Session Proposal: How Can We Best Serve Scholarship in Art History—Art, Architecture, and the Digital Future of the Heavily Illustrated Book

I’d like to propose a conversation about the issues associated with publishing heavily illustrated books. (As an university press acquisitions editor for art and architectural history, I admit I have a vested interest in this conversation.)  Art and architectural history books are particularly complicated enterprises. High quality images are essential to the text and the argument in a scholarly art history monograph, they are not simply “bells-and-whistles.” And art history monographs are substantially more expensive to produce than scholarly books in other fields—indeed they generally cost 60-75% more to publish than un-illustrated history or literature titles. Design requirements, the relationship between image and text, image quality, and permissions fees and restrictions all come into play in terms of the printed book. In the context of electronic publishing, these questions become even more prominent.  For example, it can be even more difficult and expensive to obtain electronic publication rights than traditional print rights, especially in the case of works by well-known artists that are still under copyright—think Kahlo or Picasso. In addition, there are still many open questions about how to best exploit the digital medium to convey art historical interpretation in the most effective way. As a consequence, digital publishing in art history has lagged behind electronic publishing in other fields. There have been notable and impressive forays into the enterprise, but they have for the most part centered on museum collections or exhibitions.

By way of some background: The Penn State University Press is a member of a four-press consortium recently funded by the Mellon Foundation to explore these very issues. The presses involved in the Art History Publication Initiative (AHPI www.arthistorypi.org/) include University of Washington Press (lead), Duke University Press, the University of Pennsylvania press, and Penn State. The AHPI’s goal is to move forward toward creating viable models for publishing electronic scholarly monographs in art history, as well as addressing key issues associated with obtaining images and their pendant permissions.

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About Ellie Goodman

I have been an acquisitions editor at the Penn State Press since 2006. My areas are art history, medieval and early modern studies, and Latin American studies. I received my Ph.D. in art history from NYU and my MA in art history from UVA. Aside from publishing, my previous experience includes teaching and positions in research libraries (Frick Art Reference Library and the UVA libraries).

3 Responses to Session Proposal: How Can We Best Serve Scholarship in Art History—Art, Architecture, and the Digital Future of the Heavily Illustrated Book

  1. Profile photo of mkahn mkahn says:

    Thank you for proposing this! As a former art & architecture librarian and current publishing professional, I have also been thinking about the “digital future of the heavily illustrated book” from several angles (bibliographer, teaching librarian, publishing librarian). From my current vantage point, I get questions from authors (well, mostly from their grad student research assistants and visual resources colleagues, to be honest) who are having trouble securing permission to use images for electronic publications or who are being asked to pay astronomical permissions fees because they are looking to use the image in a non-print format. I would love to have a discussion about the issues you’ve raised, as well as how to counsel authors through the process.

    At the very least, I’d love to have a drink with you and pick your brain.

  2. Yes, let’s plan to talk no matter what!

  3. This is a really important topic! One angle, too, is for those of us at libraries to examine under what conditions our own policies are for reproduction of images. It’s not going to help with Kahlo and Picasso, but could with, say, Wenceslaus Hollar!

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