The advent of the so-called Information Age—characterized by both the overwhelming volume and bewildering speed of media sources—has not advanced a new age of deeper, more perceptive exploration of questions in the public square. The abundance of voices and commentators vying for public attention or political influence has, if anything, yielded superficial analysis, impatience for complexity, and argument unrooted in a deeper engagement with scholarly inquiry.
In this cacophony, the unique power of the humanities to offer perspective and insight has been too often drowned out—or sidelined in small, rarefied conversations largely inaccessible to a non-specialist, but engaged, citizenry. In the absence of that voice our public square becomes a place lacking tools of reflection and reference, and ill-equipped to separate bluster from substance. Thinkers and writers able to construct and develop a sustained argument relating both the perspective of the past and the prospect of the future to the context of the present have few effective outlets through which to offer their perspectives.
Public Works proposes to be just such a forum. Conceived as a “digital pamphlet” series, these works will seek out and make available the perspective of leading scholars in the humanities on questions emerging as having long-term significance in our public conversation, and demanding more discerning examination and penetrating insight. Shorter than monographs (ranging between 7,000 and 15,000 words), these works will offer both authors and readers the freedom of long-form essays and the tools of digital media to see through the lens of the human experience the seemingly intractable questions confronting an complex, deeply interconnected, and sometimes shockingly violent world.
Essays published in the Public Works series will be available as open-access works of scholarship, immediately and freely available to readers and thinkers everywhere. As digital works, they will be published to the web and also downloadable to a variety of reading devices. They will also be available at a modest cost in print editions.
The crossroads of legal scholarship and literary criticism has, over more than forty years of writing and research, become a busy intellectual intersection. As a ground of inquiry, law and literature has transformed from a novel set of proposals to a mature field of study and writing, with well-established perspectives and positions, courses offered for both undergraduates and law students, and the emergence of its own journals. Writers who have shaped the field include legal and political theorists, jurists, literary scholars, ethnographers, and historians.
Despite these accomplishments it remains the case, as Kenji Yoshino observed nearly ten years ago, that “law and literature has been caught in limbo for a particularly long time.” The early division in the field between law-in-literature and law-as-literature has been exhaustively explored. The time is ripe for the encouragement and development of new approaches in the field, pathways offering the possibility of greater insights and new analyses of challenges confronting societies in a variety of cultures and legal orders.
Laws, Literatures, and Cultures, a new series supported by the Amherst College Press, will provide a forum for this work. As a digital-first, open-access scholarly publisher, the Amherst College Press offers scholars working at the intersections of these questions new tools for supporting research and publishing—and the potential of greatly increased impact through immediate and unfettered access to titles we produce.
In our new series, we are seeking work that will set law, literature, and culture in new dialogues, exploring the textual dimensions and cultural work of law and the legal frameworks of literature. Law and literature have for millennia been closely allied, as means of persuasion and the creation of cultural norms. Setting law and literature in juxtaposition permits a mapping from one to the other that often produces startling and important results. In addition, we seek work that brings literary, legal, and/or cultural analysis together to explore specific social and political problems and that attends carefully to historical contexts and issues.
We also seek work expanding the consideration of these questions to cultural settings, literary traditions, and legal systems outside the common law. Of particular interest are works that define and argue a thesis drawing on both textual and non-textual sources for which a multimodal, digital presentation offers unique expressive power.
Laws, Literatures, and Cultures will entertain proposals for works of all forms, from longer, traditional monograph-length studies to collections of shorter works. We are open as well to projects with no clear parallel in the print tradition. In the case of all our works we will subject submissions to a rigorous process of peer review and evaluation.. Upon release, works will be supported by the Press’s commitment to creating pathways to annotation and comment from the community of scholars and students engaging with our work. While developed in the first instance as web-based and downloadable digital works, books in the series will also be prepared and released as printed works through a print-on-demand pathway.
The Amherst Series in Ethnomusicology offers scholars in the field a more holistic means of communicating the ideas, sounds, and sights that are of central importance to their work. In supporting this series, the objective of the Press is nothing short of stimulating the emergence of new standards of scholarship and public engagement in the field of ethnomusicology through pressing forward the full realization of the potential inherent in digital technology. By providing these works to the community of scholars and to broader audiences on an open-access basis, we intend to make the fruits of scholarship in this field available, to an unparalleled degree, to the peoples and cultures we study and to diverse academic and non-academic readerships.
Conceived as digital-first works, titles in the Amherst Series in Ethnomusicology will discover, nurture, and promote multimodal and nonlinear representation and more collaborative modes of scholarship. The series particularly seeks authors and approaches that will engage the peoples and cultures of the world’s musical expressions as partners in the work, offering not only our colleagues but our field-work interlocutors a voice in the conversation of scholarship through the utilization of technology supporting the emergence of a commenting and annotating community.
We will develop these works in more collaborative ways, supplementing traditional processes of peer review with approaches that value not merely the scholarly content of a final product but the intellectual contributions of the working process of ethnography and digital scholarship—the collection of field data, the synthesis of narrative and documentary record (audio, video, and transcription), and the engagement with other disciplines and scholarly perspectives. All of these elements of the research ethnomusicologists do create digital artifacts that, in turn, will become part of the infrastructure we create to support, extend, and communicate research in this and other fields in the humanities.
Guided with input from a colloquy of some fourteen senior and junior faculty in the field drawn from across the nation and hosted in August of 2014 by the Amherst College Press, we now seek submissions from scholars eager to explore how the possibilities of digital technology can support the communication of their ideas to colleagues, students, and an interested readership/listenership of potentially global reach. We are especially eager to hear from scholars now at a point early in the development of their projects, so as better to enable the press to understand and support the development of the digital requirements underlying the vision of a given project. Advising us on the work will be a team of colleagues in other institutions with strong capabilities in the digital humanities (notably Hamilton College’s Digital Humanities Initiative) and leaders of the field’s learned society, the Society for Ethnomusicology. All this will be supported by the editorial capability of the Amherst College Press to assure rigorous review of each phase of the new work. At the highest level of our aspiration, we hope that the process, infrastructure, and result of our efforts can offer new pathways for scholarship in other fields of the humanities—fields increasingly challenged by the limits of traditional modes of scholarly communication.
As works licensed under Creative Commons licenses, the work of our authors will acknowledge and guard the creative rights of interlocutors in the work by prohibiting the commercial or derivative use of materials collected under conditions of adherence to the ethical practice guidelines of the Society for Ethnomusicology.