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Theme: How to adapt the scholarly monograph to the demands of electronic publication.
ESSAY 2: Reinventing the Scholarly Monograph






The scholarly monograph is an endangered species of scholarly communication.






The scholarly monograph exists because some subject matter demands systematic presentation and extended argument.





Can the printed scholarly book be transformed successfully into a site in cyberspace?

The demise of the scholarly monograph?

          As electronic forms of publication gradually replace traditional paper-based publication, the content as well as the style of scholarly writing are bound to be transformed.

          Different types of scholarly writing will be transformed at different rates. Thus, early forms of electronic publication have had little impact on the style and content of articles and reviews of the sort published in traditional print scholarly journals. Print journals that have been made available electronically by their publishers simply reproduce content on Web pages as it appeared in print. In the long run, this practice is bound to change. At the very least, editors of electronic journals will have to break up longer articles and add navigational aids in order to make content properly useful in the electronic medium. But these kinds of editorial changes may not make much difference, at least initially, from the writer's point of view.

          Books or scholarly monographs are a different story, however. It is important to keep in mind that, in the humanities and social sciences, the monograph is the standard literary form of scholarly communication and measure of scholarly achievement. Graduate education in these fields is largely designed to produce authors of scholarly monographs. In the humanities, above all, the subject matter usually demands systematic presentation and extended argument. Thus, it would seem that, at least in the humanities, the subject matter itself requires the continued existence of the scholarly monograph as we have known it for 400 years.

          Yet today it is the scholarly monograph above all that is an endangered species of scholarly communication. It is endangered economically even in its traditional form as a print publication. Most scholarly monographs are published by university presses. Most copies of scholarly monographs are bought by university libraries. In recent years, the budgets of both the publishers and the institutional consumers of scholarly monographs have been dropping steadily. As a result, the expected institutional market for a typical scholarly monograph has fallen from 800-1,000 copies in the late 1980s to about 300 in 2002. In short, the economic underpinnings that have supported the print publication of scholarly monographs are rapidly disappearing.

          Electronic publishing nicely solves this economic problem, but poses a different sort of threat to the scholarly monograph. The scholarly monograph exists because some types of subject matter demand systematic presentation and extended argument. Electronic forms of publishing do not lend themselves well to systematic and extended treatments of subject matter. Webbed or hypertext documents are ideally suited to define relationships dynamically and interactively. They are not well suited for the sustained, extended, and linear presentation of content.

          It would seem, then, that electronic publication may indeed offer a solution to the economic problems now endangering the existence of the scholarly monograph. But adoption of this solution might require a rhetorical and stylistic makeover of the scholarly monograph that would make it not only unrecognizable but also unfit to carry out its special function as a means of scholarly communication.

From printed monograph to electronic site

          Can the scholarly monograph make the transition to electronic publishing without losing its identity? Can the scholarly monograph be reinvented as a type of electronic publication that can serve the intellectual purposes now served by the printed scholarly book? Can the printed scholarly book be transformed successfully into a site in cyberspace? If so, what would such a site look like? How would it work?

          One purpose of this Web site is to offer one possible answer to these questions. The task is to develop a model for the presentation of systematic, continuous, extended argument in a publishing medium that seems alien, if not aggressively hostile, to the linear and cumulative logic of the scholarly monograph.

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Page last edited: 01/20/02

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