Humanities Futures

Screen shot from Papers page of Humanities Futures site at
Humanities Futures Papers page at

Humanities Futures is an interesting example of publishing at the crossroads.  This Mellon-funded project at Duke’s John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute explores the future of humanities and interpretive social science disciplines and interdisciplines through an ongoing series of events such as talks, symposia, and conferences.  The project is unusually well documented, and this is where the publishing part comes in: in addition to posting video of many of the events, the FHI also publishes papers–“think pieces”–based on the talks. Some, but not all, later become journal articles or chapters in books, sometimes in the same form and in other cases thoroughly transformed. The papers are professionally edited and presented, although they are not peer reviewed, making them an interesting hybrid type of publication. Some might be considered “grey papers,” but not all.

Not to beat the metaphor too hard, but the think pieces might be said to represent a few things at a crossroads: (1) scholarly work, captured as it crosses from initial research and draft paper to formal publication; (2) scholarly publishing, as it experiments with a hybrid format combining elements of a searchable online database, an informal online journal, a blog, and conference proceedings; and last but not least, (3) humanities itself, which the project intends to both examine and reinvigorate at a perceived point of endangerment.

Recently I created the site’s first table of contents. The variety of topics covered is quite astonishing, as scholars are invited both to reflect on the future of a discipline or interdisciplinary topic and to demonstrate the future of scholarship through specific, exemplary work.  The most recent think pieces published on the Humanities Futures site are:

“Water Security in the Middle East and North Africa” by Neda Zawahri

“The Black Outdoors After Property and Possession” by J. Kameron Carter and Sarah Cervenak

“Multilingualism as Migration: Remarks on Literature, Philology, and Culture” by Till Dembeck

Hello world! Crossroads, Meeting Streets, and Makerspaces

Why “Crossroads”? If I ever started a publishing company, I would call it Meeting Street Publishing.  It refers to the collaboration that is behind most publishing projects, and it reminds me of many years attending the wonderful Charleston Conference, where librarians and publishers have equal billing. (Of course many towns have Meeting Streets, but Charleston’s is well known.)  “Meeting Street” as a metaphor is related to “Crossroads,” which is a reminder that scholars, publishers, librarians, and technologists will together determine the direction that scholarly publishing will take in the future.  Sometimes we think of publishing as a sort of weather pattern in the sky over which we have no control, but I am interested in how we shape the future through our choices.  “Meeting Street” is about communication and collaboration, while “Crossroads” adds to that the image of roads to be taken and not taken.

Some people say that publishing is changing rapidly, but in my experience over the last few decades (yikes, a long time!), this change is astonishingly slow. The pace definitely gives us time to reflect on what we are doing (or not doing).

The term “Crossroads” is also related to Publishing Makerspace, a working group that I co-founded in 2014.  It is dedicated to encouraging collaboration, supporting multi-modal publishing, and ultimately redefining scholarly publishing to include all the forms of work that scholars are creating today.

I like the idea of liminality–a boundary that is not a line but rather a creative space where categories overlap and recombine.  Whether I am planning an encyclopedia project that will define a field for a generation or sewing a pamphlet to please a friend, I appreciate the sense of “serious fun” and creative possibility inherent in publishing and want to share it.