e-Lit Resource
Open Humanities Press

Open Humanities Press (OHP) is an initiative launched for the first time in 2008 under the supervision of Sigi Jottkandt and Gary Hall, both Humanities scholars, with the main goal to address the crisis in the traditional humanities publishing system. The crisis has for the last 20-30 years manifested itself in the fee rises in journal subscriptions which forced libraries and other memory institutions to cancel a great deal of these subscriptions and reduce the book purchasing. Over the same period there is a tendency of governments to cut down the budgets for the libraries, the process which accelerated the consolidation of the biggest publishers as the main providers of the research resources. Such a reverse process had a deep impact on academia which finds it even more difficult now to find the relevant resources and materials needed for maintaining scholarly practice and dialogue, and, thus, for producing knowledge necessary for human development.

The particular effect of this crisis happened to be on the scholars in the humanities. The researchers in the sciences have been the pioneers in opening up their research through peer-review journals and publications of their own, they have been quite sensitive to the new developments in technologies, networks and media to adapt their modes of scholarly production and communication quite early. There was always and it is still persistent perception that the humanities scholars, on the other hand, are highly reluctant to accept Internet and other new media as appropriate channels and ways to publish serious scholarly research.

As Sigi Jottkandt mentions in her presentation about OHP such an impact has two aspects, one dealing with the problem of access to the scholarly materials, another with the crisis in access to publishers (Jottkandt, Willinsky, & Kimball, 2009). As the libraries and memory institutions cut in their budgets to keep up with the high prices, the publishers, in their turn, reduce their offerings in the subject areas that consistently fail in getting bought. Thus, a great deal of research and knowledge is shut down from not only the general public, but also from other scholars and researchers.

Ortwin de Graef philosophically compares this status of publishing system to the growth fundamentalism and institutionalised mistrust, “otherwise known as quality control” (de Graef, 2010). The advocates of this system obsessed by the concept of permanent growth do not realize that the natural growth has its limitation in death: “organisms grow, and then they die and there’s an end on it - but the economy, the master model of the human animal in the modern condition (stupid!), must keep growing” (de Graef, 2010).

The principal goal of OHP was to catch up with the open access culture already achieved in the sciences and solve the credibility problem of open access resources in the humanities context. According to Peter Suber, the founder of the term, “Open Access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions” (Suber, 2004). The basic idea of OA is to make peer-reviewed literature available free of charge and freely reused by taking advantage of the low cost and wide access of internet and media technologies. OHP founders decided to meet the communication needs of the scholars working in the humanities. After their observations they found out that humanists primarily treasure a publication’s prestige. When they started their initiative implementation they looked to the Public Library of Science as their model, a high-profile scholar-led publishing initiative supported by senior scholars, but at the same time they were acutely aware of the fact that they had to approach things a bit differently in order to become OA humanities initiative. Many universities worldwide founded Institutional Repositories to support scholars’ self-archiving. University libraries assisted in IR implementation, and in some cases they discovered new ways of promoting OA to scholars for whom the IRs did not meet their communication needs. Scholars themselves started discovering that they could combine their traditional practice of peer-reviewing and editing with publishing open access materials themselves outside commercial publishing channels thanks to collaborations with libraries, other university departments and independent organizations.

According to the Directory of Open Access Journals there are slightly under 10000 OA journals registered at the moment. One of the main functions of OHP is to raise the profile and credibility of some of these journals in the eyes of humanities scholars. At the moment OHP has listed 17 OA leading journals in the fields of critical and cultural theory, among which Electronic Book Review, Fibreculture, Image and Narrative, Inflexions, Culture Machine and Culture Unbound have relevance to the field of literary studies and its convergence with sciences, media and technology. Editorial Oversight Group of OHP, which is made up of rotating 13 scholars drawn from a wider editorial group, assesses these journals according to a set of standards and policies, such as publication standards, technical standards, and intellectual fit. This assessment is wiki-based. The reviewed journals are submitted to the wider Editorial Group which includes high-profile humanities scholars, such as Alain Badiou, Steven Greenblatt, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway , Gayatri Spivak, N. Katherine Hayles, Peter Suber, and John Willinsky. The inclusion of these scholars can give higher recognition of OA journals. The final decision is then submitted by this wider group.

Thus, OHP functions according to 4 major principles:
• Open Scholarship ensured and monitored through a rigorous reviewing process to pass each OA material for its scholarly excellence
• Open Access as it was originally conceived by the founders of OA movement to maximize the scholarly exchange of knowledge
• Diversity with OHP’s mission to include diverse voices, approaches and statements and to aim at the internationally diverse content
• Transparency with OHP’s openness and clarity about their policies and processes

According to OHP’s observation there have been quite a few excellent OA peer-reviewed journals in the humanities fields prior to OHP’s appearance, but they did not get high recognition because they were a bit isolated. One of the potential positive outcomes of OHP existence is that by collecting different OA journals in one database under one umbrella one could show to various humanities communities that there is quite a significant OA activity going on in the humanities as well.

One of such internal umbrellas in OHP database turned to be publishing open access book series in various fields of critical theory and cultural studies. At the moment there are such 5 book series, each has its own advisory board of scholars specializing in the topics discussed in these books. These scholars, since they converge in their scholarly interests and specializations, perform the editorial selection and development of the book series. The publication of book series is assisted by University of Michigan Library’s Scholarly Publishing Office (SPO), the main partner of OHP initiative for this purpose. After the scholars of each book series have produced and selected the finished manuscript or book SPO runs them through their publishing services to produce the final online book, which can be also available for print on demand service. Among other procedures, SPO converts these books into structured XML for electronic version, adds metadata and catalogues them. Finally these books are archived at University of Michigan Library for long-term preservation. Such a collaboration between open access publisher, a university library publishing unit and the scholars-specialists is a good sign and example of how books can be published in open access and how to move books and its readership on the same level as scholarly journals. Somehow the appearance of open access books can positively destabilize the centricity of journal research. As OHP claims, the aim of this project is also to take advantage of the online medium to experiment with new ways of sharing and communicating research in the humanities. For instance, one of the goals of OHP’s book series project is to make the manuscripts available online in various pre- and post-publication versions with possibility for others to comment and annotate the text.

Another OHP’s partner is the Public Knowledge Project (PKP) of open source publishing tools founded by John Willinsky at Stanford University. PKP is a free software for the management, publishing and indexing of journals and other materials. PKP’s suite of services includes Open Journal Systems, Open Conference Systems, Open Archives Harvester, Lemon8-XML, and Open Monograph Press. This software is developed to reduce and automate the typical clerical tasks such as filing, recording and retrieving information. OHP is heavily dependent on this software for maintaining its activities.

OHP contains Labs, an experimental space for OHP community to explore new forms of scholarly communication and exchange. For instance, Feedback Lab, a weblog publication of the critical theory community, is a scholarly online environment with 12 topic-areas, from Literature, Comparative Media and Education to New Ecologies, and Sexualities. Each is edited by a separate desk of chiefs. The weblog format is the electronic realization of the interactions within a critical community, it welcomes theoretical and philosophical posts in a variety of media and formats. “Living Books about Life” Lab containing a series of 24 open access online books on life from both philosophical and biological points of view, bridging the disciplines, represents another new model for publishing open access literature while the presented books are “living”, because they are constantly open to ongoing collaborative processes of writing, editing, updating, remixing and commenting by readers. To protect themselves against possible online vandalism due to the open nature of these books, editorial board of the lab made each introduction, content list and attributions list available as “frozen” PDF file, the system retains all the edits (so it is possible to revert to an earlier version), and they keep all the copies of the “original” books stored in the system for any case. However, according to the OHP’s “Living Books about Life” editorial board, the readers often treat the text as if it has a certain authority to such an extent that the most of what they do is leaving a comment. Perhaps the mentality of online scholarly communication hasn’t gotten over the reluctance to change the artefact. “Living Books about Life” is precisely that project which endeavours to encourage the users to actively participate in collaborative practices by re-writing, correcting and changing the books.

The OHP initiative is quite a young project, but since its beginning in 2008 it has managed to establish a high-profile database of diverse, technologically complex open access literature in the fields of cultural studies and critical theory, but welcoming other humanities disciplines to join them. Within its short history it evolved quite quickly from a database of a couple of OA journals to the 17, it created an alternative publishing system for monographs and scholarly books through the book series project so that it contains now highly prestigious and rigorously peer-reviewed full-text books; in addition, through its book series and labs such as Feedback and Living Books about Life it provided new online spaces for scholarly collaboration, communication and exchange. The initiative is not stopping in its development, but is welcoming new forms of open scholarship in the field of humanities. Especially prone to the multi-disciplinary projects and materials, particularly those bridging humanities with sciences, this is the database which the scholars in digital literature, digital art and textualities could highly benefit from.


de Graef, Ortwin. "Yet the Librarians were not without a Cunning Plan". 8 April 2010. Leuven: Fiesole Collection Development Retreat. Open Humanities Press. Presentation.
Jottkandt, Sigi, Willinsky, John, & Kimball, Shana. "The Role of Libraries in Emerging Models of Scholarly Communications". 13 October 2009. Christchurch: LIANZA. Open Humanities Press. Presentation.
Open Humanities Press. Web. 08 January 2014.
Poynder, Richard. "Open Humanities Press to publish OA books". Open and Shut? Poynder, Richard.
Suber, Peter. "Open Access Overview". Earlham College. Earlham College, June 21, 2004. December 16, 2013.