Personal Statement, 2008
Scholarly publishing is in crisis, we are told. Print runs are shrinking; unit costs are skyrocketing; research libraries cannot afford to buy even a fraction of what they would like. But in a very real way, the internet is taking over many scholarly-publishing functions. The specialized monograph in history and the humanities is rapidly becoming extinct, and maybe, if we think hard about it, there is no great loss in that. Journal publishing still flourishes both online and in print, and that is a good forum for specialized research.
Other, more extensive monographic work can as easily be self-published online, and that is what this e-book, Humanism For Sale, sets out to do. It is a self-published work offered without the expenses of printing, storage, and distribution. It indulges the usual hubris of the self-published author, but without the additonal vanity of a book on paper that few people really want. To compensate for the lack of paper, I have tried to make it as approachable as possible via the electronic means available to me.
Obviously, what we lose in self-publishing of the sort is peer review and the stamp of approval that the traditional university press book offers. What we gain is a dynamic object that can be revised and improved via dialogue with the interested public. Moreover, we can hope for more than one public. I am an historian, but I wrote this book while immersed in the life of a research library and within the lively design community of Chicago, as well as in the more traditional world of academic history. So I am hoping for a broader public than I could get for a book published, cataloged, and shelved in one place in a library, as some infinitesimal subset of early modern intellectual history.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that Humanism For Sale was conceived as a scholarly history book with an American university press in mind. As such it failed to find a publisher. The reasons given me were purely economic -- there is no market for so specialized a book. Rather than pursue other kinds of peer-reviewed publishing, I have continued to work on the manuscript and have re-conceived it for publication as you see it now, a website with a blog that will invite feedback and futher revision.
Humanism For Sale, then, has not had peer review in the traditional sense. Friends and colleagues have read all of it in one form or another, and I have profited from their criticism. I submit it now to the futher review of my peers in history, but also to many who know some of this material better than I do, from points of view I do not have, and with expertise I do not claim.
I'm afraid Humanism For Sale still looks and works a lot like a traditional book. But given the potential of the blog, this "book" can get better as time passes, something a published volume cannot do.