posted on 05 Feb 2014 15:37 by Elena Pinto Simon
Professor Jeffrey Collins shared his thoughts with me about the recent Research Seminar on British and Continental Furniture and Interiors, 1600-1930,held at the MMA this past week. He notes that four present and former BGC students addressed a packed room at the day-long session, sponsored by the Furniture History Society and hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art on February 3.
( Tilles, Rabie, D'Amato)
“They were among the eleven young museum and academic professionals to share their findings in this prestigious forum, which included multiple BGC faculty, senior Met curators, collectors, and current BGC students. Martina D’Amato (M.A. 2013, now in the BGC’s doctoral program) presented aspects of her ongoing work on “The Chabrière-Arlès Collection and Renaissance Furniture in France and America, 1875-1935”; Haneen Rabie (M.A. 2009, now in the doctoral program in art and archeology at Princeton) spoke about “Dazzling Pastiche: Decorative Art and Design in Second Empire Paris”; and Rebecca Tilles (M.A. 2007, now curatorial research fellow for decorative arts and sculpture at the the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) gave a talk entitled “Historicism or Modernism? Re-evaluating the Regency Revival, 1917-1930.” A fourth former BGC student, Leslie Klingner (now curator of interpretation at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.) spoke about “Vanderbilt at Biltmore: Building on British Traditions.” This very successful event was the first of what the FHS hopes will be further opportunities to encourage and showcase the work of emerging scholars on both sides of the Atlantic.” Congratulations to the students and alums who participated!
posted on 24 Jan 2014 15:12 by Elena Pinto Simon
What are the alums from classes that graduated in 2012 and 2013 up to?
Well, I thought a good way to start the New Year, and the new term, would be to ask them, and then share that with all of you. If there is interest, I’ll turn it into a series, so that we can all catch up, re-connect, and stay connected.
Sara Spink wrote to say she started as a Curatorial Associate at the Museum of the City of New York last November. She notes “I'm definitely pulling on my BGC experience here, acting as project manager on exhibitions and publications, assisting with rights and repro, editing texts, budget management, research, and web content management (yay, DML!). I'm also, as of last July or so, a regular contributor to MODERN Magazine's Form + Function section, an opportunity that emerged because of the relationships I forged through my summer internship with MODERN and The Magazine ANTIQUES while at the BGC. Some of my coverage is also included (in somewhat truncated form) on MODERN'sTumblr page. I'm also attempting to maintain my own blog on exhibitions and their designs: http://spinkdesignblog.wikidot.com (though I'm afraid I haven't had time to update it lately).
Not to worry, Sara. I’ve been a little tardy with this BLOG of late, myself.
From sunny Southern California, Andrew Goodhouse writes that he is a Graduate Intern in Publications at the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, and is working on editorial projects and the recently launched Getty Publications Virtual Library. Here in New York City, Colin Fanning and Katrina London are both curatorial assistants at the American Federation of Arts.
Meanwhile, from Texas, Einav Zamir tells me “I spent last year as the executive director of ArtWatch International, an organization that deals with issues in art conservation, and I'm currently in the first year of my PhD at the University of Texas at Austin. An article of mine on ethical concerns in the conservation of looted artifacts will appear in the next issue of the ArtWatch Journal.”
Across the pond, in London, Roisin Inglesby is an Assistant Curator of Design at the V& A, and will be the next New York Silver Society speaker here at the BGC in October. Also on that side of the Atlantic, two other recent alums, Sophie Pitman and Katie Tycz have started work on their PhD’s at Cambridge University.
The news from Amber Winick was doubly joyful: “It's official! I'll be heading to Budapest in March for a Fulbright grant, where I'll be researching designs created for Hungarian children, including schools, illustrated books, toys and other objects. Of course, I'm most proud of my baby daughter, Alice Esarosa, who will be joining me in Budapest.”
Shoshana Greenwald’s update also had news about a new job. She writes that “ I am working as the Collections Manager at an as yet unopened museum, Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center that seeks to study the Holocaust from an Orthodox Jewish perspective. My background in Material Culture is perfect training for the job because I handle all types of archives and artifacts, from prewar books to baby clothes that were hand-sewn in the DP camps to an extensive anti-Semitic postcard collection. “
Nicole Pulichene writes from Harvard, where she has begun work on a PhD in medieval art. I visited with Nicole, and fellow alum Meredyth Winter, when I was last in Cambridge. Meredyth is also at the start of her second semester at Harvard.
At the other end of the Boston-to-Washington corridor is Craig Lee, with lots of news on his own progress. His note is brimming with activities: “I’m in my third-year in the doctoral program in the Department of Art History at the University of Delaware. I’ve completed my coursework, passed my comprehensive exams, and beginning to work on the dissertation. This past summer I was an intern at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in the Department of Architecture and Engineering. Also, in the past year, I received an Ailsa Mellon Bruce Predoctoral Fellowship for Historians of American Art to Travel Abroad from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art for a five-week research trip to study the history of architecture, with a focus on modernism, in South Africa. Lastly, in addition to making progress towards candidacy, for the 2013-2014 academic year I am a McCrindle Intern at the Princeton University Art Museum in the Photography Department working on an exhibition about photography and urbanism in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles from 1960-1980.”
Earlier today, Nynne Just Christoffersen sent me a note saying she had just heard from the Humboldt University in Berlin, and has been accepted to start a PhD program there. Her note indicates that she has been “ accepted as a doctoral research fellow for the research project "Networks: Textile Arts and Textility in a Transcultural Perspective (4th-17th Centuries)". The research project is directed by
Prof. Dr. Gerhard Wolf from Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (where she will enroll) and is part of a joint research project with the University of Zurich, “An Iconology of the Textile in Art and Architecture”, directed by Prof. Dr. Tristan Weddigen.” Brava!
From Chicago, Alyssa Greenberg sent news that she is in her third year “as a University Fellowship doctoral student at UIC, studying for preliminary exam and writing her dissertation proposal concurrently. She writes, “ My exam areas are Museum Studies (with a focus on art museum education) and 20th and 21st Century Art and Activism (with a focus on socially-engaged art practices and their museum manifestations). My dissertation will trace the history of social reform and community engagement in American art museums from the Progressive Era to the contemporary. I expect to attain my candidacy in May 2014. As the Education Assistant at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, I am the second-in-command in the Education Department. My responsibilities include facilitating tours and dialogues, writing curriculum and interpretive materials, grantwriting, and supporting projects including the Summer Teacher Institute and the Community Docent program. I recently published an article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Curriculum Theorizing. I have presented my work at several conferences, and won small grants for conference expenses and professional development. Last but not least Rebecca Mir and I are currently partners in the 2013-2014 Art21 Educators program.” Rebecca Mir herself notes that she was “ …recently hired by the Guggenheim as the Associate Manager, Digital Media and Online Learning. I'm based in the Education Department here and will be working mostly on a global collaboration with UBS called the MAP Global Art Initiate: www.guggenheim.org/map . She also still serves on the NYCMER Board as their Web Resources and Social Media Coordinator.
Also in Chicago, Sarah Rogers Morris writes to say she is working as the Program and Communications Associate at the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. She has also been doing some freelance writing, and has several forthcoming articles, including her QP, which will be published in Future Anterior, a peer-reviewed journal devoted to the critical examination and the study of historic preservation.
Meanwhile, here in NYC, Sharan Twickler tells me that she is a Researcher at A La Vieille Russie. She very kindly notes “ I am very content with how my role has evolved since starting with admission and catalogue sales for the Sandoz exhibition back in the fall of 2011. I will always be grateful for that email you sent out about their needing help. I am proof that it never hurts to gain a little experience from what, at first, seems like a short-term opportunity. You never know what can become of it! In addition to updating the website and researching the collection, I am pleased to have a role in expanding the gallery's social media presence. I am particularly excited about the blog, where I aim to give context to our collection, exploring everything from the history of cufflinks to the folklore of opals. I recall in my application essay saying I hoped to bridge the gap between academia and the public. I definitely feel like I am doing just that.” Many paths to the goal!
And on the doctoral front, Amy Sande-Friedman (PhD, Graduating Class of 2012) recently launched an art advisory practice, helping people buy and sell works of Contemporary art. She's excited to help both new and seasoned collectors find pieces that will bring them joy every day. amysandefriedman.com . Congratulations on your new venture, Amy.
And in Chicago, Jon Tavares (PhD, Graduating Class of 2013) is postdoctoral fellow at the Art Institute in Chicago (Arms and Armor). I visited with Jon last October and had a wonderful tour of the storerooms of the department, and saw some of Jon’s first recommendations for purchases for the department.
Keep those notes coming!
posted on 10 Dec 2013 15:56 by Elena Pinto Simon
The Bard Graduate Center launches the Craft, Art and Design Oral History Project this month.
The project an online interview archive of contemporary craftspeople, artists and designers can be found at www.bgccraftartdesign.org.
Topics include interviews with the makers, and range in focus, length. Some of the artists talk about their own backgrounds, their influences and their materials and insprirations, while others are histories/biographies.
All the interviews were conducted by grad students in the seminar “Craft and Design in the USA, 1940-Present”. This ongoing seminar is taught by Assistant Professor Catherine Whalen, who is also the director of the project.
posted on 11 Nov 2013 13:48 by Elena Pinto Simon
EPS: I’ve been catching up with some of our first year students now that we are past mid-term week. We chatted about how they are doing, and what their BGC experiences have been like so far. This is part one of what will be several BLOG posts/conversations with current BGC students….This one is with students Jaimie Luria and Robert Gordon-Fogelson.
EPS: Hello, Jaimie and Robert. Well, you are now heading towards the end of your first semester at the BGC. Tell me a little what it has been like for you both so far.
JL: Nearing the close of our first semester, I have had a chance to really explore the BGC’s unique curriculum and to connect with a remarkable community that extends well past its walls and into New York City. I must express how relieving it is to find a community that fosters such a strong sense of what is going on in contemporary studies of material culture through a diverse interdisciplinary approach. Aside from establishing a hard won routine and finding my own balance between coursework and nurturing personal research interests, I believe that I have found my people. That is to say that my love for all things made (and their stories) is shared by my new professors, colleagues, and friends who value parallel yet distinct explorations of the history of stuff and what we make of it. My experiences inside the classroom have been amplified by outside encounters curated by the BGC, such as a glass-making workshop at Urban Glass and exchanges with conservators and museum staff at the Met, MoMA, and the Whitney through Hanna Hölling’s Cultures of Conservation course. I could not be more excited about this opportunity to expand and refine my curiosities at the BGC at this critical time in the history of material culture studies.
RGF: It’s hard to believe the semester is almost over already. I’m still adjusting to the pace and to the profusion of information and opportunities at the BGC. Having focused so closely on my coursework and research, I barely took advantage of all the lectures, symposia, and brown-bag lunches, not to mention everything that goes on in the city beyond West 86th. I’m hoping to be more adventurous next semester. Having said that, I feel so at home at the BGC already, both academically and socially, that I’m finding it difficult to tear myself away from campus.
EPS: Tell us about your background. Where did you do your undergraduate work, what was your major/minor, and what are you focusing on so far now?
JL: I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts. Rather than declaring a major in a specific field, something that few SLC students do, I created an individualized concentration that culminated in a thesis on representations of Native North American cultures in museums across the U.S. (most of my research was done in New York, Colorado, and Florida). My interests in cultural anthropology, art history, and studio art- with an emphasis on gender studies, cultural heritage, and indigenous rights- have left me slightly to the peripheries of any one discipline. Since graduating I have worked with curatorial and visitor services departments at traditional and contemporary art museums, as well as the anthropology department at the American Museum of Natural History. Issues of conservation (regarding both material and immaterial subjects), exhibition, and the incorporation of emerging approaches and media to the maintenance and representation of material culture are at the core of my current studies. I am continuing my research on the American Museum of Natural History’s American Indian culture halls and collections, specifically dioramas and displays of medicinal materials.
RGF: When I began my undergraduate career at NYU I thought I might focus in Classics or Ancient Civ, having taken Latin for seven years and ancient Greek for two. I quickly realized these weren’t the right fields for me, and that NYU wasn’t the right school. I transferred to Brown, where I went on to double major in Visual Art and Art History, with a focus in early modern Italian print culture. Now I study twentieth-century interior and product design. I’ve been sort of leap-frogging across the history of human material production, but since I can’t get much more contemporary than I am now I think I’ll stick with this current focus.
EPS: What is it that drew you to study at the BGC?
JL: My first instinct when I began to explore potential graduate programs was to look for museum studies programs with the option of incorporating cultural anthropology. The more I read about museum studies, though, the less I felt a part of that world of scholarship. I knew that if I ended up in a museum studies, anthropology, or art history program, I would be distracted by the structure of the program itself, with the issues concerning the existence of the fields themselves! I originally figured that museum studies was probably the best way for me to combine many of my interests and turn them into a single, ‘trainable’ career path. Now that I think of it, museums themselves have always represented a lot of the interdisciplinary questions that I was asking during my undergraduate studies, so I felt that it was only natural to pursue some kind of path there. Then I spoke with Don Rubell, for whom I worked in Miami at the Rubell Family Collection, who knew of my frustration with traditional approaches to arts and culture. He said, “You must go to Bard.” I had never heard of the BGC and it was not until I scanned Bard College’s masters programs that I read- word for word- a list of terms that were at the very source of my obsessive quest for a field of study: Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture. So, naturally, I applied. But in the process of applying I realized that I was brewing the most diligence, focus, and energy I had ever mustered for any sort of writing or application. Ever! The fact that I had so much fun during my interview with Professors Elizabeth Simpson, Jeffrey Collins, and Aaron Glass (for whom I am currently working as a research assistant) that I continued to laugh and smile the whole subway ride home meant a whole lot, too.
RGF: I found the BGC attractive for what I saw as a sort of simultaneous specificity and broadness of scope. There aren’t many institutions where the somewhat offbeat topic of twentieth-century design receives such close attention in terms of exhibitions, research, and coursework. At the same time, there seems to be a nearly endless number of ways to set about studying the subject matter, from art history and anthropology to semiotics and actor-network theory. Being at once committed to a specific moment in the history of design but open to a variety of approaches, the BGC was really an ideal place for me to be.
EPS: We’ll be registering soon for spring term. What will you be focusing on this spring?
JL: The courses offered next semester are so tempting; it will be a very difficult choice! There are a number of conservation and exhibition-focused opportunities, each with a distinct and exciting approach. Many courses involve collaboration and engagement with institutions and communities outside of the BGC, such as conservation labs, museums, public folklore projects, and arts councils. I plan to take Postdoctoral Fellow Gabrielle Berlinger’s Cultural Conservation course, which, in conjunction with new Mellon Foundation Cultures of Conservation initiative, will consider the role of folkloristics- “the study of creative expression in everyday life”- in conceptualizing and maintaining cultural heritage and practice. It will incorporate site visits and work at The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, as well as at public projects related to folklore and community arts programs and councils. I also hope to examine Issues in the Study of Ancient Art with Professors François Louis and Elizabeth Simpson, especially in regards to the ethics and politics of archaeological practices and cultural patrimony. I look forward to working with material from the ancient Mediterranean, Near East, Central Asia, and China, much of which is quite new to me, and to asking questions about national identity-building and ethical, political, and legal conflicts in claiming material heritage of the past. I am excited to take a class with Professor Aaron Glass, whose research also focuses primarily on First Nations art and culture and through whom I have had the honor of contributing to a number of projects regarding Northwest Coast material culture. He is teaching a course called Exhibiting Culture/s: Anthropology In and Of the Museum, which will further consolidate and enrich a lot of my own interests in museum practice and processes of ‘imagining’ and constructing stories of ‘cultural others’.
RGF: I’m on a bit of a theory kick this semester, which I’m looking forward to continuing in the Spring. I have my eye on a number of theory-oriented courses dealing with topics such as consumer culture, the anthropology of the museum, and the theory and ethics of conservation. I’m also hoping to start taking advantage of all the Digital Media Lab has to offer - I have a few ideas fermenting already.
EPS: What are you working towards? What would you like to be doing four or five years from now?
JL: My answer to this question will hopefully never be a simple one. For now I think it will suffice to say that I am working towards a deeper and clearer understanding of the many ways in which objects and their value are constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed. I hope to apply different histories and perspectives to the study, expression, and experience of objects, through the help of my new family at the BGC, in order to re-examine transfers of meaning through the material in everyday life and to imagine how new forms of communication can be made through objects. I feel that whatever it is that I want to do or build, whether it is a kind of space dedicated to the ‘performance’ of culture or an institute, does not yet exist- at least not in a form in which it can be referenced by name- at present. There is certainly something to say for the ways in which people experience material culture and the predicament in which we find cultural institutions and spaces, political and social environments, and the natural environment at present. What I can say is that in the near future I know that I will be using all of my passion for creative expression and all of my knowledge of history, cultural systems, and representation to build positive connections between individuals and communities and a stronger, unified sense of responsibility to our environment and to each other.
RGF: It’s hard to say for sure, but I do know that I want to be educating in some form. I think there’s a real need for people to learn about the history and mechanisms behind the design of their everyday lives, and there are an increasing number of ways to go about teaching this. So while I’m definitely contemplating more traditional paths, such as academia and the museum world, I’ve also considered areas like publishing and the tech industry as alternative means of influencing public discourse around design. I feel that I still have so much more to learn, though, so there’s a good chance that in four years I’ll be continuing the process in a PhD program somewhere.
posted on 07 Nov 2013 13:12 by Elena Pinto Simon
Dan Lee is the Managing Editor of West 86th, the BGC’s journal. He is also Director of BGC Learned Publications. We recently chatted about the range of publications that are a part of the Research Institute at the BGC.
EPS: Dan, both you and Paul Stirton, the editor of West 86th, have transformed this journal since its re-launch. Tell us a little about what you have been trying to do.
DL: Hi Elena. The journal is really a reflection of what the BGC has become over the years and hopefully it conveys some of what we do and what interests us as a research institute dedicated to the study of the decorative arts, design history, and material culture. Our institutional remit has gradually broadened over time and from the beginning of the journal re-launch about three years ago, we wanted to convey this broadening by publishing scholarship on objects and artifacts from all periods and cultures and also to accommodate perspectives that come from across academic disciplines.
We aren’t narrowly focused and as Paul is fond of saying, “We have no methodological axe to grind.” If you take a look at what we’ve published so far, I hope that you’ll see a pretty close correlation between who and what we publish and the kinds of scholarship we see in action every day within the confines of our West 86th Street campus through our classes, gallery, seminar series, and lecture events and through the everyday research, writing, and conversation that’s being carried out by our faculty, students, staff, fellows, and guests.
A perfect example of this kind of synergy is an article that appears in the current issue of West 86th by Jeffrey Schnapp called “Crystalline Bodies: Fragments of a Cultural History of Glass.” We first heard a form of this article about two years ago at one of our evening endowed seminars (The Paul and Irene Hollister Seminar on Glass). Since that time, we worked with Jeffrey on turning what was a fabulous talk on the role of tempered glass in the modernist imagination (from architecture in fascist Italy to the transparent and anatomically revealing Glass Man and Glass Woman featured in the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden) into the polished piece that now appears in the journal.
One of the things I’m constantly trying to explain to people who aren’t familiar with the journal is how beautiful it is in print. This isn’t your standard academic journal. We put a good deal of thought, effort, and resources into the design and layout of each issue, right down to the ragged right margins. Chances are you will see more and better high-quality, full-color illustrations in our pages than in any other scholarly journal. While most people will access our content electronically through JSTOR or through the subscription packages that our fantastic publisher, the University of Chicago Press, supplies through institutional libraries, we want everyone to know how beautiful the printed object is and what a pleasure it is to feel the weight and texture of the paper stock and see the contrast of the ink and colors on the page. We wouldn’t be who we are if we neglected this very real and material aspect of our identity.
I think the TLS review from last year captures it best: “Articles are meticulously referenced and supported by photographs and graphics. The result is both stylish and comprehensive. Of interest both to the expert and the amateur enthusiast, West 86th is a splendid addition to scholarship on material culture in all its facets.” A proud moment for us, but something we have to live up to with each issue.
EPS: Indeed, having a high bar to strive for is always a good thing.
Dan, tell us a little about your background and some of what you have done before your arrival at the BGC.
DL: Well, I was consistently unsure of what to do in life, except that I liked to read and to write. I attended St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, where I feel like I first learned how to really read and how to engage with texts and become immersed in the ongoing conversation that good books can facilitate. After my undergraduate studies, I ended up on a Fulbright grant in Budapest, Hungary to study the mass migration of peoples such as the Huns through Europe in the fifth century. Unsure of what to do next, I ended up at the University of Chicago for a brief stint, where I got to read War and Peace with JM Coetzee and Jonathan Lear; after receiving my master’s degree, I started working for the University of Chicago Press, again because I was unsure of what to do with myself, but working with books and with scholars was always appealing. From there, I spent some time at Yale University Press and then at Harvard University Press. It was while I was at Harvard that I first encountered the BGC, through a book series called Cultural Histories of the Material World that was brought to my attention by Bob Darnton, Harvard University Librarian and professor of history. It was Bob who introduced me to Dean Miller, and the rest, as they say, is history.
EPS: Happily for us! The book series, Cultural Histories of the Material World, has already had three impressive books launched. Tell us about the series, and a little about those books.
DL: Simply put, Cultural Histories of the Material World is an ambitious series that’s dedicated to exploring the ways that humans have shaped and interpreted the material world that’s all around. Our contributors come from a wide array of disciplines—there are historians of art and design, science and technology, culture, economics, media, and landscape, along with anthropologists, archaeologists, literary scholars, musicologists, philosophers, and practitioners of the arts among others.
The first three books in the series, Antiquarianism and Intellectual Life in Europe and China, 1500-1800 (CHMW 1), The Sea: Thalassography and Historiography (CHMW 2), and the eponymous Cultural Histories of the Material World (CHMW 3), were published by the University of Michigan Press over the last two years. They gathered together some of the leading scholars in their respective fields and variously explored the comparative material histories and practice of antiquarianism in Europe and China (CHMW 1), the ways in which sea-based history-writing focused on material exchange influences the practice of historical scholarship itself (CHMW 2), and the deep relationship between the man-made and the natural as seen by twenty-three contributors across disciplines and continents (CHMW 3). This last volume really lays out the stakes and prepares some of the groundwork for what is to come in future volumes.
Between these first three volumes alone, there are a lot of new facets of materiality for a scholar to encounter and engage. It’s obvious that material culture does not belong to any one discipline and that its study has relevance that could reverberate for many years to come throughout the arts and humanities.
EPS: So, tell us what’s next in this important series?
The next two books in the series are Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge (edited by Pamela Smith at Columbia, Hal Cook at Brown, and Amy Meyers, of the Yale Center for British Art) and a book called The Technical Image: A History of Styles in Scientific Imagery, which is collaborative effort between the BGC and the members of Das Technische Bild, a research project founded in 2000 by Horst Bredekamp at the Humboldt University of Berlin.
After that, we have a book in the works from Ben Kafka, Lilly Chumley, and Lisa Gitelman of NYU called The Paper Trail: Photographs from the Survey of Federal Archives, Oregon, 1935-36, which will be a major contribution to the emerging field of “paperwork studies” that scholars like Kafka and Gitelman have been spearheading. (Both were featured in a New York Times profile called “The Paper Trail Through History” last December.) We also have a collection on Ex Votos across periods and cultures, a volume called The Anthropology of Expeditions: Travel, Visualities, Afterlives, and several translations of primary source materials in process, including the first English-language translation of the German historian Karl Schlögel’s important work Im Raume lesen wir die Zeit (In Space We Read Time: On the History of Civilization and Geopolitics), which takes history back to its geographical and spatial roots.
We’re also moving towards publishing some shorter-length monographs; we’re in conversations with several authors about new projects and are always interested in receiving relevant proposals.
EPS: An amazing agenda, especially in the light of so many that have expressed concern about the future of academic publishing in this country. Tell us why these kinds of scholarly works need to continue to see the light of day in book form.
DL: While it’s true that there is a great deal of concern about the future of academic publishing—particularly in the arts and humanities—the demand for good, well-written, well-reasoned, and well-researched scholarship has not gone away. New topics and debates emerge and scholarship goes on. There may be a more widespread public perception that the value of a scholarly monograph or collection of essays on the materiality of color or on “thingness” is suspect, but anyone who is engaged in serious scholarship—anyone who is actively involved in research or writing in the humanities—doesn’t question the value inherent in pursuing knowledge and in knowing oneself or one’s culture and place in the world to the fullest possible extent. There is a broader debate about the value of all of the Humanities and its place in the University and in education in general that I find to be exceedingly disturbing. I think the whole premise that scholarly publishing doesn’t really follow a sustainable business model and thus ought to be cut or that a humanities education doesn’t really work out in terms of a cost-benefit analysis of one’s life is wrong and it really begs the question. Just because some people don’t value the humanities, doesn’t mean the humanities are ipso facto worthless. The humanities and humanities-based research and publishing is done because this is a human endeavor that a lot of people still value and cherish and pursue for its own sake. Its part of what makes us who we are. People don’t become art or design or cultural historians in order to get rich or even to balance their checkbooks. Like anything people are passionate about, they do it in spite of the hurdles set out before them. Sure, there are new tools and technologies that enable our research and help to spread information further afield; the Internet and all of the changes that it’s wrought are now taken mostly for granted (not that we understand everything about what’s happening as it’s occurring, but that it’s happening, nobody debates). But I don’t see the desire for the book and the kind of unique story that each one tells to ever go away.
EPS: Great response. What do you think the next 10 years in academic publishing will bring?
DL:The landscape potentially could change quite a bit, but I think it would be a mistake for publishers to panic and change things just for the sake of changing. I feel like I was in the thick of some of this kind of thinking in the past decade as Presses began moving towards digital workflows and making some necessary changes to accommodate new electronic publishing formats (I was director of Digital Publishing at Yale and Harvard). The economics of scholarly publishing never quite made sense, but we were all happy going along with it until suddenly, we weren’t. Academic presses can’t survive on their own or without the support of their home institutions. The survival of these Presses really depends on the survival of the humanities and whether their host institutions continue to value some pretty basic humanistic pursuits. If the priority for a scholarly, University-based publisher or for its sponsoring institution becomes how many copies a book is able to sell in its first month or two of publication, then they ought to just start disbanding now and leave the business of books to Basic or to Brill.
EPS: Are you an optimist or a pessimist on this topic?
DL: I guess I’m as optimistic as a natural pessimist can be. Scholarship will go on—even if it reverts back to personal letters exchanged between interested and educated individuals who share a common and intense interest in a topic, like the antiquarians of old. There are some who want to go back to a form of pre-publishing in the scholarly context. Or to use new technologies to do away with publishers and other intermediaries all together since they’re often perceived as posing restrictive and unnecessary obstacles to getting one’s work out fast. It’s true: there are a lot of annoying, frustrating things about the publication process that we all complain about—proposals, meetings, permissions, deadlines, delays; but in the end all of these painful processes, all of the behind the scenes work that’s done to bring a manuscript into book shape—editing, design, production, marketing, distribution, not to mention all of the back and forth in negotiating reviews, reports, revisions, contracts, etc.—all of this invisible hard labor is what makes a book a book. Each book is a real accomplishment. It’s difficult to see this whole enterprise as worthless and replaceable by a blog or a series of exchanges on the latest social network.
It shouldn’t take a scholar of the book to know that producing a book is a huge (and often expensive) collaborative effort between dozens of interested parties. Really, it ought to inspire wonder that there are so many people still invested in bringing the written word to life or to shaping complex theories and ideas in order to advance human understanding. It can be done better at times and the process can stand to move more efficiently, but it’s an encouraging sign that not everything we work for or towards is some disposable or consumable commodity, to be measured purely in terms of monetary profit or loss. But whether this is something that anyone will still care about in ten or twenty years is anybody’s guess. We live in a weird world.