what’s the future of this book?

Over the course of the past year, I’ve been developing my second project with an eye towards digital curation. The project will analyze the roll of state surveillance of sexuality in the modernization of Spain’s Empire under the Bourbon King Carlos III. I’ve been planning a site that will host images of my manuscripts, transcriptions in Spanish of those manuscripts, maps, a database of detainees from jail censuses from the 1750s through the 1780s, a bibliography of work on the Bourbon Spanish Empire, and other miscellaneous items that form the evidentiary basis of what I’ve always imagined would be my second book.

Developing this project was at the root of my submission to Hacking the Academy– ‘The Individual Research Archive: Hacking the “Papers of You”.’ I love the idea of making the process of humanities/history research more open, for both reasons of pedagogy and, well, ideology. I see the academic production of knowledge as the patrimony, or matrimony, of humanity. We historians are all remixers-  we mashup the work of generations past with new methodologies, new sources, and new arguments to advance the historiography. The solitary endeavor of the archival historian is really a mystification of what is at its heart a collaboration beyond temporality and spaciality. That collaboration begins at the moment of document creation, and extends through the present day via preservation, access, and historiography.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been transcribing a number of cases prosecuting the most aberrant sex crimes of the late colonial day- mostly bestiality and sodomy. In the midst of the drudgery of transcription, I’ve been thinking over again and again what I want to accomplish with this project. At its root, I’ve always conceived of the digital curation as one half, and the production of a book that will go towards promotion as a second. My tenure book should be out in September from the University of New Mexico Press, which is very exciting for me of course. I’ve been pursuing this second book as the first worked its way through the publication process. And, as I came to the position that it is a form of scholarly service to digitally curate one’s research process, I’ve also clung to the idea that a paper book is still the ultimate objective. Nothing about that is all that revolutionary. It doesn’t leverage the real possibilities of the medium. I am still bifurcating the notion of long-form narrative from the process of research and the silo of sources. The mashup that is the book perpetuates the mystification of collaboration, of the solitary endeavor, and ultimately an argument from authority. Why not break that down? Why not take the step further and bring the long-form narrative into the sources, and the sources into the narrative?

Well, there is still that question of promotion. Assuming I’m tenured (always a risky assumption, especially in today’s day and age), I want very badly to continue the march toward full professor. With current peer review practices, I’m not sure how to resolve this tension. Ultimately, though, I want to take the risk. So, I’m announcing here, burying the lead, that I’m reconceiving Sex, Crime, and Empire from being a book project with a digital component to being a fully digital project that might have a book component. What I envision right now is bringing the long-form narrative together with source curation in a form that will make transparent, and keep open, the process behind academic history. Exactly how the component parts will fit together is still a mystery to me, but here are some things that I want:

  • Embedded/Linked data between the narrative and the sources– not just footnotes, but reference and presence to specific points in the sources, both facsimile and transcription whenever possible.
  • Mapping of criminal activity
  • Database of defendants, judges, and charges that helps visualize correlations between ethnicity, gender, location, crime, and various royal officials- and a tool to search, produce reports, and visualize this data.
  • Judicious use of images to enhance the texture of time and place.
  • A commitment to preserving the long-form argument.
  • A means for real-time community feedback/review as the project develops.

As for peer-review, I don’t know. It may be that I can find a forward-looking publisher who would release a paper version of the book along the lines Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig’s Digital History. Maybe I can get funding from national agencies as part of a pre-review paper trail, and then convince my department to arrange for post-peer review akin to external reviewers for tenure and promotion.

Any thoughts? What would you like to see in a digital project that exploits both sides of digital history practice?


Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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Posted in Books, Digital History, Latin American History, Research and Writing

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Chad Black

I, your humble contributor, am Chad Black. You can also find me on the web here.
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