The print version of “Putting Harlem on the Map” has recently been published by the University of Michigan Press in the collection Writing History in the Digital Age. An online copy is also available for free from the publisher here. The original open access versions of the article, which have been freely available since 2011 and 2012, also remain online. That makes four different versions of this article that are now available.
What to make of this? On one hand, I’m happy to see the article “exist in multiple forms for multiple audiences,” which Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt noted was one of the possibilities digital technology offered in regards to their Hacking the Academy collection. The University of Michigan Press are to be commended for their willingness to engage with the experiment in publishing undertaken by Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki. The existence of the online version also meant that the article was not held captive to the publication process in the way that my recent journal articles were: it was available during the year or so that the press took to review and publish the collection.
On the other hand, when put alongside each other, the different versions highlight the increasingly anachronistic status of the print form as a venue for scholarship. The online version includes six color illustrations and a table, together with approximately 28 links, either in the text or in the footnotes. The platform devotes half the window to a comments pane, but, to my eyes, at least, that has the effect of shaping the text into a form that resembles a printed page, with visible and digestible paragraphs.
The online version of the print article includes only one black and white image, and links only within the footnotes. The shift from color to black and white images has particular resonance in my case as the illustration is a screenshot of a map from Digital Harlem that combines several sets of search results, each of which is displayed as a different color. I understand the need to use a lower cost black and white image in the print version, but why did the online edition need to echo that restraint? The text stretches the entire width of the window, an increasingly popular format for presenting long-form writing online that I find hard to digest, probably at least in part because I did not write with that format in mind, and my paragraphs are too long.
By contrast, the paragraphs seem to sit more easily in the print version of the article, on the page and in a font I find easier to read. Or perhaps it’s just more familiar? Balancing that advantage, the black and white image is smaller than that in the online edition, making it even more difficult to see the different layers of results on the map. And, of course, while the print edition includes the same links in its footnotes, you can’t click on them. And that’s the rub. Even when the subject is not digital history, more and more of the sources we use are online, and (should) appear in our footnotes with links that allow them to be easily accessed as part of the process of reading. But you can’t follow a link in a printed text.
For me, then, this article offers an example of what we give up in remaining wedded to print publication. The printed form of the article is not simply a different reading experience than the two online versions, it is a more limited one. If you read the article online, the maps, sites and blogs I am referring to are either in the text as images or a click away. If you read the book, you’ll also need a device connected to the internet.