Hacking the Academy, a Publishing Experiment

A brief essay of mine has appeared in a new volume, Hacking the Academy. I am excited because this is not just a book but an experiment in digital publishing, backed by some of the most respected names and institutions in the field of digital humanities.

Hacking the Academy is edited by Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. In May of 2010 they used social media networks to put out a call for contributions to the volume, giving would-be contributors only a week to submit their essays, "the better to focus their attention and energy." They received "329 submissions from 177 authors, with nearly a hundred submissions written during the week-long event and the other two-thirds submitted by authors from their prior writing on the subject matter." One-sixth of the submissions were accepted for the volume, including my "How to Read a Book in One Hour."

Hacking the Academy is interesting for both its content and its approach to publication. The content focuses on "how the academy might be beneficially reformed using digital media and technology," particularly "writing that moved beyond mere complaints about the state of the academy into shrewd diagnoses and potential solutions." The essays are organized into three broad categories: "Hacking Scholarship," "Hacking Teaching," and "Hacking Institutions." The essays alternate between provocative big-picture, "this is how we ought to start doing things" pieces (such as David Parry's Burn the Boats/Books and Jo Gildi's terrific "Reinventing the Academic Journal") and more immediately practical pieces such as "Unconferences," a how-to guide by Ethan Watrall, James Calder, and Jeremy Boggs.

Hacking the Academy will be published in two ways--a free, digital publication available right now and a forthcoming print edition. The publisher is the University of Michigan Press, via their digitalculturebooks imprint. UM Press attracted a lot of attention when they announced a shift to predominantly digital publishing in 2009. The digitalculturebooks series now features over two dozen titles, available online and in print as either cloth of paper editions.

Hacking the Academy is something of a test case for a new model of producing a scholarly anthology. Coming out under the imprimatur of some of the most respected names and institutions in digital humanities, and with an timely topic and high-quality content, this book should have an impact. It will be interesting to see if the work is adopted in classrooms, cited in the literature, blogged and tweeted and run through the social networks. It will also be interesting to see if people will buy print editions of what they could read online for free.

If this is successful it could be a first step into a new publishing world.