On February 14, we made a great match. Together with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and our own National Historical Publications & Records Commission, we announced the eight planning-grant recipients for our joint Digital Edition Publishing Cooperatives Program. These eight cooperatives will test out new ways of making historical records more readily accessible to scholars, students, & the American people.
Our business since 1934 has been not only to preserve records but to provide public access to them. Rather than sitting in boxes (or up in the cloud), records are most valuable when they are used.
Thatâs the whole point of the National Historical Publications & Records Commission: to find the best ways to make historical records public, to enable people to easily find, understand, & use the primary sources to tell the American story. Through grants by National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC), the National Archives has for decades played an essential role in building the nationâs historical infrastructure, funding hundreds of archival projects, microfilm editions, & some of the nationâs most important documentary editions in print and online.
Perhaps the best example is our long-time support of six major Founding Fathers projects, first through bound print editions available at libraries but now freely available via Founders Online.
This new NHPRC-Mellon partnership will help more documentary editing projects navigate the ongoing transformation from print to digital publication. Individual scholarly editions continue to find it difficult to build and maintain their own digital infrastructure for creating & disseminating their work, and most producers of digital scholarly editions lack access to predictable, affordable, & sustainable publication channels. Thatâs why, in fall 2016, NHPRC staff convened a working group on âBuilding a Sustainable Digital Edition Ecosystemâ for the Mellon-funded Scholarly Communications Institute, held each year at Duke University. The TriangleSCI working group included historians, documentary editors, archivists, digital humanists, programmers, & university press / library publishers. Each brought new insights for building a sustainable future for the digital edition.
The NHPRC-Mellon Digital Edition Publishing Cooperatives Program, which we first announced in 2017, was a direct outgrowth of their deliberations. The initiative is notable for several reasons. First & foremost, it âdoes not seek to create or impose a specific framework or platform. Rather, it proposes a process for project teams to buildâfrom the ground up rather than from the top downâa cooperative infrastructure for publication based on their own needs and capacities.â Further, the initiative seeks ways to âexploit the synergies among editionsâ that âenable them to interact.â
True to the vision of the TriangleSCI working group, the âinfrastructureâ includes more than just âtechnological systems (such as digital repositories or discovery tools).â It also includes human infrastructures–âshared standards, semantics, practices, & policiesâ–that can only be arrived at through discussion & compromise.
Recognizing that âmodern digital scholarly editing practice does not take place in isolation,â the initiative addresses issues of longstanding concern here at NARA & in archives across the nation. How can digital editions take advantage of shared information resources–such as the Social Networks & Archival Context (SNAC) Research Tool, which is addressing a long-standing research challenge: discovering, locating, and using distributed historical records? A key premise of the initiative is that âa strong network of projects working cooperatively can help overcome the limits of single projects.â
As Chair of the Commission, I am am proud to see NHPRC taking a leading role in catalyzing what is sure to be a far-reaching, & much-needed, experiment in how to build a sustainable publication infrastructure for ongoing & future scholarly historical editions. These CooperativesÂ are the R&D for new ways of thinking about our work to preserve & to publish. We have a great partner in the Mellon Foundation, and we have eight projects to see how we together can revolutionize the ways we build & sustain new digital editions of historical records.
Learn more and see descriptions of the eight grant winners here.