Mellon grant supports open access to humanities texts

For the second year in a row, Cornell University Press has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant worth nearly $100,000 to fund the open access initiative, Cornell Open.

“This is exciting news for the press and for the university,” said Laura Spitz, Cornell’s vice provost for international affairs. “Open access to humanities scholarship aligns with the mission of a global and engaged Cornell.”

Cornell is one of four presses to receive a second NEH/Mellon grant. The new grant will allow Cornell Open to expand its selection from 20 to 77 titles, providing a much wider range of subject areas. “We've been so pleased to have Cornell Open as a shining example of what the program might help support,” said Perry Collins, senior NEH program officer.

The initial grant brought back 20 classic out-of-print titles from the Cornell University Press archive; in seven months these open access titles have generated 25,000 downloads at 832 institutions in 152 countries.

“These 57 new open access titles celebrate the humanities and our strengths in anthropology, classics, political science, literary criticism and women’s studies,” said Dean Smith, director of Cornell University Press. “We will work with the library and faculty to ensure their use in courses. We remain committed to digitizing and republishing 150 classic out-of-print titles for our 150th anniversary in 2019 onto open access platforms.”

Cornell University Library has been instrumental in determining key titles to select for open access, and library subject specialists provided library circulation statistics and professional expertise to develop the list.

“One of the things I like about the Cornell Open initiative is the way the Cornell community – authors, readers, publishers and librarians – has been invited to think about the incredibly distinguished back list of our university press, and which books to prioritize for sharing openly with the world,” said Kizer Walker, director of collections for Cornell University Library.

In 2016, Cornell celebrated a “New Century for the Humanities” with a series of events and the unveiling of a new humanities building, Klarman Hall – the first of its kind on campus in 100 years. NEH Chairman William “Bro” Adams gave a presentation as part of the festivities.

“Cornell will continue to play a major role in humanities education and research throughout the world,” said Dean Gretchen Ritter ’83, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences, at the dedication ceremony. As part of this initiative, Cornell University Press plans to join forces with professors to assign texts in the classroom and to disseminate classic out-of-print humanities scholarship on a global scale.

The expansion of Cornell Open offers new opportunities to strengthen the humanities by harnessing the power of open access scholarship. Laura Brown, the John Wendell Anderson Professor of English, said: “It’s terrific to be able to broaden Cornell Press’ impact on our thinking in the humanities – into the future and across the newly extended audience that Cornell Open reaches through its online access. These ‘classic’ studies – for instance in feminist theory and in the Reading Women Writing Writers series – have shaped our future. We need them – in the curriculum, in our newest research projects, in our engagement across the disciplines – to understand how we build new knowledge, and to show our students the depth and scope of humanistic endeavor.”

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Rebecca Valli