Introducing Anvil Academic: Developing Publishing Models for the Digital Humanities

July 19, 2013, 08:30 | Short Paper, Embassy Regents E


Academic publishing provides vital services, including acquisition, peer review, editing, and distribution of scholarship. Yet there are too few venues for publishing digital humanities works, particularly on native platforms that represent the richness of this work and allow for interaction. This paper will introduce Anvil Academic [1] , a new joint initiative of the Council for Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE). Other sponsors include Stanford University, Washington University, Amherst College, Middlebury College, Bryn Mawr College, Southwestern University, NINES at the University of Virginia, and the Brown Foundation.

Anvil aims to address the current crisis in academic publishing by applying the time-honored editorial and peer review practices of publishing to the emerging world of digitally mediated humanities scholarship. In particular, Anvil will focus on four key (and sometimes overlapping) genres: data-driven projects that explore patterns in rich collections of humanities information; multi-modal titles using various modes of display and representation; networked authorship projects that facilitate conversation and connections; and flexible, interactive, media-rich educational resources. As an entrepreneurial, open-access publisher of peer-reviewed digital humanities scholarship, Anvil intends to help bring the digital humanities into the academic mainstream by forging new, sustainable models for publishing as the world of scholarly communication turns steadily digital.

Starting up a new open access, all-digital academic press for the digital humanities presents several challenges. What peer review standards and processes should be used to give credibility to digital scholarship, offer useful feedback for improving it, and promote community and conversation? What are the best technical and logistical approaches to publishing works that exist on a range of platforms and in a diversity of formats? How will these published works be preserved? What business models will enable an open access humanities press to provide core services and sustain itself? While we do not have definitive answers to these questions, we will discuss the contexts and strategies that inform Anvil’s approach.

The Rationale for Anvil

Over the last decade, a rich body of humanities work featuring digital curation, data visualization, network analysis, text mining, multimodal argumentation, and other approaches has demonstrated the vitality and creativity of the digital humanities [2] . Despite its growth, this scholarship has yet to enter the academic mainstream in the way that analog research (words printed on paper or screen and distributed in the form of monographs and journal articles) has. Publishers still print and distribute academic monographs through sales channels, albeit to ever-fewer purchasers, most of which are libraries that find circulation of such books plummeting [3] . Yet traditional book/journal publication still enjoys unequalled status in the evaluation of applications for tenure and promotion while just as — or even more — deserving work in digital scholarship often goes unrewarded [4] .

Barriers facing digital scholarship include the conservatism of academic culture and the lack of respected entities for evaluating and disseminating this work. Some academics regard digital scholarship as second-rate work that has not undergone the scrutiny of credible peer review [5] . Others are reluctant to jeopardize their tenure and promotion prospects by disseminating their work through non-traditional means. In a prestige marketplace where a publisher’s reputation is a primary determining factor in measuring the worth of an academic’s published research, digital humanities need an organization to fulfill a role similar to that of the publisher in the analog world.

Anvil: The Way Forward

In its start-up phase, Anvil is confronting three core challenges:

Validating and Improving Scholarship through Peer Review and Editing

In essence, Anvil Academic aims to determine how a publisher of digital humanities scholarship can bring useful evaluation rubrics to the digital world, and to work with scholars to optimize and improve their work in order to make it publishable through rigorous editing and peer review. By defining and stepping into this role, Anvil seeks to bring order and coherence to a digital scholarship space that currently lacks the kind of guidance toward refined argument traditionally provided to the academic world by the scholarly publisher.

To demonstrate the credibility of digital scholarship, Anvil will involve both traditional and digital scholars in our peer review and acquisitions procedures. Drawing upon prior work on evaluating digital scholarship, we also will develop and implement rigorous standards for acceptance by Anvil. That acceptance will be contingent upon the rationale for the project’s being digital and for what the project contributes to the state of the (digital) art in the humanities, as well as the project’s contribution to the overall body of scholarship in its subject area. By carefully editing (in the senses of acquisitions editing, developmental editing, line editing, copy editing) the work, Anvil aims to demonstrate both the value of the publisher’s role in the digital humanities and the value of digital work to humanities disciplines.

Platforms and Technical Skills

Anvil believes that a digital humanities publisher needs to be platform-independent: that is, the published works must be displayed in their native environments, so as to avoid the substantial costs and headaches of re-authoring complex works for the sake of making them suitable for a one-size-fits all authoring/viewing environment. Anvil thus focuses on providing editorial, marketing, distribution, cataloging, and preservation services rather than platforms in order to make electronic publishing of complex works economically feasible and to allow authors the fullest possible creative freedom. To facilitate the sustainability and reusability of digital scholarship, Anvil will encourage the use of open platforms, open licenses and open web standards. Anvil also uses the Internet Archive’s Archive-It service to catalog and store titles in the Internet Archive and in LOCKSS, and is exploring a similar arrangement with HathiTrust. For some works that can be more constrained in their technical approaches, Anvil may provide hosting, but many Anvil publications will be hosted in their native environments, marked as Anvil publications and made available in Anvil’s catalog. Anvil thus explores what it means to publish in a disaggregated environment where some services are provided through partnerships.

Business Models

Core to Anvil’s mission is making publications available as open access, an approach consistent with the values and practices of the digital humanities community. Unfortunately, no single model for sustaining open monograph publishing has yet emerged. As Anvil explores how to provide the funding necessary to sustain digital publishing, it will experiment with several approaches, such as membership, fee-for service, sales of distilled app versions of Anvil titles, and grant funding.

It should be stressed that Anvil is in a proof-of-concept startup phase; as we grow, and as we acquire more funding, we will be adding to our arsenal of editorial, curatorial, and preservation resources and partnerships. In discussions with us, preservation of titles is the leading item of concern to authors of digital work.


The Anvil experiment hopes to bring digital humanities scholarship to a larger readership and to evangelize to the higher-education establishment for new-form scholarly work. Part of our mission is to work at persuading department chairs and administrators of the worth (and the measurability of that worth) of digitally mediated scholarly research and argument. Also critical to the Anvil experiment and mission is our intent to be as public as possible with our processes, so as to demonstrate to skeptics the worth and rigor of our editorial effort and the related worth of the resulting published work. Finally, Anvil aims to advance the state of the art in digitally mediated humanities scholarship, helping to set and demonstrate standards for assessing not only the scholarly content of such work but its methodology. We hope as well to demonstrate both the worth and the feasibility of publishing in the post-monograph space, so that more publishers will join in this effort, our combined presence growing into a cooperative/competitive effort that in the long run benefits—and advances—digital humanities as a whole.


Some leading examples of such work can be found in Christa Williford and Charles Henry, One Culture. Computationally Intensive Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences. CLIR, June 2012, http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub151.
See “Report of the Executive Collection Development Executive Committee Task Force on Print Collection Usage Cornell University Library,” http://staffweb.library.cornell.edu/system/files/CollectionUsageTF_ReportFinal11-22-10.pdf (Oct. 22, 2010, revised Nov. 22, 2010), p. 2.
Notwithstanding efforts like the Modern Language Association’s guidelines for evaluating digital humanities scholarship, first approved by the MLA Executive Council in May 2000 and last reviewed by the Committee on Information Technology in January 2012. See “Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities and Digital Media,” http://www.mla.org/guidelines_evaluation_digital.
See, for example, Gary A. Olson, “How Not to Reform Humanities Scholarship.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 9, 2012, http://chronicle.com/article/How-Not-to-Reform-Humanities/130675/.
See Diane Harley, Sophia Krysz Acord, Sarah Earl-Novel, Shannon, Lawrence and C. Judson. King, Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines. UC Berkeley: Center for Studies in Higher Education, 2010, http://cshe.berkeley.edu/publications/publications.php?id=351.
Among our exemplars in evaluating scholarship is NINES (http://www.nines.org/about/scholarship/peer-review/).
See Raym Crow, Income models for Open Access: An overview of current practice. SPARC, September 2009, http://www.arl.org/sparc/publisher/incomemodels/imguide.shtml