Guttenberg

I’m a little old-fashioned now and then– it’s a result of my being a somewhat cynical pragmatist.  This week’s reading on the Gutenberg<e> project is one of those things that brings that out in me.

This goes sort of along the same lines as when I said in class that whether or not a project is "History" really depended on whether or not it got you tenure, or a teaching gig, or the approval of your department head, or whatever.  I’m pragmatical and careerist when it comes to where to invest my time… well, except for that giant leap in logic that told me that getting a PhD in History was a good idea in the first place.  ;P

And, yeah– that’s the exact problem you have with this project– is it gonna count as a book?  If you’ve just graduated, and you’re looking for a place to work, and get on the tenure track, do you want to risk it?  Personally, I don’t think I would.  I could definitely see some programs not looking at this as an actual monograph publication.  Which could mean, in some places, that you’re going to have to write and get accepted for publication ANOTHER monograph in those difficult first four years or so of teaching, or else risk not passing your tenure review.  Which means relocation at best, and professional death at the worst. 

Maybe this route appeals to some, the risk-takers out there, or the people who wouldn’t want to work somewhere that insisted on a physical book publication– but I’m neither.  Frankly, I’ll work anywhere.  (Thus my job working as a security guard in housing projects after college…)  And I’m pretty risk-adverse.  Not conservative, mind you, but seldom the first to stick his neck out.

And the fact that their subscription rate is so low–despite its being one of the cheapest e-subscriptions out there a university might consider– highlights this riskiness.  What if the project loses some of its philanthropic funding and can’t keep the sight afloat?  You’ll have already sold off your book to the publishing house, and there won’t be an extant, physical copy out there for anyone to look at.  There’s always the possibility that Columbia might try to publish a couple of these books if that happened, but I wouldn’t count on it, nor do I think I’d gamble on my monograph being one of the ones (or the one) that was good enough to warrant that treatment.

(Not to mention that from what I’ve heard, most academic houses these days are shooting for 200 pages plus footnotes– with fewer and fewer footnotes– while Gutenberg<e> books average 350 to 400 pages.  I’d personally use the electronic format to have more complete footnotes– one of the appealing things about the format– but that just means more even greater revisions if it were transfered to print, and less likelihood that such a transfer would happen.)

All that said, it seems like an interesting and exciting project.  I don’t want to be seen, 20 years from now when/if this is seen as the beginning of a revolution in scholarly history publication, as the guy who thought it was a bad idea.  I’m not being reactionary here, in fact I’m rooting for the project.  I think it’s a neat idea, the site looks well-done, the books sound interesting… it’s got a lot going for it.

I’m just not ready to bet my meager life savings on that long-shot horse quite yet.

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And just because I can’t repress the urge to make a pop-culture reference at every turn, was I the only one who, when he heard the name of the project, thought of THIS GUY?  It sounds like an adjective used by an amateur film critic:

"What did you think of his acting?"

"Oh, it was alright, a little vanilla… A little to Guttenberg<y> for my taste…."