Together, the MIT Press and the Brown University Library recently announced the launch of “On Seeing,” an experiment in multimodal publishing that will shape new conversations about how we see, comprehend, and participate in visual culture. Uniting the press’s global publishing experience and the library’s digital publication expertise, the series will examine understudied questions at the intersection of visual culture and subjects such as race, care, decolonization, privilege, and precarity.
While the visual environment has always been central to meaning-making, technology has shifted its global stakes. In today’s world, there is greater access and exposure to visual culture than ever before — outpacing society’s ability to reflect upon its impact. The diverse authors of On Seeing will investigate the ways that power relations are often inscribed in the visual, and they will develop knowledge about how visuality is related to equity and justice.
“In keeping with the MIT Press’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and its leading publications on visual culture, the On Seeing series engages critically complex questions,” notes Amy Brand, director and publisher of the MIT Press. “The series will demonstrate hopeful paths forward by centering the lived experience and knowledge of diverse authors.”
Defined by bold positions, rigorous research, and cultural relevance, books will be written in an accessible style to serve a wide audience. The series will be launched alongside a community engagement program tailored to each specific volume and supported by a postdoc position at Brown University Library. Resources might include an online hub for knowledge-sharing, a downloadable community conversation toolkit, an author interview or podcast, or free-to-the-public events such as book readings and structured conversations in libraries, bookstores, or public arts institutions. With inclusion and access as driving motivations, On Seeing will be published in print editions and in interactive, open-access digital editions.
“This transformative cross-institutional collaboration brings together distinctive research library and university press capabilities for common ends in the service of scholarship and public understanding,” according to Joseph Meisel, Joukowsky Family University Librarian at Brown University. “By opening up broader and more inclusive conversations around scholarship and reducing barriers to access, we are modeling practices that demonstrate the public value of our mission and shared objectives.”
For Brand, the partnership with the Brown University Library feels like a natural progression of both organizations’ efforts to increase diversity in scholarly publishing. “For years, the press and the library have worked independently to break down barriers in the who, what, and how of scholarly knowledge creation. It is exciting to find a partner that not only aligns closely with our commitment to diversity, but also shares the press’s spirit of experimentation — pushing the boundaries of what publishing can be.”
In addition to establishing a Diversity in Digital Publishing Postdoctoral Fellowship with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Brown University Library’s Digital Publications Initiative recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to establish a training institute for scholars from a variety of institutions, disciplines, and backgrounds who wish to develop enhanced born-digital publications but lack the necessary resources and capacity at their home institutions.
The MIT Press established the Fund for Diverse Voices in 2018. Its most recent initiative, the Grant Program for Diverse Voices, expands funding for new work by authors whose voices have been chronically underrepresented across the arts, humanities, and sciences. Additionally, the MIT Press plays an active role in the Mellon Foundation-supported University Press Diversity Fellowship Program, which provides underrepresented individuals an opportunity to gain professional experience and a network in scholarly publishing.
Editorial oversight for the series will be handled jointly by Victoria Hindley, acquisitions editor for visual culture and design at the MIT Press, and Allison Levy, digital scholarship editor for the Brown University Library’s Digital Publications Initiative, in collaboration with an Editorial Collective composed of Shahzad Bashir, Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities and professor of history at Brown University; Lisa Cartwright, professor of visual arts, communication, and science studies at the University of California at San Diego; Stefanie Hessler, curator and director of Kunsthall Trondheim; Trica Keaton, African and African-American Studies at Dartmouth University; and Hrag Vartanian, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.