My career as a researcher began, as most do, with the writing of my dissertation. This project was never conceived as, and never became, a book, but most of it did end up in print. The project of the dissertation was to define historically, economically, and sociologically the cultural context in which contemporary academic postmodern fiction was being produced. In particular, I examined the rise of mass media after World-War II, and the concomitant demise of the little magazine. This circumstance seemed to have driven avant-garde writing into the academy, which had never before been its home: the result was an unprecedented fraternity between writers and their critics, but also a very restricted audience.
In investigating this phenomenon, I became interested in the subject of academic publishing, and in publishing as a cultural force in general. I also acquired a long-term research interest in other forms of media, and in the impact of emergent communication practices on the intellectual and aesthetic life of American society. These interests are foregrounded in the four articles I culled from my dissertation, and at the time of their appearance, I believe they represented an unusually critical, detailed, and historicized look at the practices of literary postmodernism.
My first tenure-track job was at North Carolina State University, and during my second year there, I co-founded Postmodern Culture. I saw the journal as a way of creating a community of scholars in the area of postmodernism--a community that was not available on the local faculty. When, a year later, Eyal Amiran was hired to teach contemporary British literature, we had already launched Postmodern Culture, and I was quickly discovering that while the journal had a sizable audience among scholars and critics of postmodernism, there were also many academics, librarians, publishers, and members of the press who shared my interest in the journal as an experiment in publishing. Over the next two years, it became clear to me that computers, which heretofore had seemed fairly irrelevant to the research activities of most humanists, had been transformed by being networked, and were in turn about to transform not only our corner of the culture, but the whole terrain, in very short order.
I've discussed what I see as the local and global significance of this transformation in Electronic Scholarship, or, Scholarly Publishing and the Public, but it's difficult to overstate the importance of this moment in our culture. I'm not alone in considering the advent of the network to be an event equivalent to the invention of the printing press, in its impact on all levels and most aspects of our civilization (see, for example, Stuart Moulthrop's "You Say You Want a Revolution? Hypertext and the Laws of Media," published in PMC's third issue). The difference, it seems to me, is that the printing press took several hundred years to make its true force felt, and the network is wreaking its changes much more quickly. This makes it all the more important that those with a critical interest and an historical background in the emergence of media should be practically engaged in what is taking place, not merely spectators at the event.
Research in the humanities usually takes the form of writing: I have done a good deal of that, and I expect to do much more over the course of my career. But over the last five years, and in particular the last three, my research has taken a different form--that of building. I am very fortunate to have found two opportunities, each unique in its field, to pursue my early and sustained interest in the history, function, and culture of publishing, and to experiment with the practices I study. In creating first Postmodern Culture and then The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, I feel I have made a contribution to the evolution of scholarship that is, quite frankly, more lasting and more significant than anything I have yet written. This claim--that developing new methods for intellectual exchange is itself a form of research--runs counter to a very old distinction between theory and practice, and further, it is made at a time when the question of whether "technical" work can have intellectual value is far from decided in our profession. Nonetheless, it seems to me that if research is defined as painstaking and sustained inquiry that aims to produce new knowledge and understanding, then the work I have undertaken at PMC and at the Institute, understood in the context of my own writing about scholarly publishing and the culture of the internet, must be seen as research.