For some time now (and more pressing recently) I have been exploring the possible future of the monograph, of the academic book, in the Humanities. The transition of this tangible medium to a digital environment is one that is (necessarily) slow and cumbersome, due to its strong ties to traditions, habits, practices and honor and reward systems in the aforementioned scholarly field. But also the fixity of the text and the easy practicality of the codex format are factors that have to be taken into consideration when thinking about the benefits of the printed book. How can we make a smooth shift, how can we ensure an easy transition for the monograph from print to digital, without loosing these obvious advantages?
There are quite some experiments going on online in the field (or rather the discipline) of ‘Digital Humanities’. When it comes to adapting the academic book to the web I distinguish three forms of adaptations (each link leads to an example):
These are very broad categories of course but let me explain the logic behind these divisions. The first focuses mainly on experiments with the format, using the possibilities of new digital media tools to present the text in a multi-medial, modal, in different ways approachable manner. The second is an example of new ways of collaboration and internal cooperation of Humanities scholars online. The third example shows how connections can also be made with the community at large, with the wider network of scholars, students and otherwise interested readers. It offers an outreach to a wider community.
All three are also examples of ‘remix practice’ or of remix culture:
- mixing of media
- mixing of ‘authored texts’ within a formal communication context
- mixing of ‘user generated content’ within an informal communication
All three different categorization can be seen as new ways of expanding the narrative of the monograph in a ‘remixed’ manner or fashion. The stable form of the text based version gets challenged by the input of ‘foreign’ elements, be they from other narratives, other voices or other discourses. These elements are then inserted (or not really ‘inserted’ as they have increasingly been part of the creation process from the start) into the narration in a continual manner, melting together into a new never-ending ever-updateable ‘form’. We can also go beyond these categorizations, where there is the possibility to include all three forms of experimentation in one ‘digital humanities project’ or ‘publication’: a web-based wiki-shaped networked narrative. Will this be the future of digital scholarship in the Humanities?
All three forms of experimentation still offer the possibility to create or extract a ‘solid form’, a stable published text, whilst at the same time they give an increased insight into knowledge creation, into the process of Humanities scholarship and communication as it grows and forms and gathers strength and form. In this way these experiments form a beautiful bridge between product and process, between the old and the new, between print and digital, holding on to the best of the print past and the possibilities of the digital future. Monographic experiments as a new monographic potentiality.