Thoughts from Editors and Authors on What Makes a Good Manifold Project

As Manifold Scholarship progresses through its first rounds of wireframes, editors at the University of Minnesota Press are already discussing the platform with authors and considering book projects. Manifold will have an impact on the full span of a project, from the early stages of researching and collecting data for a book, to the drafting of a proposal, to peer review and press evaluation, and across the iterative stages of a manuscript’s organic development leading to the peer reviewed, published edition. Just as Manifold is designed to transform the nature of scholarly publishing, we are also asking scholars, from their earliest articulations, to think elastically about the ways in which Manifold can expand their project beyond the static, physical book.

As I’ve been asking editors and press authors to describe what makes a project suitable for publication on Manifold, I’ve found myself reflecting on the limitations the traditional print book can impose on scholars.

One could argue that the traditional print scholarly monograph isn’t an accurate record of a research project. The fixed form of the book, for example, doesn’t reflect the long duration of research, the months of ethnography, the full compliment of data collection and archival deep-dives. The monograph doesn’t record the full chorus of voices that help shape a project, such as the feedback of colleagues and peers. Research is already iterative, benefitting from community dialogue and from interfacing with an array of media. It’s just that the current way of disseminating that research doesn’t reflect those pre-publication engagements.

Up to now, when authors have wanted to share with readers materials that can’t fit into a print book such as audio and video files, teaching tools, or archival materials, they have often had to host them on a disconnected website. There’s often little travel between the website and the physical book, and these websites quickly fade away, disconnected by link rot or taken down from university servers when a scholar switches institutions. But these objects are never ancillary—they are part and parcel of the work itself. One potential Manifold author remarked to me that the traditional book doesn’t offer readers the chance to review the primary materials and say, “I disagree.” Manifold will allow authors to embed these objects within or alongside the text so that readers can chart their own course through all the elements that make up a scholarly book and research project.

This feature is especially important to Manifold author Mara Mills, assistant professor of media, culture and communication at New York University. Mills was initially attracted to Manifold because it provided an opportunity to develop an accessible multimedia publication:

My manuscript-in-progress,“Print Disability and New Reading Formats,” examines the century-long history of electronic reading by those excluded from the inkprint book. The research for this project has involved the digital transfer of hundreds of historical sound recordings: shellac Talking Book records; open reel tapes of early text-to-tone and text-to-speech reading machine output; demonstration cassettes of early time stretching technology for “speed listening”; recordings of audio-described films and graphic novels. My book, about multimodal reading and the multiplicity of “the book,” simply cannot exist in inkprint format alone.

Often, authors finish a book project that distills hours of audio interviews into a handful of block quotes, or a gallery of scanned images from which they draw fifteen or twenty to produce in black and white on the printed page. The traditional monograph doesn’t always account for the labor of discovery and archiving that is a part of research. When copyright and ethics allow, authors will be able to share these archives with readers through Manifold.

Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux are currently authoring their first book, tentatively titled “Metgaming: Videogames and the Practice of Play,” which studies a critical practice and form of game design philosophy in which playing games, making games, and thinking about games occur simultaneously. The Manifold edition of their book will include original, playable games designed by the authors, but they also see the Manifold project as archiving a genre of media which is often elusive:

Given the kinds of practice-based research both documented and performed in the volume, we’re very excited to begin “Metagaming” with the Manifold team. Manifold not only offers the possibility to hyperlink to sources outside the text, replace figures with HD video, and embed our original games directly within the text, but could also function as a repository or archive for unique and hard-to-find software discussed and used throughout the book. We also hope Manifold will help to make “Metagaming” more accessible for students by offering additional educational resources like a podcast we are in the process of planning in which we interview metagamers featured in the chapters and 20-min video summaries discussing the content of each chapter.

This willingness to think beyond the book is what acquisitions editors are looking for in Manifold projects. Press director and acquiring editor Doug Armato explains:

With Manifold, I’m looking for publishing projects that can’t be fully realized in the fixed, single-dimension of the page. This is not just a matter of adding multi-media or live links, but of seeing a scholarly work in its context of a longer research project, making its archive visible and accessible, and enabling the reader feedback and discussion that shape a book’s creation and reception. Not every scholarly author will want to work this way, but some do and I want Manifold to provide a publishing home for them—and one they don’t have to build themselves, as with the authoring tools already out there.

We are developing Manifold to not only expand what can be included within the book, but also to break down the temporal barriers that separate years of research from the book’s publication for authors who want to engage their readers at an early stage, share drafts of chapters in order to try out ideas, and receive feedback and dialogue as a form of open peer review. Danielle Kasprzak is Humanities Editor at the press and also acquires and oversees the press’s Forerunners: Ideas First program, which publishes thoughts-in-process as digital works and as affordable print publications. Forerunners aims to collapse the current publishing timeline to twelve weeks, so timing is often on her mind. Kasprzak is most excited about getting ideas out into the world more quickly than the traditional publication schedules of print books:

Part of the reason why authors are attracted to Forerunners is the speed at which texts are released. I’m pleased that scholars from diverse disciplines have seen publishing their ideas in a speculative, early way as beneficial to their thinking process.

Mara Mills is also excited by the pre-publication aspects we are building into Manifold. For Mills, this pre-publication aspect of Manifold will be “a way to curate my sound materials, write a few introductory provocations, and invite others to think with me about what it means to read.”

This notion of curation is critical to what I am looking for in a Manifold book project. Manifold will track a work as it is conceptualized, researched, written, and read, giving readers access to primary research documents and data, links to related archives, rich media, social media, and reading tools. Taking advantage of these tools, an author will also become a curator, shaping archives, providing context for readers, and illustrating the varied parts that make up her book and larger research project. It will ask authors to collaborate with the press on questions of copyright and ethics, peer review and evaluation, and to consider how best to connect with readers (both within the academy and general readers) in meaningful ways.

Manifold will recode the very definition of the scholarly monograph. To realize that goal, we are looking for authors whose vision for their scholarly projects extends beyond the limitations of the traditional book.

— Jason Weidemann, Editorial Director

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