Investing in Humanities Publishing
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the headquarters of the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C. early last week to take part in a discussion about a new model for open access digital monograph publishing in the humanities.
The meeting, organized by a Task Force convened by the AAU, American Association of University Presses, and the Association of Research Libraries, included an impressive group of directors of university presses, deans of libraries, and academic administrators.
I was there to represent Michigan State University. In February, Provost June Youatt asked me for feedback on the Task Force’s proposal to establish a sustainable model by which long-form humanities scholarship could be published in a digital open access format. The proposal called for up-front institutional funding for the open access publication of manuscripts accepted through standing AAUP best practices for peer review.
I was enthusiastic.
Given my work on the Public Philosophy Journal, my service on the Board of Directors of K|N Consultants with its Open Access Network initiative, and my own efforts to publish my book on Socratic and Platonic politics as an open access enhanced digital book, I arrived in Washington prepared to put my commitment to open access into sustainable structural practice.
Still, I was not sure what to expect because we have heard so much — too much — about the “crisis” of the humanities in general, and of scholarly communication in particular. Further, the ecosystem of scholarly publishing is complicated — faculty depend on acquisition editors, presses depend on libraries, tenure and promotion processes depend on the integrity of peer review …. With so many moving parts and with so much at stake, developing a supportive and sustainable funding model for open access is daunting.
From the beginning, however, it was clear that the Task Force, under the leadership of John Vaughn, Elliott Shore, and Peter Bekery, had gathered a group of creative, thoughtful, and generous colleagues who were willing to imagine what might be possible if universities committed to fully funding the cost of open access monograph publication up front.
Questions of cost, addressed by the Ithaka Report on the Costs of Publishing Monographs and qualified in interesting ways by John Sherer of the UNC Press, did not derail the conversation, which took a decisive and, in my view, positive turn when we agreed not to frame the initiative as a response to a crisis in either the humanities or in publishing.
Far the better strategy is to seed an initiative that will establish a sustainable publishing workflow designed to expand access to and engagement with humanities scholarship.
Publishing is one important way the humanities are put into practice. Ideas only enter the public realm when they are made public — that is, when they are published. But publishing is not simply a matter of making ideas public; it is also an opportunity to create publics, to establish relationships around shared values and ideas, and by extension, to transform existing realities in light of new possibilities opened by novel ways of thinking.
Attempts to establish a sustainable financial model for open access publishing in the humanities should ultimately be motivated by a commitment to advancing the capacity of humanities scholarship to transform, enrich, and shape publics.
As a dean, I understand any up-front contributions the College of Arts & Letters would make to facilitate the open access publications of our faculty as an investment in the transformative power of the humanities.
Beyond the important academic benefits of having the work of our faculty more widely read and cited lies the land-grant mission of Michigan State University to “advance knowledge and transform lives,” to educate globally engaged citizen leaders” and to facilitate research and scholarship that will lead “to a better quality of life for individuals and communities, at home and around the world.”
Broadly accessible humanities scholarship, work that is not merely published, but widely read, enriches public life by enabling us to imagine and create more just and responsive publics.
This ideal of the humanities deeply woven into the fabric of public life motivates my own humanities scholarship and administrative work; and it animates my interest in the work of the Task Force to seed and support a sustainable financial model for open access long-form humanities publishing.
I was heartened by the conversation we had in Washington, D.C. last week and by the emerging plans to establish a process, funding model, and workflow that will enable us to begin publishing open access long-form humanities scholarship in the near future.
More heartening still, however, is the palpable sense of what is possible when universities, presses, and libraries collaborate across institutions to expand public access to humanities scholarship capable of enriching public life.