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Combinatorial Books Pilot Case: Introduction to Project Documentation

A series of co-written multi-media blogposts documenting and sharing experiences and findings from the process of creating an experimental book and the workflows to support it.

Published onJun 30, 2022
Combinatorial Books Pilot Case: Introduction to Project Documentation

Introducing the Documentation

An essential part of the pilot projects we are conducting for COPIM’s Experimental Publishing and Re-use work package (WP6) is the documentation of our experiences and findings, of the inhibitions, barriers, and potentialities we encountered when creating experimental books and/or the workflows to support them. We have been and will continue to document this from the perspective of those involved in the pilot projects, including the authors, publishers, developers, designers, and the platform and technology providers that have been co-creating the books, workflows, and proof of concepts that are coming out of the pilots.

This documentation serves various goals. First of all it has been devised to help the publishers involved in the pilot projects establish and maintain workflows for future experimental book publishing projects, to explore how these kinds of books sit within their more standardised or established print and online book production, dissemination, and preservation systems, for example. This documentation also serves as a means to share knowledge with other presses and author communities around how to set up similar projects, to help them to start experimenting with the publication of experimental books and to showcase the open source tools and technologies out there that can be adapted to established workflows (or the other way around). Finally, we hope that this documentation can feed back into the research and resources we are creating as part of COPIM’s experimental publishing work package, including the Experimental Publishing Compendium that is currently in development.

The documentation for the pilot projects we are conducting will look different for each pilot. For the Combinatorial Books: Gathering Flowers Pilot Project it will consist of a series of multimedia blogposts. While within these posts we reflect on and share insights about the Pilot Project, they can also be understood as an experimental approach to co-writing across different media: the texts of the blogposts will be (co-)written by some of the participants in the Pilot Project (who will be introduced more in depth in a future blog post) and are interspersed with audio interventions by other collaborators in the project. These audio contributions comment on, deepen, or further discuss aspects of the topics broached in written form. By exploring this conversational approach to documentation, we aim to reflect on the relationalities of the Pilot Project and showcase the diverse communities involved in its making.

In this first blog post we wanted to introduce the documentation, the pilot project itself, and the experimental book that is being created as part of the pilot. In the upcoming posts in the series we want to focus on the collaborators on the Combinatorial Books Pilot Project and on the publishing workflow for Combinatorial Books, on translation as a form of rewriting, on the open source tools and platforms that underlie the pilot project, on open licensing and on the (open) peer and technology review that we plan to undertake, on the changing role of the publisher in experimental publishing, and on the preservation of experimental books, in particular in relation to this pilot.

The Combinatorial Books Pilot Case

Screenshot of the landing page of OHP’s Living Books about Life book series, available at

Rather than publishing an ever-growing number of journals and books according to the same model of open access, Open Humanities Press have been interested in the critical, performative, and generative potential of their openly available published books. For example, they have been experimenting with what kinds of new research could be generated through more intense engagements with already existing work as part of their Living/Liquid Books series that includes amongst others books based on already openly available research, published in wikis which are openly editable by readers. 

Combinatorial Books: Gathering Flowers is a new pilot project and collaboration between COPIM and Open Humanities Press which explores and encourages the rewriting of books within the OHP catalogue as a means of generating radical new responses to them. The pilot is situated within OHP’s Living/Liquid Books series, and it is overseen by its editors, COPIM members Janneke Adema, Simon Bowie, Gary Hall, and Rebekka Kiesewetter. 

As described earlier, in this Pilot Project our aim is to create a research and publishing workflow that enables the creation of new combinatorial books out of existing open access books (or collections of books) that are available for reuse. From a publishing perspective, the experiment resonates with the question of how we can promote the uptake and reuse of open access book content and how we can move from practices such as reuse and annotation to the creation of new combinatorial books. In other words, the pilot wants to conduct a series of collaborative writing experiments to intervene in an academic publishing landscape that is still dominated by single-authored, closed access books. 

In principle this Pilot Project can work on several scales: it can have scholars engage with a single text, commenting on it, annotating it, revising it, rewriting it, remixing it, whilst the pilot’s editors direct them to the available tools they can use to do so in a collaborative manner; the project can also employ a more elaborate set-up that involves several texts to enable the creation of new combinatorial books. We will discuss this workflow more in depth in one of our following blogposts.

Our next blogpost will look more in depth at reuse and rewriting, both in general, and in how they have been applied in the Pilot Project.

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