U-M Humanities Collaboratory funds “Book Unbound” project to improve the practice of digital publication in the humanities

by Charles Watkinson on August 29, 2017

A group of five faculty members from English Language and Literature, Classical Studies, and Screen Arts and Cultures have been awarded $475,000 for a two year project starting September 1, 2017, to collaboratively study and improve the practice of digital publication in the humanities. The grant comes from the Humanities Collaboratory at the University of Michigan, established in 2015 by Provost Martha Pollack to provide resources for humanities scholars to experiment with collaborative, team-based approaches to humanities research, its communication to the broader public, and the training of the next generation of humanities scholars.

Entitled “The Book Unbound” this ambitious project will explore how digital affordances can allow humanities scholars to create layered publications that are effective in engaging multiple audiences and text, multimedia, and data to create a more compelling and effective research output than could have been produced in print alone. The team will explore the common opportunities and challenges of publishing in new ways through producing three works: a 3D model-based report on the archaeological remains from the Roman site of Gabii; multilayered presentation of a massive longitudinal study of the development of writing skills over a student’s college career; and a multimedia archive edition of the legendary unproduced Orson Welles screenplay “The Heart of Darkness.”

Anne Ruggles Gere, Gertrude Buck Collegiate Professor in the School of Education, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and Professor of English Language and Literature, will be principal investigator in the project’s first year and Nic Terrenato, Esther B. Van Deman Collegiate Professor of Roman Studies, will take over in the second year as Professor Gere assumes the presidency of the Modern Languages Association.

“I am excited by this project because it brings together colleagues whose projects deal with very different content but share an interest in reaching multiple audiences and making a rich collection of data available to other scholars. We have an opportunity to rethink the methods and meanings of publication,”  commented Professor Gere.

Added Professor Terrenato, “This project is important because it starts exploring the uncharted universe of non-linear books with multiple narratives, where text, complex interactive multimedia objects and databases co-exist and are interlinked in dynamic ways. We are creating books that have multiple points of entry and paths, so that each reader can have the experience they prefer”

The faculty authors will work with information specialists from the Sweetland Center for Writing, the School of Information, the U-M Library, and the University of Michigan Press to create and publish the projects, document their findings, and create guidance for other scholars. Graduate and undergraduate students will play key roles, working in an intergenerational team that brings together a diverse range of disciplinary cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. The three works will take full advantage of Fulcrum (https://www.fulcrum.org), a publishing platform being developed by the University of Michigan Press with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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