Monday, September 28, 2009

SNEAK PREVIEW: The 2009 Compass Interdisciplinary Virtual Conference--Breaking Down Barriers

by EILEEN JOY

I very much want to jump into all of the conversations regarding the recent discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard, but I also wanted to offer a sneak preview of Wiley-Blackwell Publishers' upcoming virtual [and entirely free of charge] interdisciplinary conference, "Breaking Down Barriers," which promises to comprise the largest meeting ever of scholars in the humanities and social sciences, and which will run online from October 19th through 30th. The conference aims to cut across academic boundaries – within and between disciplines, between theory and practice, approaches and methodologies by providing a space for multi- and cross-disciplinary review. Papers will tackle one or more of the following sub-themes:
• Paradigms
• Borders
• The Environment/Energy
• Communication
• Justice/Human Rights
I myself will be presenting a keynote address relative to the thread of Justice and Human Rights: "Reading Beowulf in the Rubble of Grozny: Pre/modern, Post/human, and the Question of Being-Together," and other keynote speakers include scholars from social psychology, history, philosophy, linguistics, and physical geography. In addition, there are quite a few papers by medievalists in areas such as disability and waste studies.

Registration for the conference is entirely free at this website and registered delegates will be able to access all papers, keynote addresses and publishing workshops for free. Delegates will also be able to discuss all content and participate in the debates. Currently there are over 700 registered delegates from the U.S., U.K., South America, Canada, Australia, China, Egypt, Germany, Bosnia, India, Iran, Israel, Africa, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, Pakistan, the Netherlands, and many other countries. I see this as a timely opportunity for medievalists to enter into an invigorating global dialogue and debate with scholars in multiple disciplines in the humanities and social sciences who are concerned with pressing contemporary issues to which premodern studies offer critical resources for reflection.

The conference organizers are already offering sneak peeks at a wide variety of papers to be presented, and if you follow this link to the conference's website, you can see there some of those, such as the medievalist Wendy Turner's paper, "Human Rights, Royal Rights, and the Mentally Disabled in Late Medieval England," and other papers that promise fascinating discussions that touch upon subjects that have vexed and concerned us here at In The Middle, such as Adam Brown's [Deakin University] paper, "Beyond 'Good' and 'Evil': Breaking Down Binary Oppositions in Holocaust Representations of 'Privileged' Jews," as well as Daniel Wasserman Soler's [University of Virginia] "Language and Communication in the Spanish Conquest of America."

There will also be an ongoing set of informal conversations between keynote speakers and conference delegates at a cocktail bar in Second Life, which you can see more about here. So, perhaps I will "see" you there. Cheers.

4 comments:

Matt said...

Fantabulous! Thanks for the heads up...

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

This conference looks like it will be meeting of the disciplines that will also be truly pathbreaking: a virtual conference complete with virtual cocktails. Plus, reading papers is actually a better way to comprehend them than listening to speakers read papers.

Here's the one thing that has been in the back of my mind ever since the conference has been announced -- actually, ever since Literature Compass and History Compass came into being: their corporate sponsorship. The institutional price for access to those last two sites is high enough that my own university doesn't subscribe: I have to get articles from them via ILL. To have the entire conference unfold within a corporately owned space is surely as innovative as to have it unfold virtually.

So, what's in it for Blackwell Publishing? How does the conference fit into their own strategic plans and company goals? Does their sponsorship mean anything, and is it worth exploring the significance of that sponsorship? Is sponsorship a potential barrier that can't be broken down?

From everything I've seen it looks like Blackwell is completely hands off about content (no attempt at regulation, and a corporate disclaimer about what is published). I imagine that they are like Palgrave with New Middle Ages and postmedieval: a company with the resources to enable something novel to unfold, and something we will benefit from. But as with Palgrave there must be a price to pay ($90 books for example). What does Blackwell gain from the conference, and should that be part of the conference discussion?

Eileen Joy said...

Jeffrey: I could not agree with you more about the overly high cost of Blackwell's [now Wiley-Blackwell's] overly high subscription costs for its online Compass journals [there is also a Philosophy Compass, in addition to the History and Literature versions]. I am on the Editorial Board of Literature Compass and MY library won't even subscribe. And as we've discussed here before, the cost of the books in Palgrave's New Middle Ages series [typically in the $80-90 range] is absolutely ridiculous. Why can't they have, say, a multi-tiered set of offerings? For example, a hardbound edition with archival-quality printing for university libraries that would be in the $80 range, paperbound "on demand" editions for about half that much, and full-text online editions for 1/4-th that amount? That way, instituions, scholars, and students all purchase the book and the publisher makes more money. Also to be considered, though: publishers can't keep squeezing the life out of institutional library budgets without *some* thought as to the long-term status of this situation--id est, the lease on this so-called long-term situation is running out as more and more libraries are turning their back on investing, long-term, in the storage of print materials. And charging more for something--id est, more than its value in the open, circulating, "free" market--just because you can get away with it, and because institutions supposedly have a mandate to purchase as much as possible in particular disciplines and therefore their budgetary "hands" are tied, is not, again, a tenable situation in the long term. I think corporate publishers are actually aware of this state of affairs and are even panicking a bit as a result, and hopefully, thinking up innovative ways to get more content out there via a variety of delivery platforms and gradated pricing schedules. If enough intelligent persons put their heads together, I honestly believe there is a way to increase output of articles and books while also making money--after all, we *do* need this stuff, and for a variety of reasons.

Eileen Joy said...

Now, as to what Wiley-Blackwell gets out of sponsoring and hosting this virtual and *free* conference is, I believe, potential subscribers to their Compass journals, where the proceedings are going to be ultimately published. Although, I must also say that the editors and organizers are all academics or former academics who really believe in their mission for this conference--id est, to open up more spaces for critical dialogue and debate across the humanities and social sciences relative to important pressing concerns, such as the environment and human rights. In that sense, and having worked on this from the inside, I really commend them and the money they are spending [stipends for keynote speakers were generous, I might add, and various editors and production staff have put in loads and loads of hours into the organizing, website, podcasts, etc.--keynote addresses, by the way, are audio files with images, with written text also being made available; for example, I put loads of bibliographic information into the written for of my talk, in order to assist those interested in my topic with further reading and research].

As to the BABEL Working Group's partnership with Palgrave for the production of "postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies" [debuting in March 2010], I must say that I've been somewhat astonished at Palgrave's willingness to compromise on matters of design, subscription pricing, and availability of content online and in print. So, for example, they arranged special pricing for authors in the New Middle Ages series and members of BABEL, and they have also agreed to make a certain number of essays in each issue free online. Further, they have agreed to make the *entire* content of the inaugural issue free online, and their individual subscription rate of 45 GBP is, I really believe, quite reasonable for an academic journal--well, it will be more reasonable for those of us in the States when the exchange rates settle down]. In addition, through a Twitter site that Palgrave set up, we are going to have free articles available for "preview" *prior* to individual issue publication. Also, and correct me if I'm wrong because I don't actually have a lot of background knowledge in this area, but the U.S. library subscription rate for "postmedieval" is $375, which I don't think is terribly outrageous.