I had the opportunity to attend the Essay in Public conference here at Brown University earlier this week at which speakers and participants discussed a full host of topics related to how we can best bring longform writing and dense content (such as the bulk of work created by academics) to the public. [Update: I summarized all of my live tweeting here. And yes, Storify really is as neat as they say.] At one point in the day, we discussed and re-articulated the very meaning of “the public,” as not only an audience with whom many of us as public intellectuals hope to engage, but also a grouping of individuals that contains the fantasy of accessibility and embodies the breaking down of hierarchies, limits, and borders. Part of my own aspiration with this blog is to connect with just such a public of readers, near and far, through my work, which I strive to communicate in jargon-free and hopefully-at-least-minorly-entertaining prose.
A truly satiating day, this conference explored far more than audience, connectivity, and content. In this particular post, however, I’m chewing on the idea that successfully accessible publications balance the rhythm of their content, fostering a textual commingling of shortform and longform writing, alongside other types of contributions and more visual components.
Marcial Godoy-Anativia, a sociocultural anthropologist and the Associate Director of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University discussed how the journal that he co-edits, e-misférica, publishes not only the more normative scholarly essays and book reviews, but also multimedia artist presentations and performance reviews. All of these contributions are imbued with new dynamism, reach, and potential readability by the editorial team’s commitment to translation, publishing materials in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
This discussion made me reflect upon food studies, a field in which the metaphor of the buffet takes fecund root as publishers frequently present multi-form content. While Food, Culture and Society and Food and Foodways serve up articles and reviews with rigor and tradition, a few journals offer complementary content as well.
Gastronomica, newly christened “The Journal of Critical Food Studies,” has an established history of bridging the divide between academic publishing, foodie-friendly journalism, and high-art aesthetics. Specializing in “translational” work that speaks to multiple audiences, the quarterly-published journal features refereed original research, as well as research briefs, critical commentaries and discussions, reviews of books and films, creative reflections, photo-essays, interviews with key figures in the field (like the Spring 2014 interview with Seth Holmes, whose book Fresh Fruit Broken Bodies I adored), and aesthetic pieces pertaining to food.
Digest: A Journal of Foodways & Culture, the online journal of the Foodways section of the American Folklore Society, publishes peer-reviewed articles, as well as research notes: folklore food-related fieldwork projects or reports that are part of a larger project and not subject to peer review. Digest also serves up an “Amuse-Bouche” section, which includes a variety of shorter pieces, such as creative writing, pieces of fiction, poetry, photographs and photographic essays, recipes, and historical materials, such as prints and menus. For example, the spring 2014 issue includes a series of vintage food ads and original photography of Coca-Cola bottles.
CuiZine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures is a peer-reviewed e-journal published by McGill Library in English and French. With a core audience of “readers interested in Canada’s diverse food culture,” research articles precede a veritable feast of food-themed original poetry, animations, cartoons, image-based essays, reminiscences, short studies on iconic Canadian dishes or products, short opinion-editorial pieces, food-related exhibit reviews, and interviews.
Such a mix of content makes perfect sense for oscillating personal tastes, though one is *always* in the mood for Gastronomica’s “Just Desserts” section. While participants at Essay in Public worried that we live in a society threatened by a crisis of attention, it is typical rather than exceptional for eaters to come to the table with vastly varying cravings from day to day. Would it be so strange to offer up a similar buffet to readers, whose tastes, desires, and limitations of time, mental energy, and attitude guide what they seek to read, listen to, or watch at any particular moment?
As other changes sweep academic publishing from open access to digital humanities projects, perhaps academics and academic journals might be well served to similarly expand the menu.