National Historical Publications & Records Commission

Digital Edition Publishing Cooperatives

Since the early 1990s, scholarly editors have been exploring and developing a range of platforms, methods, and editorial practices for providing intellectual access to primary sources through digital documentary editions. This experimentation in edition-making has shown how effective the digital medium can be in advancing historical and literary study, while helping both scholars and fellow editors address common problems in presenting, analyzing, and interpreting texts and related works in multiple formats. Increasingly, this intellectual work has extended to include new methods of analysis, visualizations, and other tools that allow editions to take fuller advantage of the digital medium.

Despite this progress, digital publication remains an enormous challenge. Many editors still find it difficult to build and maintain the digital infrastructure needed to create and disseminate editions and, with few exceptions, to find predictable, affordable, and sustainable publication channels. At the 2016 Scholarly Communications Institute (SCI) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a group of scholars, technologists, editors, and publishers deliberated on these concerns and the potential of creating a sustainable digital edition “ecosystem.”

As the practice of scholarly editing moves online, the makers of digital editions have much to gain from sharing technology, information standards, editorial practices, research on sources, and mechanisms for disseminating and discovering their work. To address the constraints of single, isolated projects, the SCI group recommended the creation of strong networks of projects working as edition-making cooperatives.

From that common goal, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the NHPRC collaborated to create the Digital Edition Publishing Cooperatives grant program. This initiative has a multiphase timeline. In December 2017, eight institutions were selected for planning grants for a yearlong process to plan and design a publishing cooperative. Each project is administered by a U.S. institution, and several have international partners. A second call will follow in 2019 for implementation proposals.

The eight projects are:

  • A 21st-Century Digital Platform for 19th-Century Analog Content 
    The Massachusetts Historical Society is developing a digital edition publishing cooperative for editions of materials dating from the “long nineteenth century,” from the onset of the French Revolution to the outbreak of World War I.

  • REED London: Creating Collaborative Environments for Editorial Publication 
    Records of Early English Drama (REED) is an international scholarly project that provides online access to historical and bibliographical materials essential for the study of performance, theatre, secular music, and other communal entertainment in Medieval and Early Modern Britain.

  • Modern African American Freedom Struggle Digital Publishing Cooperative
    The papers of three distinguished African Americans known for their social justice activism--The Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers project, the Papers of Clarence Mitchell, Jr. and of the NAACP Washington Bureau, and the Howard Thurman Papers project--are developing a digital edition publishing cooperative to support editions in modern African American history.

  • ARCScholar: A Digital Publishing Cooperative
    This collaboration of five digital publishers and seven electronic digital scholarly editions seeks to determine how best to share each other’s tools; to provide interoperability among different platforms in the digital publishing ecosystem; and to submit editions to libraries for archiving, and maximize their discoverability.

  • Nineteenth Century Digital Cooperative
    The NCDC is a cooperative of three editing projects seeking innovative ways to integrate and provide research access to biographical data drawn from the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition, the Frederick Douglass Papers, and the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.

  • Scholarship in 3D Digital Edition Publishing Cooperative
    Members of the 3D Cooperative planning team are reimagining the online publishing of digital editions, integrating 3D with traditional narrative and multimedia, while creating and disseminating academic publishing editions that showcase rich annotation and deep explanation integrated with interactive 3D content.

  • University of Virginia Digital Publishing Cooperative
    Led by the Center for Digital Editing and the University of Virginia Press, the Cooperative brings together projects representing the best practices of traditional documentary editing, federated approaches to digital editing workflows, and editing of multimedia resources.  

  • Digital Edition Publishing Cooperative for Historical Accounts (DEPCHA)
    This unique publishing cooperative builds on the technical expertise of the MEDEA Project to offer publication and access services for editions of historical accounting records.