The National Endowment for the Humanities has a new plan for attracting more readers to books about literature, history and musicology: Make the books digital, and make them free.
The federal agency’s new Fellowships Open Book Program awards grants of $5,500 to university presses to publish open access, online versions of recent humanities books so that they’re available for anyone to download. The funds help cover the cost of digitization, marketing and an author stipend.
The first twelve awards were announced this week. Titles include “Listening for Africa: Freedom, Modernity, and the Logic of Black Music’s African Origins”; “Imagined Homeland: British Poetry in the Colonies”; and “Make It Rain: State Control of the Atmosphere in Twentieth-Century America.”
Disseminating research about language, culture and art more widely online has become a goal of scholars and librarians, who say the general shift from print to digital materials—and the decline in academic library spending on physical books—has hurt the visibility of humanities scholarship, according to Peter Potter, publishing director of University Libraries at Virginia Tech.
He helps to lead a program whose goals are similar to those of the Fellowships Open Book Program: the Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem project, which raises money from universities to support the publication and digital distribution of open-access versions of academic books.
The COVID-19 health crisis has underscored the importance of making research resources available online, leaders say.
“The current pandemic has heightened the need for scholars to be able to conduct serious research remotely,” said Jon Parrish Peede, National Endowment for the Humanities chairman, in a statement. “The digital editions made possible by these new awards will make superb NEH-funded works freely available to readers across the globe.”
To be eligible for the Fellowships Open Book Program, books must be based on research that was underwritten by one of six specific National Endowment for the Humanities programs, which include awards for faculty of Hispanic-serving institutions, historically black colleges and tribal colleges.
Applications for the second round of funding are due in August. Agency leaders say they are especially interested in supporting projects that relate to American history and culture as part of the “A More Perfect Union” initiative, which is tied to the upcoming 250th anniversary of the founding of the U.S.