarship. The catch was that this whole process of tool-building could take no longer than a week.

The tool the group came up with and, as part of the deal, actually build, is called Anthologize. Anthologize, as the tagline proclaims, ‘use(s) the power of WordPress to transform online content into an electronic book.’ The idea is that you can grab content from your own blog or other blogs, order it, determine the layout and publish it, both in print and in different electronic formats.

Next to being a refreshing project and a useful tool, what I found interesting about Anthologize is the (implicit) notion that lies behind its conception, namely the idea of what a scholarly book should or can be.

Anthologize it

Let’s take a closer look at a blogpost about Anthologize written by Dan Cohen, the director of the Center for History and New Media. Cohen is a historian who, in his own words, ‘explores—and tries to influence through theory, software, websites, and his blog—the impact of computing on the humanities.’ In the post he wrote to introduce Anthologize, there are a few interesting preconceptions concerning the book. For instance, he begins his post with stating the following:

“A long-running theme of this blog has been the perceived gulf between new forms of online scholarship—including the genre of the blog itself—and traditional forms such as the book and journal.”

This sentence is very interesting for various reasons. First of all Cohen talks about the perceived (and thus not real) gulf between online scholarship, such as the blog, and traditional forms such as the book. Furthermore he states that the book and the blog are both forms of scholarship, they are just different genres. Finally, he refers to how discussions surrounding the scholarly book mostly have been conducted by opposing new online forms of scholarship to traditional print scholarship such as the book and the journal.

Further on Cohen explains more in detail what Anthologize has to offer:

“Today marks the launch of this effort: Anthologize, software that converts the popular open-source WordPress system into a full-fledged book-production platform. Using Anthologize, you can take online content such as blogs, feeds, and images (and soon multimedia), and organize it, edit it, and export it into a variety of modern formats that will work on multiple devices.”

In this sentence it becomes clear that both Cohen and the One Tool | One Week people argue for a concept of the book that goes beyond the print format, where in their view books can be delivered in various formats (including, but not exclusively, print) suitable to be read on (and by) various devices. Furthermore, they—I would say consciously—push for a broad(er) idea of what a book can consist off: in their vision a (scholarly) book can, besides text, consist of all kinds of multimedia content. Furthermore, it can consist of material that has been previously online available—hence published—such as blogposts. Thus with Anthologize a book becomes a selection of online available material which can be expanded with new texts and/or multimedia content. Finally, it offers the creator of the book the possibility to instantly publish the book her or himself, without the help of publishers or self-publishing platforms.

As I will state, with this tool Cohen and the people from One Week | One Tool argue for a concept of the book that goes beyond the idea of the traditional printed scholarly book. Anthologize forms a, perhaps implicit, critique against connotations that are an intrinsic part of the production process of a scholarly book as it is currently common in print publishing: double-blind peer review and quality control and branding by a reputable press. In this way they try to challenge or by-pass the traditional authorities that determine whether a scholarly book is fit to be published.

The New Age of the Supplement

Read the rest of the post on Open Reflections.