We are submitting a proposal for the Agora funding programme of the Swiss National Science Foundation, a programme that “supports researchers from all disciplines and career stages who want to communicate with the public”. The budget is about 200.000 CHF (165.000 EUR) and the timeframe is 2 years. The “meaty” part of the proposal (summary, context, detailed plan) provides a good overview of our attempt to combine Open Access, Digital Curation and Public Science Communication.
sdvig press : An Open Participatory Platform for Exchanges between
Eastern and Western Europe in the Humanities
Our proposal aims to harness and exploit the communicative and interactive potential of sdvig press, the not-for-profit, open access publishing platform we are building to support the dissemination and linking of knowledge in the Humanities between Eastern, Central and Western Europe. We intend both to increase the popular appeal and pedagogical relevance of this new resource and to encourage the active participation of the general public in its long-term development. Our plan is to contextually enrich and open up to collaborative inputs the high-quality digitised texts and data that will be made freely available on the sdvig press website (www.sdvigpress.org) – by producing and/or implementing:
- Popularising, introductory video or audio contents on key authors, texts and concepts;
- Informal interviews, public Q&A sessions, and blogging with Swiss and international scholars;
- Tutorials on the optimal uses of the platform and on topics such as open access, print vs. digital publishing, copyright and common licenses, etc.;
- A network mapping application (Rhizi), allowing users to input nodes and share connections.
- Intuitive, didactic visualisations of underlying data (e.g. networks, maps, infographs, etc.);
- A crowdsourcing interface allowing users to upload, suggest, proofread or annotate texts;
- A reward scheme for contributions to the platform;
- Social media functionalities, in particular for cross-platform sharing and commenting;
sdvig press is an innovative infrastructural project that uses print-on-demand publishing and digital curation to provide easy, contextualised and open access to a large number of textual and documentary sources relevant to the broad intellectual exchanges and cultural transfers that occurred throughout Eastern, Central and Western Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Its guiding ambition is thus to decisively contribute to reclaim and reconstruct the dense yet often obscure transnational networks of thinkers and ideas that have helped power the development of European thought over the last two-hundred years. At this point in time, sdvig press has already published its first print books, created a fully operational repository and web-platform, and has won the active collaboration or cooperation of dozens of top scholars and institutions, key innovators in academic publishing as well as open access advocates, both in Switzerland and internationally.
By strengthening the public appeal, impact and outreach of an ambitious endeavour that is in and of itself geared towards optimising scientific communication and democratising access to knowledge, this proposal will both help sdvig press achieve its disseminative, intercultural and interdisciplinary mission and contribute to familiarise scholars and laypersons alike with the potential of open digital resources for scientific and personal purposes. In addition, it will help establish a financially sustainable, Swiss-based and internationally visible publishing platform fully supportive of the SNSF’s open access policy and of the Swiss Information Provisioning and Processing Infrastructure planned by the CRUS.
2. Project Description
Our project, both through its broader aims and the specific measures proposed here, responds in a concrete way to no less than three fundamental challenges currently facing the whole disciplinary spectrum of the Humanities. These three challenges are a) the „serials crisis” and the promising yet disruptive emergence of open access publishing and digital curation, b) the endemic and regrettable lack of visibility of Eastern and Central European intellectual traditions, both within the field of the humanities and in the wider public arena, and c) the increasingly obvious need for a “holistic”, i.e. transnational, interdisciplinary and comparative approach to Europe’s intellectual and cultural history.
a) As the Harvard Library’s „Memorandum on Journal Pricing“ (2012) made clear, over the last twenty years libraries have been facing a mounting crisis induced by the steep and unrelenting increase in the price of academic journals. To cite but one number, academic libraries subscription costs have outstripped inflation by a staggering 300% since 1986 (Eve 2014). The root causes of this crisis, moreover, lie not in corresponding real-term increases either in production and distribution costs or in service levels, but in the decried pricing policies of established publishers, the biggest of which operate with some of the highest profit margins of any industry (Holcombe 2013). To mitigate a process that has impeded the dissemination of knowledge and diminished the availability of scientific literature for all, many institutions (including the SNSF) have adopted Open Access mandates requiring publicly funded research be made freely available in digital repositories. In addition, initiatives such as PLoS, PeerJ, Open Edition or Ubiquity Press have begun harnessing digital and print-on-demand technologies to set up new, open and cost-effective yet scientifically rigorous models of academic publishing.
sdvig press aims to join this ongoing revolution in scientific communication and to become a strong, Swiss-based player in the emerging international open publishing ecosystem in the Humanities. Its main focus and output will be an online platform (www.sdvigpress.org) that will grow over the next three years to offer thousands of texts in full open access, powerful curation tools (advanced multi-text search, citation index, collaborative editing, personal libraries and bookmarks), extensive contextual information (author profiles with structured bibliographical and chronological data, translation glossaries) as well as social media functionalities (user accounts, cross-platform sharing, intra-platform comments). Crucially, the platform will become financially self-sufficient within this timeframe (Cf. 2.2.4). At this point in time, sdvig press has established formal relationships with leading innovators in open publishing (Open Edition, Open Library of Humanities, Hybrid Lab Publishing) or digital curation (Europeana). It is at the heart of a large Horizon 2020 grant (“Towards Digital Knowledge”, under evaluation) designed to coordinate digitisation and curation projects on topics central to its scientific aims. Further, it has published one book in print form, with two further titles pending in 2014.
b) The legacy of Eastern and Central European thinkers in the human sciences provides an ideal thematic underpinning to sdvig press, as it strongly calls for a coordinated revitalisation effort and is ideally suited to being channelled through open digital publishing. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a substantial amount of studies from a wide array of scholars (notably from Switzerland, e.g. E. Holenstein, P. Sériot, K. Velmezova, J. Friedrich, E. Swiderski, etc.) have consistently highlighted the seminal role played by Eastern and Central European thinkers or artists in the development and blossoming of some of the essential movements of European thought and culture in the 20th century – phenomenology, structuralism and modernist art foremost among these (Cf. Avtonomova 2009, Dennes 2008, Ehlich & Meng 2004, Sériot 1999, Tihanov & Dobrenko 2011, etc.). Most of these Eastern and Central Europe contributions, though, have remained at the outer periphery of mainstream discourses. This disappointing reality is epitomised in the academic sphere by the relatively peripheral status of Eastern and Central European or Slavic Studies, an isolated field of scholarship that has generally failed to impress a sense of its relevance upon the mainstream or to demystify the “exoticism” often associated with Slavic cultures.
Countless reasons could be given to explain this situation, but one stands out in particular: the lack of ready access to very large corpora of significant texts from Eastern and Central Europe in all the fields of the humanities. True, prominent thinkers (Roman Jakobson, György Lukács, Roman Ingarden, Michail Bachtin, Lev Vygotskij, Jurij Lotman or Merab Mamardashvili) have received plenty of editorial attention. But, even in the case of these titans, large parts of their work have been overlooked and they are often considered outside of their historical context. In their shadow, moreover, one finds a seemingly endless list of lesser known or completely forgotten figures whose work was often only published in small runs in their native country and has never been translated into languages such as English, French or German. Intimate knowledge of the Eastern and Central European intellectual contexts has thus inevitably remained the preserve of a limited number of specialists. As such, there is no question that one of the most obvious tasks facing Eastern and Central European or Slavic studies is simply to provide a much better, contextualised access to its corpora, ideally through the re-issuing and translation of both historical and contemporary material in immediate open access.
c) Finally, although mobilising open digital publishing infrastructure to help pull Eastern and Central Europe’s cultural and intellectual traditions out of their relative obscurity is a worthy aim in itself, such an endeavour would remain deeply disappointing and incomplete if it were not simultaneously accompanied by an attempt to reassess the relationship of these traditions with their Western alter egos. As we just saw, the work of Eastern and Central European thinkers is indeed deeply embedded in the general development of the human sciences and the history of ideas. This is especially true for the period going from the mid 19th century up to the Second World War, when, as has by now been made abundantly clear (Cf. Dmitrieva 2007, Espagne 2014, Friedrich & Samain 2004, Köhnke 1991, Maigné 2009, Mulligan & Commetti 1999, Puech 2013, etc.), the development of disciplines such as art history, linguistics, literary theory, philosophy or psychology was powered by dense international and interdisciplinary networks that stretched throughout the whole of Europe. As such, it is vital to broaden the thematic scope of sdvig press to include Western paradigms and theories and to thus both widen the platform’s appeal and seize the opportunity to promote a truly encompassing, „transcontinental“ and comparative approach to European intellectual history.
2.1.1. Overall Goals and Importance
One of the single most important factors for the long-term sustainability and success of sdvig press –after it’s scientific and editorial excellence– will be its capacity to foster sufficiently high adoption levels and active engagement from both academic and general users. Its added value and economic potential as a digital platform, indeed, will not mainly derive from its freely reusable contents, but from the structured aggregation of collaborative, moderated inputs from users (critical annotations, corrections, discussions, etc.) on these contents. In addition, one can expect libraries to make subscriptions conditional on usage statistics and user satisfaction. Most obviously, sdvig press will only meet its scientific objectives of disseminating Eastern and Central European thought and raising awareness of Europe’s transnational and highly networked intellectual history if it can attract and nurture the interest of both scholars and the general public for its contents.
The overall goal of this proposal will thus be to coordinate and implement an information, outreach and advocacy strategy for the development of sdvig press. That strategy itself will have three objectives: a) to allay fears and misconceptions relating to the disruptive impact of open access and digital publishing on established commercial, institutional or scientific structures and practices; b) to increase the broad, popular appeal and relevance of the scientific contents made available on the platform; and c) to encourage the active and sustained participation of scholars and the general public in the development and curation of the platform’s contents.
The adverse reactions to the recent open access policies of the SNSF, sometimes emanating from researchers themselves, demonstrate the need to carefully justify and advocate the impending open and digital “turn” in academic publishing. We will therefore seek to inform both researchers and the general public about the technical, legal, epistemological, social and commercial implications of using open digital knowledge resources and infrastructure. Crucially, this pedagogical effort will not take the form of an abstract discussion or general overview, but will be embedded in the practical, pioneering endeavour that is sdvig press itself. By tailoring its content to the “popular” requirements and expectations of a wide public and by using these contents to foster user involvement and then progressively leverage user inputs, sdvig press will function as a concrete showcase of the power of open participative digital publishing to revitalise and popularise an entire field of study and to sustainably serve the needs of both academic researchers and interested laypersons.
By proceeding in this fashion, our outreach strategy will follow and demonstrate best practices in public science communication. In particular, our project will integrate reactions and contributions from a wide audience into the very design of its infrastructure, it will be fundamentally oriented towards providing meaningful context and insight to its technical data and scientific resources, it will actively seek to provide a personalised, informal and “human” perspective on the processes of academic research and publishing and, perhaps most importantly, it will be intent on providing a lasting digital “public place” where researchers can interact, debate and share ideas in full view and with the welcome, moderated participation of a wide audience.
2.2. Detailed project plan
Our detailed plan is to enrich, contextualise and increase the appeal and interactivity of the scientific textual contents made available by sdvig press with the addition of supplementary materials and tools meant to prick the general public‘s interest and to provide opportunities and incentives for its participatory involvement. We plan to implement these contents and tools in eight clearly defined modular blocks (Cf. Point 2.2.2) that will all be directly embedded into the project’s digital platform. The platform itself is already fully operational and ready to support all the modules outlined in this proposal.
2.2.1. Message, communicated information and target groups
Mirroring the three main challenges that sdvig press is seeking to meet, we aim to communicate a three-pronged message. Firstly, we wish to make a convincing case for open access publishing, enticing all stakeholders to become confident actors in the digital, open and participative knowledge landscape of tomorrow. Secondly, we want to convey a sense of the cultural and intellectual value of Eastern and Central European thinkers and their work. Thirdly, we intend to showcase the need for a comparative, holistic approach to Europe’s intellectual history, cultural transfers and international scholarly networks.
Open access and digital publishing constitute issues of great public interest, which have led to highly visible debates and controversy in Switzerland’s media (such as the NZZ) as well as in the Swiss parliament. Although we recognise that the impending transformations in academic publishing give rise to legitimate questions as to their impact on the commercial, epistemological, social or intimately personal aspects of the traditional “culture of the book” in the Humanities, we find that many of the arguments against Open Access and digital publishing stem in fact from a lack of recognition both of the possibilities offered by digital technologies and of the willingness of their advocates to reflect upon and remain critical of new digital practices. As such, our aim is to bridge this gap in perception by providing clear information on topics such as print-on-demand, copyright and creative commons licenses, big data, data-mining and digital curation, digital formats and their (technical, social, economical) complementarity with print, the serials crisis, publication subsidies and publishing business models, science and social media, the Digital Humanities, etc. Our target group will be all Swiss stakeholders in academic publishing, i.e. higher education institutions and researchers, publishers, bookshops and book professionals as well as regular buyers and readers of academic or human sciences books. We estimate the size of this target group to be no smaller than the percentage of the Swiss population with a higher education diploma (14%).
Existing interest levels amongst the public with respect to our two other aims are obviously much lower. Recent geo-political events and their strong coloration through ideological and historically-laden discourses do however point to a need for objective and open resources that can facilitate intercultural understanding and communication between Europe’s East and West. The fundamental premise of our project, in any case, is that a broad, transnational constituency of researchers and interested laypersons can be created for Eastern and Central Europe’s intellectual heritage by providing a sufficient amount of resources in an appealing way. The provision of the source texts and research materials that will form the core of the platform falls outside the scope of this proposal. Instead, we will focus here on creating supplementary contents such as introductory videos on key authors, texts and concepts, “behind the scenes” interviews with Swiss and international scholars or didactic visualisations. These contents will provide less technical and less formalised contextual information on the core resources of the platform. Our target group will be individuals of all age groups with a significant interest for the Art & Humanities and their history. Contents will be geared in priority towards the interests of a Swiss audience (e.g. by prioritising Swiss projects or authors such as Ferdinand de Saussure or Anton Marty), but without compromising their clearly international resonance. We estimate the size of this target group to be no smaller than the percentage of the population with a higher education diploma in the human and social sciences (5% in Switzerland).
2.2.2. Communication concept and methods
Our communication concept is to harness and exploit the natural interactive potential of the sdvig press website to transform it into a truly participatory, open yet highly structured and pedagogical digital space where the general public can not only observe, meet and interact, but also collaborate with scholars on the curation and improvement of scientific resources over the long-term. We will create that online space by producing and constructively embedding the following modules into the sdvig press platform
I. Contextualising, Introductory Multimedia Contents
We will produce video and audio introductions to key authors, texts and concepts. These will include short, pedagogical overviews; personal accounts by experts of their interest for/their perspective on a subject; discussions by graduate and undergraduate students of their encounter with an author and his work; or short features on relevant locations, buildings, rare editions, archival materials or archives, artefacts, etc. Videos will be systematically subtitled in English. Members of the public will have the opportunity to upload their own materia
II. Interviews and Q&As
We will produce interviews (video, audio and written) of top Swiss and international scholars. They will be conducted in an informal, conversational style (ideally the interviewer should be a long-time colleague or aquaintance) and will highlight the personal dimension of research, and touch upon societal issues such as open knowledge, the significance of the Humanities, etc. Question and answers sessions (possibly live, e.g. on Twitter, Reddit or Hangout, if interest is sufficiently high) will allow users to interact directly with Swiss and international scholars through social media. Finally, Swiss and international scholars will be invited to contribute guest posts on the sdvig press blog (sdvigpress.hypotheses.org) and to react to users‘ comments.
III. Data visualisations
Underlying structured data, in particular related to authors (biography) and texts (citations) will be used to create appealing, didactic visualisations. Our visualisation tools will serve in particular to re-create scholarly and personal networks and to produce interactive maps (e.g. where did who work, and when). They will be designed specifically to allow the public to experiment and engage with underlying data in a fun, intuitive and creative way. Code and data will be open source, in order to encourage users to create their own visualisations, which they can then submit back to the platform
We will produce tutorials on the optimal uses of the platform and provide information on topics such as open access, print vs. digital publishing, copyright and common licenses, peer-review, etc. These resources will be embedded and signposted on the platform (with an option to turn them off). Tutorials will take the form of short, commented video demonstrations, articles or web-animations
V. Crowdsourcing interface
We will install an interface allowing users to upload, suggest, proofread or annotate texts. This interface is already functional (www.sdvigpress.org/digitise) but will be further embedded into the platform and optimised. This is a crucial component of our outreach and involvement strategy, which will allow the public to contribute constructively to the platform itself. Adequate moderation will guarantee the high editorial quality of contents.
VI. Reward scheme
Contributions or interactions of users on the platform will be taken into account and points will be awarded accordingly and made visible in dynamic rankings. As their widespread use demonstrates, such schemes are a powerful tool to motivate users to be active on the platform and they often constitute a sufficient reward in themselves for engaging and contributing to a digital resource
VII. Social media functionalities
Full options for cross-platform sharing and commenting, in particular through major social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Vkontake (Russia), Youtube will be implemented. This is meant to encourage the integration of scholarly contents in more mainstream channels. In the long-term, an integration with open-source networks such as Diaspora will be explored.
VIII. Networks mapping application
We will install Rhizi on the platform, an open-sourced, user-friendly web application which allows users to map networks between given entities (authors, texts, ideas, etc.) through the input of nodes and links (http://cri-paris.org/research/rhizi/). In combination with our crowdsourcing interface, this tool will provide further opportunities for users to engage actively with the platform and its contents.
Our proposal aims to have the following long-term impacts:
- Raised awareness of and support for Open Access from all Swiss stakeholders in academic publishing, including established publishers, researchers, institutions and the general public;
- Increased recognition of the possible applications of digital infrastructure and resources for scientific research in the human sciences, as well as for personal education purposes;
- Greater participation and involvement of the general public in the creation and curation of digital and open knowledge resources;
- Raised awareness and appreciation of the intellectual legacy of Eastern and Central Europe, along with a better understanding of its relative position in the history of the human sciences.
It should be noted that these specific impacts will complement those of the sdvig press platform, which itself is fundamentally oriented towards scientific communication:
- Creation of a strong Swiss player in the international field of digital publishing
- Edition and translation of significant amounts of textual sources, provided immediately in libre open access (CC 0, CC BY, CC BY-SA licenses) and in fairly priced print-on-demand editions
- Creation and consolidation of international scholarly networks
- Provision of a centralising hub, where contributions can be aggregated and knowledge accumulated incrementally and collaboratively.
- Contribution to an open, interoperable network or ecosystem of academic digital publishing and development of open knowledge best practices
2.2.4. Sustainable development and networking
The sustainability of the sdvig press platform beyond the life-cycle of this proposal (which will contribute strongly, but only partially to its development) will be guaranteed through its financial self-sufficiency and independence. In cooperation with Open Edition (CNRS, France), we will set up a “freemium” licensing scheme, through which institutions will pay for access to the full set of functionalities offered by the platform. Platform contents will remain completely open and free, as will functions such as basic search and or the creation of a user profile. The powerful additional tools to be gradually implemented (full corpus search, personalised bookmarks and library management, access to and management of text annotations, citation index, stylometry tools, etc.) will be accessible only to licensed users. License fees will be highly competitive and well under current market prices (100 to 300 CHF/year per institution) and will ideally be negotiated with national consortia (access can then be provided indiscriminately to all national users). Countries with low GDP will be exempted. Expected yearly revenues of up to 500.000 CHF are to be fully reinvested in the technical development of the platform and the funding of editions, translations, thematic research, conferences, etc.
As regards institutional networking and involvement in existing initiatives, sdvig press can already boast a series of impressive achievements. These include:
- Personal endorsement and support from dozens of top Swiss and international scholars such as Michel Arrivé, Natalja Avtonomova, John Joseph, Rolf Fieguth, Giorgi Graffi, Jens Herlth, Mihhail Lotman, Patrick Sériot, Michael Silverstein, Galin Tihanov, Jürgen Trabant, Jan Wolenski, etc.
- A very strong institutional support in Switzerland (collaborations with the universities of Basel, Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, St-Gallen)
- Formal relationships with leading innovators in open publishing in the humanities, such as Open Edition, the Open Library of Humanities and Hybrid Lab Publishing.
- Federation of twelve projects at top European universities (Charles University Prague, KU Leuven, Uni. Paris Sorbonne, TU Berlin, Uni. Tübingen, Catholic Univ. Milan, etc.) for a Horizon 2020 grant proposal.
Further, sdvig press has the clear capacity and stated aim to involve a significant number of Swiss and European research projects, research groups or scholarly associations, with which, in many cases, advanced contacts have already been made. The obvious form of collaboration will be for sdvig press to function as an efficient publishing and repository service provider for the dissemination and curation of research resources such as archive materials, conference proceedings, re-editions, translations, etc.
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DMITRIEVA, Nina (2007), Russkoe neokantianstvo: „Marburg“ v Rossii, Moskva, Rosspen.
EHLICH, Konrad & MENG, Katharina (eds) (2004), Die Aktualität des Verdrängten: Studien zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft im 20. Jahrhundert, Heidelberg, Synchron.
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 Our platform consists of a PHP website (available in English, French, German and Russian) and a connected MySQL database. It is managed through a simple but powerful content management system (MOM) developed in house by sdvig press and into which, therefore, all planned modules can be seamlessly integrated and controlled. All software will be open source and shared on platforms such as GitHub. Further, the input of core contents into the platform’s database at a rate of at least 500 texts (articles, book chapters, documents) per year is guaranteed by strong personal commitments from scholars engaged with sdvig press. Additional funding (e.g. from the above-mentioned Horizon 2020 proposal) and an uptake in user participation will most probably accelerate the input of core contents.