Two University Presses in the Digital Age
If you had to guess which English language university presses published the greatest number of books a year, you might think of Oxford and Cambridge and you would be right. But you might not guess how much more productive they are compared to other university presses. According to Global Books in Print, Oxford University Press published 1,649 hardcover titles for the U.S. market and Cambridge 1,252. The highest American university press total was 224 titles from the University of Chicago Press. Clearly the two British university presses are the giants of the academic publishing world.
The origins of both presses go back to the 16th century. Cambridge claims to have the oldest publishing house in the world which was started by a grant from Henry VIII in 1534. However, the university did not produce a book until it appointed Thomas Thomas in 1583 to be the first University Printer. The Boston College Libraries' resource Early English Books Online provides us with digitized versions of Thomas's earliest volumes, for example Doctrinae Christianae Compendium by Zacharias Ursinus published in 1585. Oxford received the right to print in 1586 and selected a local bookseller, Joseph Barnes, to be its first printer. Among the earliest items produced by his press was the first book in Greek to be printed at Oxford, Six Homilies of St. Chrysostom in Greek, 1586. During the following centuries, both publishers grew into their current status as the major university presses of our time.
Given their prominence in publishing history and considerable print title output, can we assume that both presses are also major players in the new world of e-publishing? I think we can, but let's take a look at what they have published on the web to see if our assumption has any validity. Both CUP and OUP are prolific e-journal publishers, but in this article I will focus on the e-book side of their operations.
Both are publishers of major reference works. Cambridge has made two of its major reference resources available on the web, its single and multivolume sets of Cambridge Histories and the Cambridge Companion series. Both resources have been highly regarded for many years, and to have them in a more easily accessible and searchable format has been an immense boon to scholars and students. Cambridge Histories Online covers a wide range of time periods and subject areas including Ancient History (19 volumes in the print format); Modern History (13); histories of Philosophy (15); Histories of India (22), China (13), and Latin America (12); and History of Christianity (9). Subjects covered in smaller sets or single volumes include language and linguistics, literature, music, political and social theory, and theatre and performing arts among others. I recommend spending time browsing the full list of histories to get a better sense of what is available. And as with many online resources, Cambridge Histories Online has features which can facilitate research like a reserved virtual space for saved searches, bookmarks, and notes.
The Cambridge Companions series is available on the web as Cambridge Collections Online (CCO). This database is comprised of three collections of Companions: Literature and Classics (265 titles); Philosophy, Religion, and Culture (171); and Music (59). CCO can be searched as a whole or by individual volume. A scan of titles in CCO will give a good idea of its remarkable breadth and depth of coverage. For example, someone needing material on Plato will find ample information in the Companions to Plato, Plato's Republic, Greek and Roman Philosophy, and Ancient Greek Political Thought among many others. If you were beginning a research project focusing on Goethe, the Companions to Goethe, European Novelists, and German Romanticism might be helpful. Each Companion volume is composed of a number of substantial essays on what the editors consider the most important topics relevant to the Companion's subject, and each essay is downloadable as a PDF.
Oxford University Press's first major entry into the digital age was the electronic version of the premier dictionary of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, appearing initially as a CD-ROM (1988) and then as an online resource, Oxford English Dictionary Online (2000). The online database contains the entire second edition of the OED and is updated quarterly with revisions that will be included in the third edition. Logophiles can check the OED Online site for the OED's most recently published words (on the Home page), provide an earlier record of a word which OED editors are currently researching (see the OED Appeals page), and even follow OED-related chatter on OED's Twitter feed.
Two other significant reference resources are the newly reconfigured Oxford Reference Online (ORO) and Oxford Bibliographies Online (OBO). The former is a composite of over 300 titles which offer brief entries or essays useful for quick reference checks. It also has over 200 Timelines; finding one for a particular subject or historical time period can be a bit of a challenge, but ORO provides a list of subject categories in a Narrow Your Choices box on the left side of the Timelines page.
Oxford Bibliographies Online can be considered Oxford's answer to the seeming chaos of information on the web. Each OBO module is a subject bibliography with an editor who is a recognized expert in the field. OBO accurately describes itself as a combination of "the best features of an annotated bibliography and a high-level encyclopedia." The Boston College Libraries have thus far acquired the OBO modules in Atlantic History, Biblical Studies (BC's Christopher Matthews is Editor-in-Chief), Education, Hinduism, Islamic Studies, Latin American Studies, and Medieval Studies. The bibliographic articles are authored by experts on the article topic and are composed of short introductions followed by extensive annotated bibliographies listing critical editions and significant scholarship on the topic. A brief scan of the first article, Alfred the Great, and its bibliography in the Medieval Studies bibliography will give a good idea of how valuable this resource can be. Taking advantage of the web's dynamic capacity for instant updates, OUP has designed OBO to be frequently updated with the most current citations and to keep adding 50-75 articles per subject each year. Thirty-two subject bibliographies have been published thus far, and more are on the way. Feel free to contact your Subject Librarian if you would like to recommend that the library acquire one or more of them.
A third type of reference resource from Oxford are websites offering access to a collection of online materials including primary sources, biographies, images, maps, timelines, and sometimes multimedia. Of this type, the Boston College Libraries have acquired the Oxford African American Studies Center, Oxford Biblical Studies Online, and Oxford Islamic Studies Online (of which BC's Natana J. DeLong-Bas is Deputy Editor). With its inclusion of six different Bible texts and commentaries, the Biblical Studies resource continues OUP's history as a major publisher of English language bibles going back to the seventeenth century when the university received the right to print the King James Authorized Version of the Bible. OUP has produced many other excellent and authoritative reference works and brought them to the web; they can be found by going to the library's Research Databases site, clicking on the By Title tab, and typing Oxford in the search box.
Both CUP and OUP have also created online platforms for their extensive collections of monographs and edited works. Cambridge Books Online has made more than 13,000 books available on the web and plans to add thousands more from the CUP backlist. An example of a title owned by the library is Jesus as Teacher by Pheme Perkins of BC's Theology Department. Users can download chapters as PDFs and use Acrobat Reader to highlight text and take notes. Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) offers OUP titles in subject collections, and the library has acquired the Religion and Social Work collections. If you were to access Language in the Confessions of Augustine by Philip Burton, you could download chapters as PDFs as well as save them online in your personal work space in OSO. The subject collections can be searched as a single unit or by individual title. Because OUP provides abstracts for both books and chapters, searching OSO's contents will seem similar to searching a journal database like JSTOR, only the units of content are book chapters instead of journal articles.
I think we can safely conclude that the two great university presses have indeed established themselves as significant contributors to the wealth of scholarship available on web. Not only have they made large collections of scholarly books accessible online, but they have taken advantage of many of the functionalities afforded by electronic formats which enhance the research capabilities of faculty and students. If I were to say which of the two has been doing more to realize the potential of web publishing, I would choose Oxford because of its ambitious goals for Oxford Bibliographies Online and the digital structure and functionality of Oxford Scholarship Online. But both presses have made a terrific start in ways that will support the BC community doing research in an increasingly digital environment.