How open access can support Humanities book authors: Interview with Manuel Peréz García

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Prof. Manuel Peréz García is a tenured Associate Professor at the Department of History, School of Humanities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. He has published two open access books within the Palgrave Macmillan book series Palgrave Studies in Comparative Global History, for which he is editor-in-chief, called Global History and New Polycentric Approaches and Global History with Chinese Characteristics. In this interview, he talks about why open access is important not only for research in global history but also for society, authors and funders.

Watch the interview with Prof. Manuel Peréz García. Captions available.

Why did you choose to make these two books available on an open access basis?
Global History with Chinese Characteristics

Open access is one of the priorities of big funding institutions for academic projects, so the European Research Council is not an exception for this. One of the priorities for the GECEM project funded by the European Research Council Starting Grant is to make our publications open access for big audiences, not only academic audiences but also to reach the non-specialised public.

It is actually to give an important deliverable for the whole of society in general, which means that 

your research, your work, should have a positive impact; an impact in general, and to the society in general. So that's why we chose open access 

for these two books in the series that I am leading on, with my colleague, Lúcio De Sousa - it is one of our priorities.

The European Research Council funded the open access fee (or book processing charge). How did you start working with the European Research Council?

I applied for a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) in 2015. After following a very demanding process — as everybody knows, the ERC is a very demanding institution — the grant process was successful. 

After a year of evaluations and also going to the interview in Brussels, I successfully got the project. And from the very beginning I was aware about the potential and the scope of open access publishing.

I believe that open access is one of the most powerful forms of publication, 

not very explored by the previous generation of scholars. Also, the new generation is not very aware of it. 

It's a very powerful tool. We need to use it to spread our work globally.

You mentioned that these books are part of the Palgrave Studies in Comparative Global History book series. How did that relationship come about? Did you choose Palgrave Macmillan first of all? Or were you approached for this book series?

Well, actually from the very beginning I chose Palgrave Macmillan before getting the funding from the ERC. My first approach with Palgrave was at the end of 2013, early 2014. I was editing a different book which was not open access, on China/Latin American contemporary international relations and economics.

At that time I didn't have any funding but I noticed the potential of having a book open access. And then just at the moment of getting the funding from the ERC, I approached [editor] Sara Crowley-Vigneau at the Shanghai office for the Palgrave Macmillan branch in Asia. With her I started to establish a closer relationship with Palgrave.

We signed an agreement for a series of open access publications, so that's why not only the book I edited with my colleague Lúcio De Sousa, but also my monograph, is open access. Also within the GECEM project, we have a third open access monograph by Professor Bartolomé Yun-Casalilla, so open access boosted the potential of our publications and also of the GECEM project.

With these two books specifically, what were you hoping to achieve by publishing them? You've mentioned a wide readership, anything else?

Yes, a wide readership includes not just the specialised or the academic public, because the main scope and strength of the series itself is Asian studies focusing mainly on China. China is still in the historical perspective to understand current global affairs and the hegemonic role that China is playing today, and the rise in the economy of this big giant.

So this series and also these books focus on global history in China. The main goal I intend to achieve is to continue to permanently unveil the history of China, which will also help us not only to apprehend and comprehend the past of China but also to basically grasp their ideas and to understand the current role that China is playing globally in economics, politics, society, and also how that reaches the social spectrum in general.

These books also stress the idea of interdisciplinarity. So the whole idea of this series and of this open access book is to, if you allow me to use a metaphor, paint within a wide canvas in interdisciplinary research to understand China through different layers -- economics, politics, history and culture. So that's why 

it's very, very important that the research and the output of this book reaches a very wide academic and non-academic audience.

Have you seen any benefits or any impact so far from publishing these books open access? Do you think open access helped?
Global History and New Polycentric Approaches

Yeah, it's helped basically on, let's say, a collective term for the readership to get a better understanding of China, international relations, history, and the interactions with the West, Europe, and the Americas. But basically the big hopes of these books is, again, to continue a better understanding or to grasp a still not very well-known aspect of China's history and culture and also to make a deep critique of the current system.

Also in individual terms 

as a researcher, it is definitely a very powerful tool to boost your academic profile. 

Also, it's very important that you look at the metrics -- of course this is not a decisive factor, but it is very important to know how many people are downloading the books. Actually for the last one, Global History with Chinese Characteristics, I think in less than six or seven months, it received more than 12,000 downloads. So it is a very important factor to take into account.

That will, in a way, make a kind of legacy of your work, which is very important, and, again, to reach everybody in different audiences, different types of scholars from different nations and cultures. 

How the perception of the knowledge you are getting from China on your research and the interactions with the Western countries -- I guess that open access is a very important and powerful tool and a very good one.

I saw that your 2018 title, Global History and New Polycentric Approaches, has almost reached 200,000 chapter downloads - congratulations! Do you have any tips for other authors? How did you and your co-editor promote these books?

Since digital humanities is also a very important variable in the whole equation for the spread or dissemination of your work, the authors in general share the book. 

Open access helps because everybody wants to very rapidly have access to your work

within a click from Google, your website or different platforms like, Facebook and Twitter.

Another very important issue is, again, the journal reviews. That basically is the cornerstone for the dissemination of your work. But the previous generation, it seems, have not adapted to digital tools and these digital systems. So they are not used to going beyond the print version of the book, which is also very important because having a physical copy of your book is much better in the end. It has a special taste rather than the electronic book.

But that kind of adaptation has not yet successfully reached the older generation or even some famous, very prestigious editors or journals because at the end, they want the physical or the print version of the book. In a way there is still challenging work to be done by Palgrave and other publishers to make people aware of open access as an important tool, and also to get, for example, reviews of the books in journals.

Do you have any advice to others considering publishing their next book or chapter open access?

Open access is a very good tool, as I mentioned and stressed several times -- a very powerful one. But the downside of this picture, like when using this kind of technology, is that it is still very expensive. 

So if you don't have very generous funding, like for instance the one I have, it is very difficult for individual researchers to publish open access books or articles and to spread the work to a very wide audience. The most important advice is that publishers, in this case Palgrave, still need to negotiate with universities, faculties and libraries because those big institutions, not individual researchers, should be those in charge of funding the open access publications.

I feel very fortunate to count on this very generous funding. But if I didn’t have it, then it would be very difficult to publish open access books and reach a general audience because the one who would click and see your book is a very, very specialised audience.

So we need to break down that barrier. And again, I think making a very precise marketing strategy to reach audiences beyond academic circles, I think that would be my most important advice on this particular topic.

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This interview was published as part of the Open Access Books in the Humanities campaign

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Prof. Manuel Peréz García
About Prof. Manuel Peréz García
Prof. Manuel Peréz García is a tenured Associate Professor at the Department of History, School of Humanities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. He is also principal investigator of the GECEM project, funded by the European Research Council Starting Grant / Horizon 2020. He is founder and director of the Global History Network in China and editor-in-chief for the Palgrave Macmillan book series Palgrave Studies in Comparative Global History.


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