Inside/Out: Navigating the Path from Scholarship to Visibility

Curator's Note

Ross Melnick and Emily Carman’s recent In Focus assembled a diverse set of testimonies on the state of academic publishing from scholars at different stages in their careers. This series of short essays resonated with me as a scholar mired in the process of promoting his first book. The research and writing phase of Projecting Race: Postwar America, Civil Rights, and Documentary Film was an approximately seven year process that involved visits to six different archives and a few home visits with several filmmakers, including Colin Low. Throughout that time, the production of the book was for me an insular process involving multiple false starts and revisions. I felt as if I was living in my head at times and it did not help that my focus for the book was on film practices that were overlooked or, in some cases, nearly unknown. Many of these films were what Low described as “vertical films,” short works of portraiture that highlighted suppressed and overlooked aspects of a community (such as the one included here: “The Street Academy” from The Hartford Project (1969), a documentary film series jointly produced by the National Film Board of Canada and the Office of Economic Opportunity). Now that my book is published, I am struggling to transition out of the insular posture that has dogged me throughout the book’s creation. What I need now is an opposite attitude, one that generates awareness and even enthusiasm for the scholarship the book represents. An idea that is helping me transition from one mindset to the other is that the verticality of these films, which contributed to their anonymity, renders these texts easy to upload and share online. So in addition to the usual act of posting announcements of the book’s publication on various listservs, including Visible Evidence, I am trying to embrace the potential of the digital transition to which Carman and Melnick refer in their opening preamble to their recent In Focus. An argument I tried to make in the book was that the conditions of the present help us see the past differently and brings certain overlooked historical experiences to the fore. Now as I pivot (groan) to embrace a more promotional posture that argument returns to me in a new form as I set up new digital outlets for scholars to view the vertical works discussed in my book.


I see synergy with your observations, Steve, and those that Eric made earlier this week on open access publishing. Eric astutely noted how we as scholars need to take responsibility for the accessibility of our published work. You take this argument one step further and underscore a scholarly responsibility to the promotion of our subjects -- which in the context of your excellent new book, means getting these films out there and seen. In this case, the promotion of your book and the documentary films that you write about can be synthesized. Getting the films out there in the digital world also highlights awareness of the filmmakers and their work but also, your book!

Definitely, Emily. I think that I have a tendency to fall into the trap of seeing the book as "mine," when in fact it is fundamentally about others' experiences and about film practices that have been overlooked or completely ignored. So the promotion of the book - while it can feel selfish to a former Catholic boy like myself - is truly a responsibility not just because of the work that went into creating it, but also because of the individuals' whose work it is about.

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