- The Content of the Form:Sarah Lowengard’s The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe
In his Allgemeines Oeconomisches Lexicon, Georg Heinrich Zincke offered this definition of a "book":
[E]ither numerous sheets of white paper that have been stitched together in such a way that they can be filled with writing; or, a highly useful and convenient instrument constructed of printed sheets variously bound in cardboard, paper, vellum, leather, etc. for presenting the truth to another in such a way that it can be conveniently read and recognized. Many people work on this ware before it is complete and becomes an actual book in this sense. The scholar and the writer, the papermaker, the type founder, the typesetter and the printer, the proofreader, the publisher, the book-binder, sometimes even the gilder and the brass-worker, etc. Thus many mouths are fed by this branch of manufacture.1
It is worth pondering how such a definition would have to be modified in the face of the current trend toward electronic publication. This is no idle thought. "E-books" are increasingly common, and scholars are being encouraged—sometimes strongly encouraged—to publish electronically. Sarah Lowengard's The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe (New York: Gutenberg-e, 2006) is a case in point. Lowengard's dissertation was [End Page 831] one of a handful to receive a Gutenberg-e prize from the American Historical Association between 1999 and 2004, to support its conversion into "an electronic monograph." The prize, underwritten by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, was "not intended simply to reward excellence in scholarship with yet another prestigious prize but rather to use prestige—the bluest of ribbons awarded by the grandest of juries with the full authority of the AHA behind it—to set a high standard for electronic publishing. By legitimizing electronic publishing, the AHA hopes to change attitudes of academics toward e-books. By making the most of the new media, the program may also contribute to a new conception of the book itself as a vehicle of knowledge."2
The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe is only available electronically (through http://www.gutenberg-e.org, the Gutenberg-e site set up by the AHA and its partner in the project, Columbia University Press), but other publishers are experimenting with other distribution models. For example, Edita, the in-house publisher for the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, distributes print versions of books in its History of Science series worldwide through the University of Chicago Press and places electronic versions (with "space" for added content not included in the book) on its website, where they may be downloaded for free.3 I am no expert in the field of electronic publication, so I will leave it to others to consider what the larger impact of these developments might be. As an experienced reader, however, I have much to say about my encounter with this particular e-book.
It is interesting to note, first of all, that one cannot separate the question of form from content. I would submit that such is always the case, but here it results from the quite conscious design of the author. Though her project originated in a doctoral dissertation, Lowengard's plan was not to begin the publication process with a traditional manuscript to which electronic features could be added. Rather, the book's very composition was determined by her vision of what the experience of e-reading (if I might be allowed to coin this term) should entail. Lowengard writes that she "wished to produce a book that is not value-enhanced by the possibilities an electronic medium offers, but one that clearly loses value when it is removed from that medium."
The book, consequently, is a surfer's paradise. A core section charts the terrain of the study's subject, and the remainder of the work is composed largely of a collection of semiautonomous vignettes connected to each other (and to the core section) by internal and external links. The text is frequently punctuated by the appearance of the word "reference" (which I found distracting, as it breaks the flow of the narrative...