A series of 21 ‘living books’ has been launched online as part of a pioneering initiative designed to provide a bridge between the humanities and the sciences.
The Living Books About Life series is written and produced by humanities scholars from universities across the world – from the UK and America to Poland and Australia – and has re-packaged and re-presented science-related research material to make it more accessible to a humanities audience.
Funded by Jisc and published by the Open Humanities Press (OHP), the books address a number of scientific topics whose unifying theme is life, including air, agriculture, bioethics, cosmetic surgery, energy, neurology and human cloning.
Alastair Dunning, programme manager at Jisc, said: "By drawing only on Open Access material to create these ‘Living Books about Life’, the team is helping define a new era of scholarly communication – and thereby exploiting Jisc’s vision to make the results of publicly funded research available to all."
The books present recent research on these subjects in a palatable way using interactive maps, podcasts and audio-visual materials. The result, which can be shared freely amongst both academic and non-academic individuals alike, is an engaging and diverse resource for researching and teaching relevant science issues across the humanities.
As well as bridging the divide between the humanities and sciences, the three partner institutions working on the project – led by Coventry University and including the University of Kent and Goldsmiths, University of London – have ‘rethought’ the conventional book by developing a new, low-cost and sustainable model for creating, publishing and sharing content.
By embracing the age of open information and the increasing prominence of crowdsourcing, the project leaders ensured each volume in the Living Books About Life series is a ‘living’ medium itself, able to be updated by readers through ongoing collaborative processes of writing, editing, remixing and commenting.
Gary Hall, Professor of Media and Performing Arts at Coventry University, said: "The ‘Living Books About Life’ series doesn’t just represent a new, exciting and more easily digestible way for people without a background in science to learn about important scientific issues – it also has the potential to refashion the process of book publishing itself. It’s a pioneering example of a sustainable, low-cost, low-tech approach to publishing high-quality books that can be shared easily and freely on an open access basis with anyone who has an interest."
Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University, said: "This remarkable series transforms the humble reader into a living form, while breaking down the conceptual barrier between the humanities and the sciences in a time when scholars and activists of all kinds have taken the understanding of life to be central. Brilliant in its simplicity and concept, this series is a leap towards an exciting new future."