As a Mizzou alum, a Columbia, Missouri native, and someone interested in improving the scholarly communication system, I am embarrassed by recent developments concerning the University of Missouri Press. The University announced earlier this week this that it would not, as it had indicated two months ago, shut down the press but rather “reimagine” it to use vaguely defined “innovative techniques for scholarly communication.” The announcement reveals a lack of understanding of the issues involved, poor communication and planning, and diminishes the reputation of a relatively stable university publishing ecosystem.
The details given thus far about the press’s funding are worrisome. Mizzou Advantage will provide the funding, which is an institutional initiative that funds new projects and research in areas where the university sees itself as having a competitive advantage. Given that the press was due to be shut down, it’s hard to imagine that the university deems it a strategic asset. If the university is in fact committed to supporting the press then it would behoove it to give the press its own budget line rather than funding from the equivalent of a startup fund, which raises concerns about long-term support for the press.
The administration’s closed decision-making process has also received much criticism. Employees at the press were not aware of plans of the closure until it was announced in the local newspaper, and the subsequent revamping appears not to have solicited input from faculty and others within the university who were already working to rethink how the press could evolve. For example, my graduate advisor, Professor John Budd, had been on a committee looking into revitalizing the press, and he mentioned to me last December that he had suggested to the committee that the press could support faculty teaching by creating an opencourseware platform. Creating channels for dialog and soliciting support from the many people within and outside of the university who are interested and willing to dedicate time and energy to creating a vibrant University of Missouri Press is essential if the press is to continue to have a meaningful role at the university.
As I have learned from following Mizzou basketball and football over the years, the crux of being a Mizzou fan is knowing that any success will inevitably be met with equal disappointment. I only hope that the reverse will apply in this case, where initial disappointment will somehow be turned into a positive outcome.
Microsoft Research Faculty Summit
Earlier this week Microsoft Research hosted its thirteenth annual Faculty Summit, in which computer scientists from Microsoft and academia shared recent research, discussed trends in technology, and identified ways that computer science can contribute to solutions to global challenges—such as human trafficking and global warming. Along with a handful of other humanists, I had the honor of attending the Faculty Summit, thanks in large part to Donald Brinkman, Microsoft Research’s digital humanities program manager.
There were several sessions at the Faculty Summit that spoke directly to the concerns of the humanities. Most memorable was Anne Balsamo’s presentation on the digital AIDS Quilt, an amazing zoomable interface to the 48,000 panels that make up the AIDS Quilt. Balsamo also introduced a remarkable web-based mobile app for the AIDS Quilt that lets you search the quilt by name or panel number. Balsamo’s team will have a station set up on the National Mall when the AIDS Quilt is displayed there July 21-25 this summer, for visitors to use the zoomable interface on Microsoft’s huge PixelSense (formerly Surface) tables. As Balsamo explained in her talk, this digital quilt doesn’t replace the overwhelming, physical form of the quilt. Instead, the zoomable quilt supplements the textile quilt in an equally powerful way, making the epic scale of the quilt far more intimate. Describing the emotional impact of this searchable, zoomable digital AIDS Quilt, Balsamo noted that “the power of a digital image can move people in ways that I had not expected.” (Thanks to Sarah Werner and Cliff Lampe for their tweets about Balsamo’s presentation.)
Another project that should be on the digital humanities radar screen is ChronoZoom, a web-based zoomable timeline of history. That is, all of history, from the origins of the cosmos to recent events in human history, say the 30 year history of AIDS. The project is directed by Walter Alvarez (famous for proposing the once radical but now accepted Impact Theory of mass extinction 65.5 million years ago). While programming is done at Moscow State University and at Microsoft Research, Alvarez’s team at Berkeley add the content. They are now considering ways for outside users to contribute their own historical content to the timeline. Or, since the code for ChronoZoom is opensource, you can just create your own Big History timeline of the universe.
There were many other topics and demos at the Faculty Summit, including sessions on crowdsourcing, social search, augmented reality, and human trafficking. I hope in the days to come that more participants blog about their own experiences (I know I have more to say!). In the meantime, all of the plenary events and many of the breakout sessions at the Faculty Summit were recorded, and those videos are now available online. You can also browse through the archive I made of the #FacSumm backchannel.