Rediscovering History: Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement

"It's an entrepreneurial kind of experimental project," says Sylvia Miller, considering the four-year arc of "Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement." "It's about publishing—about coming together and publishing in new and innovative ways."

The ideas behind Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement (LCRM, for short) have become accepted goals today, but in 2008, they embodied one of the first intra-institutional library-press collaborations funded by the Mellon Foundation. Publishing the LCRM began as a grant for the University of North Carolina Press to work with the UNC Special Collections Library, the Southern Oral History Program, and the UNC School of Law's Center for Civil Rights to improve access to primary-source materials; to improve scholarly communications; and to collaborate on, discuss, and publish new research.

The goals of the project quickly evolved into a four part "wish list": an online resource for unique content, an online space for scholarly communication and collaboration, online publishing services for scholarly collaboration and peer review, and new publications, both online and in print.

After four years and one grant renewal, Miller, the project director, reports that "one thing I learned ... was to appreciate more closely what libraries and archives are doing in digitizing vast amounts of material and making it public online—broadly speaking, another kind of publishing." Finding new ways to integrate digitized, archived, primary-source materials into scholarly publications has become a focal point of the project, to the delight of authors, archivists, scholars, and teachers. One pilot project e-text, supplemented with archival documents, generated dozens of comments from students (see link "Chapter 4"); and in a recent project survey, 89% of academics responded positively to using enhanced e-books for teaching and research.

At the UNC Press, LCRM pilots have led to the re-development of Freedom's Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark, previously released as a hardback, but soon to be re-released as an enriched e-text shortly after the paperback. The e-version of Freedom's Teacher will be enhanced by audio links of related oral histories and by materials from the College of Charleston's Low Country Digital Library—including Clark's own personal scrapbook. The press has also re-released Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues, and its elegant integration of archival materials is shown here on YouTube. These titles are examples of the press's new "portal books," or books with attached materials that also link to archives.

The Press is now reviewing its backlist for other potential "retrospective" enhanced e-books, while simultaneously establishing processes for incorporating such plans into the development of new titles. The library is continuing to digitize their vast civil rights collection, along with the rest of the Southern Oral History Program's audio collections. And the press and library continue to work together—with renewed Mellon funding—to launch DocSouth Books, a new LCRM series of print-on-demand titles from the library's archival materials.

Kate Torrey, longtime Director of UNC Press, reflects that through this project "we've collaborated with several partners on the Chapel Hill campus and—both individually and collectively—had the opportunity to do many things that would otherwise have been very difficult, if not downright impossible." These include "creating different kinds of digital publications," like e-book shorts; brainstorming app ideas; and developing, early on, conversion protocols for XML and EPUB.

"For scholars of recent history—especially civil rights scholars—oral-history interviews are increasingly integral to the research process," Miller notes. "Letters, newspaper articles, documents, photographs, and oral histories constitute what we might call the historian's data set ... we are positing that future published scholarship might be routinely connected to this data set."

Regan Colestock
Communications Coordinator, AAUP