New Digital Scholarship and Returning to the “Unpress”

In May, Mark Sample (@samplereality) led a thought-provoking conversation on Twitter about the idea of a “digital based indie academic press”. This conversation quickly mushroomed into a proposal by Roger Whitson (@rogerwhitson) at the CHNMThatcamp the same month.

Sample elaborated on these ideas on his blog: “I was riffing on these ideas yesterday on Twitter, asking, for example, what’s to stop a handful of of scholars from starting their own academic press? It would publish epub books and, when backwards compatibility is required, print-on-demand books. Or what about, I wondered, using Amazon Kindle Singles as a model for academic publishing. Imagine stand-alone journal articles, without the clunky apparatus of the journal surrounding it. If you’re insistent that any new publishing venture be backed by an imprimatur more substantial than my “handful of scholars,” then how about a digital humanities center creating its own publishing unit?”

I’d like to return back to Mark’s questions in a session (particularly because I was unable to attend the CHNM Thatcamp).

Questions spinning off from this conversation could include: what kinds of peer review would scholars use, in this new vision of an academic press (which has now been termed an “Un-press” by Roger Whitson)? How can the web be used as a system of peer review? (Examples of open peer review include Sarah Werner (@wynkenhimself) with Shakespeare Quarterly and Katherine Fitzpatrick (@kfitz) with her book, “Planned Obsolescence”.) How would this system work alongside existing academic presses, and their own move towards digital editions?

This also leads to some questions about genre: what does this mean for academic scholarship and accessibility? If the Amazon Kindle Singles become a goal in terms of brevity and clarity, is the obscure academic monograph as we know it dead? Is this a call to follow the lead of Britain’s “new history boys and girls“, historians who write exciting, popular history for general readers?