Assistant professor’s New York-based independent press receives recognition for increasing access to scholarly work in the field of performance studies
Marcos Steuernagel, a University of Colorado Boulder theatre professor, and four colleagues from the groundbreaking, independent publisher HemiPress, have won an award for excellence in digital scholarship.
Presented by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) and the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR), the award recognizes HemiPress’s success in utilizing digital publishing means while maintaining the rigorous standards of traditional, academic print publishing.
By publishing digitally in three or more languages, HemiPress, the digital imprint of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, provides access to scholarly work in the field of performance studies to those who might otherwise never have it, or need to wait a decade or longer for a translation of a work.
For Steuernagel, the award recognizes the institute’s efforts to address topical questions: “What does publishing academic material on performance mean today in 2017? What does academic publication mean for scholarship on performance, in a multilingual environment, in the current digital era?”
Steuernagel celebrates the achievement with a degree of pride. He began working with the Hemispheric Institute as Program Coordinator for Digital Books while a doctoral student in performance studies at New York University in 2010. Under the leadership of founding director Diana Taylor, and in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Scalar Platform and Duke University Press, the institute published the trilingual digital books What is Performance Studies (2015) and Dancing with the Zapatistas (2015).
In 2017, the institute merged its four digital-publication initiatives under one umbrella, which ultimately became HemiPress: the growing book initiative in which Steuernagel and Hemispheric were already engaged; emisférica, the peer-reviewed, trilingual (English, Spanish and Portuguese) journal published biannually by the institute; “Cuadernos,” online curations of multimedia material focused on particular topics or bodies of work relating to performance and politics in the Americas; and “Gesture,” a new initiative that publishes short, evocative multilingual digital works that combine multimedia and literature to create an original, critical intervention in the fields of performance and politics.
Taylor founded the Hemispheric Institute in 1998. Today, it serves as a consortium of more than 60 universities, cultural centers, human-rights and social-justice organizations and participating individuals numbering in the thousands. CU Boulder is a member institution. The institute aims to create a forum in which activists, scholars and artists from across the Americas generate creative opportunities for “critical reflection… sparking lasting cultural change.”
“If we are to understand the relationship between performance and politics in the Americas,” said Steuernagel, “then digital plays an important part. We’re addressing this through some very real projects.”
All digital platforms and software are considered for the ATHE/ASTR Award for Excellence in Digital Scholarship.
The other co-investigators named on the award are Diana Taylor (director of the Hemispheric Institute), Marcial Godoy-Anativia (managing director of the Hemispheric Institute), Alexei Taylor (HemiPress lead developer and designer) and Olivia Michiko Gagnon (managing editor of HemiPress).
If we are to understand the relationship between performance and politics in the Americas, then digital plays an important part."
“Diana Taylor is one of the most important names in the articulation between performance and politics and Latin American theater and performance studies,” said Steuernagel, who says Taylor is one of the first scholars to consider the possibilities for digital media in the field of performance studies in the Americas.
According to Steuernagel, scholars discuss whether “performance only happens in the live moment.” Taylor argues “that the digital allows for a new kind of scholarship in terms of accessibility and one’s relationship with audio-visual material.”
Taylor is best known for her 2013 book The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke U.P.), winner of the ATHE Research Award in Theatre Practice and Pedagogy and the Modern Language Association Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize for the best book in Latin American and Spanish Literatures and Culture (2004).
In that work, she takes on the idea that “knowledge only lives in the archive” and considers the permanence we associate with it in opposition to “performed practices and to the repertoire,” said Steuernagel.
“Recently she’s also been thinking about how the digital complicates this dichotomy between the archive and the repertoire and produces knowledge in a new place,” which is arguably the driving force behind HemiPress.
HemiPress books are produced both on Scalar—the University of Southern California’s digital publishing platform—and on Tome, an online authoring tool that facilitates long-form publishing in an immersive, media-rich environment. The digital books have been through the same editorial scrutiny and review that all academic work published at Duke University Press receives.
“I don’t think anyone else is doing exactly what we’re doing,” said Steuernagel. Companion volumes to academic works are often available online; the website model exists, of posting content with limited editorial care; and a great deal of work has been published on Scalar and received awards and attention.
“But I can’t think of any in particular that have been done in partnership with an established print academic press and requires the academic rigor we’re talking about.”
The production process is still new to HemiPress, “and because of that it takes a long time,” said Steuernagel. Collecting and conducting the interviews used in Performance Studies started in 2001, with book production beginning only in 2012. Dancing with the Zapatistas went into production around the same time, both in partnership with Scalar and Duke University Press.
“We didn’t have precedence,” said Steuernagel. “We’ve never sent a born-digital book to peer review. The reviewers at Duke were trying to figure out who to send it to, because they didn’t have multilingual reviewers who could look at it. So how do we do that?” said Steuernagel. “And how do we do it through translation?”
The end product, however, is a digital book that has been peer-reviewed by reputable scholars, and has the imprint of Duke University Press, along with HemiPress, and a date of a publication.
But the multilinguality, Steuernagel stresses, is central to HemiPress’s mission. Print books can take years to come out in Brazil, Mexico or across Latin America, but HemiPress’s books are published in Spanish, English and Portuguese in their original form. Therefore, it grants access to these works to people who previously had none.