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Kenneth M. Price’s candid appraisal of the successes and struggles of two digital projects highlighted for me several core tensions confronting scholarly publishing in a digital age. The first issue is the difficulty of drawing boundaries around editorial projects such as the Walt Whitman Archive or the Civil War Washington Project. Regardless of whether they start out with a comprehensive editorial plan, as with the Whitman Archive, or with more modest initial goals and a path toward eclectic expansion in the “always in beta” mode common on the web, as with Civil War Washington, these productions inevitably encounter hard choices of inclusion and exclusion, with the constant worry about too-narrow parameters. Second comes the question of validation. How can the Civil War Washington project receive the same respect and credit given to more traditional forms such as the print monograph? Third, how can all such digital projects sustain themselves?

I too have encountered these issues repeatedly, and so have a shorthand for each, horribly misappropriated from Francis Bacon: the Idols of the Cave , the Idols of the Tribe , and the Idols of the Marketplace . In online publishing, the Idols of the Cave entail a failure of digital collections to look outside of themselves; the Idols of the Tribe, the failure of scholarly communities to think beyond established modes of publication and associated reputational analysis; the Idols of the Marketplace, the difficulty of envisioning sustainable financial models that also promote core academic values.

These are all issues, in the spirit of Bacon, stemming from inflexible mental states—the difficulty of changing perception clouded by tradition, culture, and human nature. To smash these idols, it is helpful to look at the structures of the vernacular web and how they might inform the composition of academic digital work, rather than the reverse: constantly trying to impose academic structures on the medium. Without understanding what makes the vernacular web effective and powerful, academics working online will fail to use it well and our projects will look less like innovations and more like awkward hangovers from a disappearing past. Price, like the rest of us, is struggling to emerge from that past.

The idols of the cave

In his black comedy The Thought Gang , the novelist Tibor Fischer writes of a lackadaisical, failed academic philosopher named Coffin who livens up his dismal existence by going on a bank-robbing spree. Tibor Fischer, The Thought Gang (New York: The New Press, 1995). Fischer perfectly encapsulates Coffin’s inadequacy when he notes the philosopher’s choice of specialization: the Ionian philosophers. Why the Ionians? Because the miniscule fragments of their extant thought can be contained in a rather small edited series that one can read in short order. Nothing better for the lazy academic.

Beyond the Presocratics, however, most primary sources are not so easily contained, and all efforts to encapsulate them in edited volumes necessarily fail to capture their entirety. Price lays out this issue well. Is “Whitman” just what he wrote, or what others wrote to him or about him? What about where he lived and what he lived through? What does a thorough description of a city in a place and time include or exclude? Once liberated from the physical constraints of print editions, this concern intensifies enormously. The academic propensity to look for specific value in documents, and thus their inclusion or exclusion from a collection, is confounded by the possibility of including it all online.

Questions & Answers

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s. Reply
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s. Reply
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s. Reply
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Himanshu Reply
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In this morden time nanotechnology used in many field . 1-Electronics-manufacturad IC ,RAM,MRAM,solar panel etc 2-Helth and Medical-Nanomedicine,Drug Dilivery for cancer treatment etc 3- Atomobile -MEMS, Coating on car etc. and may other field for details you can check at Google
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Prasenjit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Online humanities scholarship: the shape of things to come. OpenStax CNX. May 08, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11199/1.1
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