A Postcolonial Digital Press: Is this a completely crazy idea?
  • I am a postcolonial scholar who has an undergraduate degree in Mathematics (just FYI) and my interest in DH comes from an interest in digital publishing. I recently moved from a tenure track position in the US to an IIT, an elite technology institute in India. Now, even though Humanities and Social Sciences is a bit marginalized in this tech focussed institute, it still offers very interesting avenues for conducting research and while our undergraduate Engineering students are the Institute's flagship and pride, we do have decent research programs (graduate) in Humanities and Basic sciences too.Now, here is the crazy part: I want to start an academic publishing venture from our institute, in the beginning, a fairly small project like a born digital peer reviewed journal (doable) that I hope to do this coming year. My larger project is more ambitious as I would like to develop this as a full fledged Digital University Press, focused on Humanities but not exclusive to it. Can anyone help me with 1) identifying sources of funding and 2) identifying and setting up basic infrastructure for such a project OR who/where I can approach for such support. I must mention that I am a bit of a loner (with perhaps one more person who could be persuaded) in my department most of who view non-traditional ways of doing Humanities as just gimmicks with little research value (I disagree vehemently of course!).
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  • Hi @nim, not at all--I think it's a terrific idea. 

    There are some resources out there that can help you to get started and think through how to do this. I've written a lot about ProfHacker on the changes in the academic publishing landscape. Here's a selection. Some things you'll need to consider include: What are you trying to publish? Do you intend to publish conventional forms of peer reviewed scholarship, or undertake more innovative forms of peer review? 

    Some examples of organizations in the US that are trying different experiments with academic publishing:

    Deciding on the scope of your project will help to determine how to proceed. If all you want is to publish an open access journal, a CMS like Open Journal Systems might be helpful.

    Re: funding, I'm not sure. We run into the problem in these instances where state funding in the postcolonial context may either be scanty or not something you'll necessarily want, because it might take over the scope of your project too much. I'd suggest approaching Alex Gil (@elotroalex) of Global Outlook:: Digital Humanities to see how to proceed. Alex has also started a list of US funders for DH projects (check out the thread on #DHPocoSS on events/CFPs/funding).

    Roopika and I would also be pleased to consult with you and lend help from Postcolonial Digital Humanities for such a project. An exciting and important idea. 
  • Thanks, adelinekoh. That is very helpful. I could do with some consultation and help! The links you provided are invaluable. I will be in touch with you guys about this.
  • Hi @nim,

    I just wanted to second @adelinekoh's point that this isn't crazy at all; in fact, it's a brilliant idea.

    There are a series of guides on getting started with OJS, which (although far from perfect) is a great platform for open access scholarly publishing: http://pkp.sfu.ca/guides Among those guides you'll find my own, which lists the type of costs you will encounter (and the social hurdles that I think need to be overcome) to make these types of project work: https://www.martineve.com/2012/07/10/starting-an-open-access-journal-a-step-by-step-guide-part-1/

    Models for funding include Article Processing Charges (Ubiquity Press would probably be interested in helping with the tech if you go down this route, but they will want £250 (UK pounds) per article, so that may be a large disincentive). Otherwise, I have had luck getting inter-institutional grants. For instance, we run a graduate training scheme on my journal, Orbit: Writing Around Pynchon, where I teach on aspects of XML typesetting and so forth, in exchange for the server costs being covered.

    From a postcolonial perspective, the whole issue of publisher outsourcing of labour is something that has increasingly been playing on my mind. Does the fetishisation of the (falsely supposed ephemeral, and therefore falsely supposed zero-cost and falsely supposed postracial) digital “object”, for example, mask deeply racialized social relations? This kind of enterprise, where scholars run journals, takes away the ability of multi-nationals to hide this practice, or at the very least (as an acceptable compromise) to make transparent how labour is being undertaken and what compensation is given (and to whom).

    To that end, I'd also like to flag up, as Adeline mentioned, that I am working towards launching the Open Library of Humanities, which is an enormous undertaking (and dominating my life). This platform will have overlay journal functionality wherein we will allow those interested in editing to run their journals atop our mega-journal; editing becomes a form of social curation. We're also aiming for a model that won't charge APCs. I can say more if you're interested, but I think that's probably enough for now!

    Best wishes,


  • Thanks, Martin! I have a lot there to chew on but I am grateful for the invaluable comments and suggestions. I will go through your link right away; I have been a bit under weather and hence away from these forums for the last 3 days. Yes, part of my project is based on the publisher apathy in large presses where they outsource every type of labour to sell a product back to the same academicians and researchers in what seems like eerily like colonial transaction. This was amplified for me recently when Oxford Univ Press fought (and thankfully lost) a case in the Supreme Court in India whereby they flouted the basic Fair usage norms and put restrictions on the number of pages faculty can copy for pedagogical purposes.
    So, to your comment about the fetishization of the "digital", I think it sometimes also works in a counter productive way in that these mega publishers can actually track digital texts and their usage and dissemination even more than a physical book. And unless, as you rightly point out, we as scholars do not in some way or form take control of academic publishing, this will continue to no benefit for our target audiences.
    My project gets complicated at another level too: I would like to initiate a multilingual publishing platform which is necessary if we want to decolonize publishing but also decentralize the discipline of postcolonial studies with multilingual conversations if you will!
  • I think this is fantastic. Perhaps what you need to do is to find regional partners who share your ideas as well, particularly around Asia. I am excited at the idea that Asia would one day have its own prestigious digital press in areas of scholarship that do not have as much of a value among the publishers in the Western world, notwitstanding the value of the projects. But it would require a lot of work since the networks are still rather underdevelop, but I think all of us here would be glad to participate in some way
  • @clarissalee: precisely my thoughts. hence the multilingual aspect that I am keen on. The challenges are also exactly as you pinpoint: such networks are largely underdeveloped but also a skepticism among traditional scholars that such projects are a cave-in to university/govt/funding agencies focus on market driven education system. How people make such a leap still confounds me especially since some of us want to do exactly the opposite and take control of the rhetoric of humanities. oh well! my email is nimmenon@gmail.com if we want to start a conversation about possible collaborations.
  • @nim -- thanks for the response; hope it helps. We're working on multilingual approaches (beyond Anglo-centrism) for OLH, so it would definitely be good to keep in touch. I'm speaking at SPARC Japan next month to begin outreach in this area...
  • Just thought I'd post this...the chronicle has been a bit late getting on this story, but anyways: http://chronicle.com/article/In-India-Academics-Cry-Foul/140329/
  • @MartinEve  and Clarissalee: Can you send me your email? I would love to start a conversation about this.

  • You can try me at clarissa dot lee at duke
  • @nim -- would love to. My email is martin@martineve.com

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