With new federal grant, Brown to host training institute based on digital scholarship expertise

A grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities will establish a training program for under-resourced scholars focused on growing and diversifying interactive, media-rich digital scholarship nationally.

Thanks to a new grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Brown University Library is poised to create a training institute on digital publishing.

The institute, called Born-Digital Scholarly Publishing: Resources and Road Maps, will train 15 under-resourced scholars from a variety of institutions, disciplines and backgrounds, equipping them with the skills they need to develop digital scholarship intended for publication by a university press. Over three weeks of virtual and in-person sessions, the scholars will learn, among other things, how to use open-source tools and platforms, how to manage large-scale projects, and how and when to reach out to top-level publishing industry contacts.

Brown Librarian Joseph Meisel said the institute’s ultimate goal is to use the $169,000 grant to broaden the range of digital academic publications, ultimately diversifying and enriching the body of scholarly literature in the humanities.

“We feel incredibly fortunate to have this kind of opportunity to expand the reach and impact of our efforts to advance the possibilities of digital publication for first-rate scholarship,” Meisel said. “I am also eager to see all that we will learn from working with the institute’s 15 scholars, and the ways they will help our approach and practices going forward.”

Meisel noted that Brown is at the forefront of a new trend in creating born-digital publications — media-rich, interactive, long-form scholarly works that live online, rather than as printed monographs. The University launched its Digital Publications Initiative in 2015 with the aim of transforming the way research is shared and distributed in the digital age.

Four years later, a $775,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation enabled the University Library to expand its portfolio of born-digital monographs, which currently includes 11 projects across a range of humanities disciplines. The first to be published was “Furnace and Fugue,” a digital edition of a 17th-century alchemy book consisting of poems, illustrations and music. Co-edited by Professor of History Tara Nummedal and independent scholar Donna Bilak, the digital monograph features interactive vocal performances, transcriptions and translations of the original Latin and German text, and a series of essays by a group of international scholars from a wide variety of disciplines.

According to Allison Levy, the Brown University Library’s digital scholarship editor and the new institute’s project director, there is currently no “how-to” manual or comprehensive training opportunity for developing born-digital publications, a complex, rapidly evolving endeavor.

Levy said that by demystifying the path to digital publication for scholars who wish to develop innovative born-digital scholarship but lack the necessary resources and capacity at their home institutions, the institute will help bridge a divide that, without intervention, puts scholarly digital publishing at risk of becoming the preserve of only the most affluent institutions.

“Perhaps the most intentional element of the institute’s design to have far-reaching implications for humanities research and teaching is Brown’s commitment to support under-resourced scholars,” Levy said. “This crucial re-prioritization of how and for whom the practice and production of digital humanities scholarship is taught will have a profound impact on current and future generations of scholars.”

Levy said the 15-person cohort will ideally represent a wide variety of humanities disciplines, geographic areas and career stages. The training program will be open to a range of scholars, including adjunct faculty, part-time faculty and unaffiliated scholars. As a newly inducted member of the HBCU Library Alliance, the University Library plans to prioritize some slots for faculty from historically Black colleges and universities.

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