Going to Press
ABOVE: The opening spread of "Going to Press" from the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of Coastal Magazine
Going to Press
Now – at a time when the prophets of technology cry that the end of print is at hand--might not seem the right moment to start up a press. The word itself conjures archaic images of ink-stained typesetters bent over clattering machines that devour forests of newsprint. The timing would appear to be no better for launching a university press: scholarly publishing is in a state of uncertain flux, searching for an economically sustainable balance between digital and traditional formats in the face of shrinking markets and reduced funding.
The Athenaeum Press, however, isn’t patterned on any established model of a university press.
The idea for Coastal Carolina University’s own press began with the dean of the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Dan Ennis. Thinking about the number of various printed projects the college had its hand in, Ennis saw the advantages of consolidation.
“We had half a dozen projects already under way or about to start,” he says, “from the cultural arts calendar, to the college’s Tapestry magazine, to academic journals that various faculty members were interested in hosting. So, rather than create a separate infrastructure for each project, it made sense to centralize the design and editorial support in one house.”
Another incentive that served as a spur to the project was CCU’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). As part of its accreditation requirements, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) obliges every member institution to create and implement a university-wide QEP program focused on enhanced student learning. After an all-inclusive canvas of the university community, CCU decided on a program called “Experienced@Coastal,” which was formally implemented in 2012. Its aim is to engage as many students as possible in meaningful projects, primarily goal-oriented classroom, internship and study-abroad activities, designed to boot their store of practical knowledge via learning that is “experiential,” as opposed to strictly instructional.
“The Athenaeum Press is the definition of experiential learning,” says Ennis. Intensive student involvement is the heart and the muscle of this enterprise.
What it is (and isn’t)
“One of the advantages of creating something from scratch is that you don't have to follow any traditional pattern,” says Trisha O’Connor, director of the press. Working with a steering committee of faculty, staff and students, O’Connor, who is CCU’S media executive-in-residence and former executive editor of the Sun News, has led the creative process of defining what the Athenaeum Press will be.
It was decided early on that CCU’S press will not attempt to duplicate the role of many established university presses that focus solely on academic books and monographs. It will not be an in-house publishing service for CCU faculty. It will not be a printing factory with onsite press machinery, but will concentrate instead on design and editorial elements and bid out the actual printing.
The Athenaeum Press will publish in both digital and print formats. It will explore new technologies and emerging platforms of delivery. It will focus on quality over quantity. Its products will be largely executed by students from multiple disciplines and will furnish them opportunities to apply skills learned in the classroom. It will have a community service component, with some of its products devoted to regional or local subjects.
Even though the press is an academic project, it is organized in such a way that students are educated about the economic realities of online publishing and old-school printing. “Projects are discussed in the context of both academic value and commercial potential,” said Ennis, “The students are learning that projects need capital, personnel, space and equipment. We’re trying to interest donors who want to support this kind of pragmatic approach.”
The first production of the Athenaeum Press meets all the criteria. Chasing the Paper Canoe is a coffee table-style photography/art book featuring photography of the Waccamaw River and scenes of the coastal South Carolina lowcountry. The 120-page book, together with its rich complement of online elements, is the result of an intensive collaboration involving dozens of students from many departments in the Edwards College: visual arts, English, history and communication. The breadth of this creative, cross-disciplinary activity, all focused on one project, is something unique.
Inspired by a chapter from Voyage of the Paper Canoe, a little known 19th century travel book by Nathaniel Bishop, CCU students have fashioned Chasing the Paper Canoe as a contemporary reimagining of a canoe trip Bishop took in 1874-75. On one leg of his trip, he canoed the Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers through Horry and Georgetown counties. In this chapter of his book he describes the people and places he encountered here, providing a rare glimpse into the local life and culture of this remote area during the Reconstruction period.
The press’ debut book is largely the result of the imagination and labor of students from ARTD/ARTS 44, the art department’s pre-professional studio. Led by professors Easton Selby and Scott Mann, the class functions as a professional graphic design and photography agency for university clients – a perfect vehicle to carry out the QEP mandate. The agency, called Lusca Studio, is a “strategic partner” of the Athenaeum Press, according to Mann, serving as its design and photography arm. Mann and Selby secured a grant from the South Carolina Humanities Council to help defray the cost of the project.
Between September and December 2012, photography students Tim Hodge and Tracy Fish shot some 3,000 photographs as well as video, traveling to various spots on area rivers and waterways from the North Carolina line down to Charleston. On some of these trips they were accompanied by graphic design student Marcello Garofalo, the principal designer of the book. In addition to their own excursions, CCU’s boat captain Richard Goldberg, who spends most of his time ferrying marine science students, took the Paper Canoe crew on trips aboard the university research boat last fall, which gave the students access to obscure places that Bishop visited 140 years ago.
While photographers were exploring the river, graduate students in English professor David Kellog’s class worked on the text of the book, selecting passages from Bishop’s account for inclusion in Chasing the Paper Canoe. When the photography was completed, Garofalo worked with Hodge and Fish to cull the best 100 or so pictures and began laying out design. Graphic design student Scott Cullum did most of the technical programming for the web version of the book.
“Readers of our book will reimagine Bishop’s journey through Tim and Tracy’s eyes,” says Garofalo. “We chose passages of text, plus some illustrations from Bishop’s book, that we thought were meaningful in relation to the photographs. Sometimes very short phrases spoke volumes. It’s the juxtaposition of images with the text that’s exciting – it creates a whole new perspective.”
Consistent with the mission of the Athenaeum Press, Chasing the Paper Canoe exists in multiple formats. In addition to the printed book, the project has a parallel life online. On certain pages of the book, there are augmented reality tags – those small square symbols that activate apps on smart phones and tablets. These link to various other modes of content, including video of river scenes with voiceover commentary by CCU history professor Wink Prince, who also wrote the foreword to the book.
English professor Jen Boyle’s class produced a digital companion to the book with lots of enhanced content and background material, including an annotated reprint of the complete chapter from Bishop’s original on which the whole project is based. The class created a geomash map of the river route with informational links to relevant locations, as well as a wikispace portal that allows visitors to the site to contribute comments.
“Part of the challenge has been to make sure that the purpose and the feeling of the overall project isn’t lost from format to format,” says Garofalo.
When Chasing the Paper Canoe was officially unveiled at the Edwards College’s annual gala in April 2013, the students who made it breathed a sigh of relief and toasted their success. Like the journey of Bishop himself, it had been an arduous but rewarding trip, full of discovery – and definitely experiential.
“The best part of it was learning how to work in a collaborative process,” says Garofalo. “We all have our egos but we learned to balance them out as we worked toward a common goal.”
“All photographers fantasize about producing a book of their photos,” says Hodge. “But you don’t realize until you do one all the work that goes into it. It’s a crushing dose of reality. When you see the finished product, though, it makes you want to do it again. It’s a challenge I’d gladly accept.”
The cover of the Spring/Summer 2013 Coastal Magazine