Books or Papers?

I was delighted by the recent publication of Jill Walker Rettberg’s book Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves. This is partly due to the interesting discussion of phenomena like use of filters in Instagram photos, diaries that write themselves automatically for us, and affective ties to other data, quantified and used to organise and make sense of our “gamified lifes”. But another part stems from the fact that this was a book, a monograph, and also one that was made available under Creative Commons as a digital download.

For us educated in the Humanities, book-lenght studies carry intrinsic value that is hard to explain and measure. Books are works of sustained scholarship, and their hard-copy form is designed for permanence. While I was still actively working in literary and textual studies fields, I was routinely making references to studies in Poetics or Rhetorics, authored originally over two thousand years ago. Making that historical treasure trove to relate and connect with in dialogue with the more recent phenomena from digital culture was a source or enormous thrill and pride. Contemporary papers and articles published only in various, semi-permanent digital archives simply do not fulfill similar function in long-term historical and intellectual perspective.

There has been talk about the “death of the monograph” for several decades already, but somehow the book still survives. The imprints are small, university libraries carry smaller numbers of physical copies, and there are increasing “productivity” and “impact” pressures to publish and read shorter texts online. However, there is also actual research into how a monograph is doing, like “The Role and Future of the Monograph in Arts and Humanities Research” by Peter Williams & co, or Alesia Zuccala’s recent paper on evaluation of Humanities in Research Trends, which point that monographs continue to be essential for Humanities scholarship. The hybrid forms of publishing both a (typically small-print or print-on-demand) hard copy, alongside a searchable and freely available digital version, appear as the most prominent ways towards the future.

Links:
Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: http://www.palgraveconnect.com/pc/doifinder/10.1057/9781137476661

“The role and future of the monograph in arts and humanities research”: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/00012530910932294

Research Trends, Issue 32: http://www.researchtrends.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Research_Trends_Issue32.pdf

Author: frans

Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, esp. Digital Culture and Game Studies in the University of Tampere, Finland.