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Judaic studies receives grant to make work more accessible

$172,000 grant will allow Brown Judaic Studies to digitize previously published books, essays

Scholars from the University’s Judaic Studies program recently received a $172,000 grant that will enable the program to digitize academic works published in limited, often-inaccessible print editions, said Michael Satlow, professor of Judaic and religious studies and managing editor of the Brown Judaic Studies Program.

The program produces three to five volumes of scholarly work each year, and those volumes, while valuable to researchers, are currently unavailable online. The grant to resolve this problem for researchers was awarded jointly by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The BJS, founded in 1979, was one of the first to publish scholarly monographs in the field of Judaic studies. The program’s strengths now include Jewish history, early Jewish texts and Jewish thought, Satlow said. As more presses started to publish similar materials, the BJS turned its attention to more specialized books or essays that “mainstream publishers don’t like to publish,” Satlow added. Although the BJS publishes mostly works by professors of Judaic studies, it welcomes all respectable scholarly writings by anyone who holds a PhD degree in the area.

With the help of the grant, the BJS will be able to digitize its collection and increase public access to the works it has published previously. Usually, scholarly books don’t have many copies, and they “tend to be expensive in terms of price,” Satlow said. Digitizing past publications would make these works available for free to the public and in turn “enhance Judaic study in the world,” he added. The grant also allows the BJS to hire a project manager who would be responsible for managing the project’s daily tasks, such as contacting the authors for any additions or corrections and finding appropriate distribution venues.

Applying for the grant was a “two-step process,” since it is jointly funded, wrote Director of Research Development Amy Carroll in an email to The Herald. Satlow’s team first submitted the proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities and then adapted it for the Mellon Foundation. Carroll helped the BJS develop “a detailed project management plan,” which showed the funding agency how its investment “would be used to advance the goals of the grant.”

Allison Levy, digital scholarship editor, also worked with Satlow to edit early drafts of the application and offered editorial assistance. She will be a consultant on the BJS’s project and will offer guidance to the soon-to-be hired project manager. Levy expects that by digitizing its published works, the BJS could expand its original audience and engage a larger community of readers. The digitization process will be highly collaborative since it requires a “broad support network” with people from different areas of expertise, such as editing and graphics, Levy said.


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