At lunch time today I decided that instead of heading outside and chatting with my fellow Fellows and then taking a turn around the campus to stretch my legs that I would stay in the EVIADA break room, eat quickly, and get back to work. (The size of my task is beginning to become more clear, and the time that I can dedicate wholly to it more precious.) I ended up spending my entire lunch in conversation with Andrew Albrecht, who is one of the coders for the *Annotator’s Workbench* application. It turns out Albrecht got his BFA in Fine Arts, and then decided that the world of modern art didn’t interest him all that much. He decided instead to go back to school and get a BS in Computer Science.
And now he’s building software for humanists. It’s a good fit, and Albrecht is a thoughtful interlocutor. Our conversation rambled around quite a bit as we explored mutual interests, but at some point we, of course, talked about what the [EVIA Digital Archive][evia] might mean for scholarship and scholarly publishing/productivity. We pursued some of the usual speculations, but at one point our conversation ran over the well-worn ground of the scholarly monograph.
Now, a [lot] [of] [folks] have weighed in on the future of the monograph, including the [MLA][mla] (warning: links to PDF). The general consensus is that it will soon be distributed digitally and available as a physical artifact via some sort of print-on-demand technology. (Whether that will be at the point of distribution, a la University of Michican Press, or your local point of purchase is not yet terribly clear.)
I’m not sure I am prepared to keen and wail over this. I remember, once here on this very campus where I now sit, applying for a job at the Victorian journal housed here at Indiana, *Victorian Studies*. They were looking for a copy editor. I had sent in my paper work, and I was lucky enough to get called in for an interview, where I sat before three men. Two of them were fairly young. They struck me as fellow graduate students, but perhaps they were junior faculty. I don’t remember them at all. The third man I remember, he was (and is) Don Gray. What he said that day explained a great deal to me, and it echoes somewhat in my head now.
As the interview unfolded, I could not help but reveal my confusion about why a journal dedicated to Victorian literature needed a copy editor. My experience of Victorianists had been of some of the most fastidious people I had ever met, both in person and in prose. Sure there is not much work for a copy editor for such a journal? Up until the moment that question escaped my lips, Gray had been content to let the other two men do all the talking, but my naivité, or stupidity, demanded that such an error quickly be set straight.
“Oh, no,” he said. “We don’t get good manuscripts like that anymore. No one submits good articles anymore. Good articles are expanded into mediocre books. We only get mediocre articles, and they require a great deal of copy editing.”
Gray was being something of a wit in that moment, no doubt. I have come to know him over the years, bit by bit, and he has both a grasp of the tough nuts that make up the most interesting things about the world and a very fine grasp of the ability of language to convey the toughness of the nut in a very compressed fashion.
Nonetheless, there was also some truth in what he said, and perhaps the demise of the monograph should not be so heavily attributed to the decline of library budgets, as it often is. No one who wants to stay in business over the long haul allows themselves to get trapped into serving only one market. (A quick search of businesses that have found themselves bound to Walmart, and only to Walmart, will reveal the danger in such a relationship.) Robust businesses seek out multiple audiences.
It all comes back to diversity. We seek it out in biological ecosystems. We advocate for it in cultural ecologies.
Where is all this going? To this: my proposition to Albrecht was that the demise of the printed monograph was a potential boon to the humanities. As the more technical or specialist document becomes a currency passed among specialists and scholars within a field, then the synthetic or cross-over document that can reach larger audiences and thus be viable as a printed commodity garners, potentially, some value. At least it will do so from the point of publishers and one can imagine that that will translate to some degree to the academy. Or maybe it won’t be a synthetic or cross-over document but simply a text-of-some-kind (to be discovered as Dick Bauman was fond of saying) of reaching out to more than the current too small pool of potential purchasers.