¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 We announced our project on July 24th, in the wake of the AHA’s statement on embargoing dissertations. Here are the texts of our announcements, each on our respective blogs:
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 I’ve just signed a book contract today with Imperial College Press; it’s winging its way to London as I type. I’m writing the book with the fantastically talented Ian Milligan and Scott Weingart. (Indeed, I sometimes feel the weakest link – goodbye!).
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 It seems strangely appropriate, given the twitter/blog furor over the AHA’s statement recommendation to graduate students that they embargo their dissertations online, for fear of harming their eventual monograph-from-dissertation chances. We were approached by ICP to write this book largely on the strength of our blog posts, social media presence, and key articles, many of which come from our respective dissertations. The book will be targeted at senior/advanced undergrads for the most part, as a way of unpeeling the tacit knowledge around the practice of digital history. In essence, we can’t all be part of, or initiate, fantastic multi-investigator projects like ChartEx or Old Bailey Online; in which case, what can the individual achieve in the realm of fairly-big data? Our book will show you.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 One could reasonably ask, ‘why a book? why not a website? why not just continue adding to things like the Programming Historian?’. We wanted to write more than tutorials (although we owe an enormous debt to the Programming Historian team whose example and project continues to inspire us). We wanted to make the case for why as much as explore the how, and we wanted reach a broader audience than the digital technosavy. In our teaching, we’ve all experienced the pushback from students who are exposed to digital tools & media all the time; a book-length treatment normalizes these kinds of approaches so that students (and lay-people) can say, ‘oh, right, yes, these are the kinds of things that historians do’ – and then they’ll seek out Programming Historian, Stack Overflow, and myriad other sites to develop their nascent skills. Another attraction of doing a book is that we recognize that editors add value to the finished product. Indeed, our commissioning editor sent our first attempt at a proposal out to five single-blind reviewers! This project is all the stronger for it, and I wish to thank those reviewers for their generous reviews.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 One thing that we insisted upon from the start was that we were going to live-write the book, openly, via a comment-press installation. I submitted a piece to the Writing History in the Digital Age project a few years ago. That project exposed the entire process of writing an edited volume. The number and quality of responses was fantastic, and we knew we wanted to try for that here. We argued in our proposal that this process would make the book stronger, save us from ourselves, and build a potential readership long before the book ever hit store shelves. We were astonished and pleased that ICP thought it was a great idea! They had no hesitation at all – thank you Alice! We’ve had long discussions about the relationship of the online materials to the eventual finished book, and wording to that effect is in the final contract. Does that mean that the final type-set manuscript will appear on the commentpress online? No, but nor will the book’s materials be embargoed. None of us, including the Press, have tried this scale of things before. No doubt there will be hiccups along the way, but there’s a lot of goodwill built up and I trust that we will be able to work out any issues that may (will) arise.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 We’re going to write this book over the course of one academic year. In all truthfulness, I’m a bit nervous about this, but the rationale is that digital tools and approaches can change rapidly. We want to be as up-to-date as possible, but we also have to be aware in our writing not to date ourselves either. That’s where all of you come in. As we put bits and parts up on The Historian’s Macroscope – Big Digital History, please do read and offer comments. Consider this an open invitation. We’d love to hear from undergraduate students. Some of these pieces I’m going to road test on my ‘HIST2809 Historian’s Craft’ students this autumn and winter. Ian, Scott, and I will be reflecting on the writing process itself (and my student’s experiences) on the blog portion of the live-writing website.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 I’m excited, but nervous as hell, about doing this. Nervous, because this is a tall order. Excited, because it seems to me that the real transformative power of the digital humanities is not in the technology, but in a mindset that peels back the layers, to reveal the process underneath, that says it’s ok to tinker with the ways things have been done before.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Whelp, it appears the cat’s out of the bag. Shawn Graham, Ian Milligan, and I have signed our ICP contract and will shortly begin the process of writing The Historian’s Macroscope, a book introducing the process and rationale of digital history to a broad audience. The book will be a further experiment in live-writing: as we have drafts of the text, they will go online immediately for comments and feedback. The publishers have graciously agreed to allow us to keep the live-written portion online after the book goes on sale, and though what remains online will not be the final copy-edited and typeset version, we (both authors and publishers) feel this is a good compromise to prevent the cannibalization of book sales while still keeping much of the content open and available for those who cannot afford the book or are looking for a taste before they purchase it. Thankfully, this plan also fits well with my various pledges to help make a more open scholarly world.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 We’re announcing the project several months earlier than we’d initially intended. In light of the American Historical Association’s recent statement endorsing the six year embargo of dissertations on the unsupported claim that it will help career development, we wanted to share our own story to offset the AHA’s narrative. Shawn, Ian, and I have already worked together on a successful open access chapter in The Programming Historian, and have all worked separately releasing public material on our respective blogs. It was largely because of our open material that we were approached to write this book, and indeed much of the material we’ve already posted online will be integrated into the final publication. It would be an understatement to say our publisher’s liaison Alice jumped at this opportunity to experiment with a semi-open publication.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 The disadvantage to announcing so early is that we don’t have any content to tease you with. Stay-tuned, though. By September, we hope to have some preliminary content up, and we’d love to read your thoughts and comments; especially from those not already aligned with the DH world.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Well, Shawn Graham, Scott Weingart and I are happy to be announcing today that we’ll be collaboratively and publicly writing a new book, tentatively titled The Historian’s Macroscope: An Approach to Big History. It is under contract with Imperial College Press, and we’re hoping to write it during the Fall/Winter 2013-14 academic year. Shawn Graham and Scott Weingart have both introduced this project eloquently on their own blogs.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 We hope to fill a critical need in the field with The Historian’s Macroscope. The digital humanities are flourishing at the same time as the rise of Big Data (90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone, according to IBM). Arguably we are on the cusp of needing to grasp Big Data approaches to do our own work, whether it’s understanding the underlying algorithms at work in our search engines, or needing to design and use our own tools to process comparatively large amounts of information. In this book, we thus peel back the layers of a particular approach to big data using topic modeling and network analysis. These techniques, which are growing in popularity in the humanities, need to be examined critically as they have been ported from divergent disciplines and domains.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 With the recent American Historical Review announcement that graduate students should be allowed to embargo their dissertations for up to six years out of fears that publishers will be scared away, we think that we’ve found a good compromise. Drafts – written in the snippet order that any book comes together – will remain online in perpetuity, while the final book adds a level of review, polish, and cohesiveness to the project. There’s a real value-added proposition to what a good editor and publisher can add to a piece of work, as I’ve encountered in my own (hopefully near completion) book publishing process with UBC Press, and I think this should make everybody relatively happy.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 I think from our respective posts you’ll see how excited we all are. Hopefully we can share some of that with you all during the process – see you all in September!