Challenging the Notion of “Globalization” as a 21st Century Phenomenon

by George Dutton, author of A Vietnamese Moses: Philiphê Binh and the Geographies of Early Modern Catholicism

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on March 19th.

In the second decade of the twenty-first century it has become a truism that we have finally entered the era of the “globalized.” It takes little effort for historians to produce a wide range of evidence to suggest that this is not the case, and that the phenomenon of “globalization” is one found already in the ancient worlds. This is particularly true with respect to the various “world religions” that emerged between the 5th century BCE and the 7th century CE, each of which gradually, and occasionally rapidly, travelled to distant corners of the globe. A particularly good example is Roman Catholicism, whose initial spread was relatively modest, but which then took advantage of the sailing ships of the “Age of Discovery” to span the globe. Unlike the other world religions, Catholicism has developed an elaborated ecclesiastical hierarchy that reaches around the world with implications for local Christian communities.

Over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, agents of the Christian church reached the farthest corners of Asia and slowly built up communities of local Catholics. One of these groupings was founded in the coastal reaches of the Red River in the northern part of what is today Vietnam, and was then often called Tonkin. Initiated by Portuguese Jesuits, this community of Catholics grew to several hundred thousand in less than half a century. These mission fields soon drew the attention of other orders – Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and secular mission societies – and priests from a range of nations – Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, among others.

The Christians in coastal Tonkin found themselves both served by the European priests that were in their midst, and profoundly shaped by ecclesiastical conflicts and decisions emanating from the Catholic centers of power in Rome and the Iberian Peninsula. While local Christians experienced a substantial measure of autonomy imparted by distance and the logistics of communication, they were still subject to church politics in Europe. Thus, the papal recall of all Jesuits priests in Tonkin in 1678 sent shockwaves through the community. The order to divide Tonkin into two vicariates that same year further shook the local Catholic communities, who found themselves now experiencing elements of their faith in ways shaped by differentiated approaches to ritual and emphasis. A century later the formal dissolution of the entire Jesuit Order in 1773 further rattled Tonkinese Catholics, now finding themselves subject to new ecclesiastical leadership whose dictates and expectations were often at variance with their long-standing traditions.

While those loyal to the deep rooted Portuguese Jesuit tradition defied their new overseers, this was not sustainable and in 1796 they dispatched one of their own, the recently ordained Vietnamese priest, Father Philiphê Binh, to Portugal on their behalf. This community understood the global forces of Catholicism, and the nuances of its politics. They became active participants in defense of their traditions and sending their emissary to Europe was an indication of their engagement in the church politics of the period. Vietnamese Catholics recognized, far more than most Vietnamese, the degree to which they themselves lived in an era of “globalization.” What happened beyond their borders in remote political capitals had profound and measurable impacts upon both their material and spiritual lives.

Father Binh’s emergence as a priest and representative of his community on a journey half way around the world to defend its spiritual traditions is the subject of my book. While in substantial measure it is the story of a particular man and the complex contours of his life, it is also very much a tale of the ways in which eighteenth-century religious globalization had profound repercussions for Catholics in Tonkin. It is thus a reminder that peoples in seemingly remote corners of the globe were already then active participants in a world where the reach of ideas and politics was no less extensive than in the twenty-first century, even if it travelled at the speed of sailing ships rather than fiber optics.


George E. Dutton is Professor of Vietnamese History in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A Vietnamese Moses is currently available as a free, open access eBook as part of our Luminos program. Read it online now.


Myriad Atlases: Now Available as E-Books

UC Press is pleased to announce that the following titles in the Myriad Atlas Series The Atlas of Climate Change, The Atlas of Religion, The Atlas of Food, The State of China Atlas, The Atlas of Global Inequalities, and The Atlas of California are now available for the first time, in addition to their print format versions, as e-book editions.

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Sample interior spreads (please click to expand):


CLIMATE-CHANGE-Low-carbon

CALIFORNIA-Health-care

FOOD-unequal-distrib.-food2

About Myriad Atlases:

Myriad’s award-winning atlases, some of which are published in the United States by University of California Press, are unique visual surveys of economic, political and social trends. By ingeniously transforming statistical data into valuable, user-friendly resources, they make a range of global issues – from climate change to world religions – accessible to general readers, students and professionals alike.


Transforming Scholarly Publishing: Book Business Interview with Alison Mudditt

Alison Mudditt photo
UC Press Director Alison Mudditt’s message is clear: the publishing industry is undergoing a profound transformation, and digital products are at the center of the change.

Mudditt recently spoke to Book Business magazine about the the explosion of interest in e-books, two pilot “born-digital” products the Press is developing, and the new challenges scholarly publishers face. She shares insight on the ways UC Press’s e-book strategy is changing, and reveals how Kindle sales of Mark Twain’s Autobiography have compared to the print version.

Read an excerpt of the interview below, and access the full article on Book Business’s website.

Is the demand for scholarly books changing? What do you think is causing these trends?

Mudditt: The market for scholarly monographs has been shrinking for at least a couple of decades. This has been driven in significant part by the allocation of shrinking library budgets: As the price of scholarly journals, particularly in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields, has skyrocketed, the available budget for books has become smaller and smaller. Over the past decade or so, the budgetary problem has been exacerbated by the dramatic technological and cultural shifts as information has moved to a Web-based, decentralized and abundant environment. In this world, the largely static, often print-only, scholarly monograph seems both isolated and out-of-date. The challenge for those of us in the scholarly publishing world is to find a way to reinvent the model in such a way that scholarly discourse can become more accessible than it has ever been—a vibrant hub of information and debate that serves not only the academy, but a much wider audience seeking answers to many contemporary problems. 


Barnes & Noble, Sony, and OverDrive to Sell UC Press E-books

University of California Press is pleased to announce that it has reached agreements with Barnes & Noble, Sony, and OverDrive to sell its e-book titles.

UC Press has been a leader in working with wholesale and retail e-booksellers to make its e-book titles available. UC Press e-books are also currently sold through Amazon.com (Kindle), American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Humanities E-Book, Dawson Books, eBooks.com, EBL, ebrary, IG Publishing, Ingram Digital, MyiLibrary, Netlibrary, and Questia.

In addition to working with these e-bookselling partners, UC Press sells e-books directly from its website.


Reflections from My First Charleston Conference: The Buzz about Ebooks

The Charleston Conference has quickly become a place where libraries, vendors, and publishers come together to talk about what’s next for digital collection development. This year’s program seemed particularly appealing, so I was looking forward to checking out the conference for the first time.

While there is still tremendous skepticism about what I call the “ipod moment” for the book industry (whether there will ever be a killer device for reading ebooks) there was little doubt that library users want access to books away from the library. Fellow attendees confirmed that the rigorous attention to ebooks in session after session was new to this year’s conference. Here is my list of the top themes from Charleston as they relate to ebooks.

1.    A Business Model for Everyone. Book publishers need to understand how libraries buy electronic content: through resellers, buying clubs, cooperative collection development groups, and consortia. Publishers also need to make sure that their ebooks are incorporated into approval plans through Blackwell, Yankee Book Peddler and others (many libraries are now considering ebook-preferred approval plans). It’s important to offer a variety of business models, directly and through different vendors, with a great deal of flexibility for libraries to fit buying into current systems and to deal with budget issues. Publishers should look at new business model trends, particularly the trend toward patron/demand-driven purchasing.

2.    Providing Quality Metadata is What We Do. One of the key ways publishers can add significant amounts of value to their ebooks is to make them easily discoverable through library channels. Part of this is the quality of ONIX data being pushed out to vendors and librarians (correct author names, consistent series names, and making clear if a title is a reprint or reissue were just a few specifics mentioned over and over again) and developing effective MARC records. The second part is to provide new title info at least six months prior to publication date, publish print and electronic simultaneously (no embargoes), work with vendors to add value to your data, and provide lots of context: cover art, tables of contents, reviews, pricing, subjects, series, level, reprints, availability, call numbers, subjects, descriptions, and, internally, cross-references.

3.    Beyond the Book and Journal. The conference had only limited talk about new kinds of scholarship being done, or publication outside of the book or journal container. Toby Green, Head of Publishing, Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), gave a standing-room only presentation on the work he is doing with datasets and the challenges OECD has faced in publishing this kind of content. This week the OECD will issue a white paper on Publishing Standards for Datasets and is also looking to work with a partner to make its technology available to other publishers. Green also demonstrated several projects innovating in the presentation of complex data: Gapminder (now being developed by Google), Mappingworlds, and Swivel.

4.    Digital Rights Management and Intellectual Property. Although publishers and libraries may still disagree about what falls under fair use, Digital Rights Management technologies continue to dissuade users and prevent significant uptake of ebooks. See my past blog entry on this issue.

5.    Textbooks, Textbooks, Textbooks. Every librarian wanted textbooks and noted the rise of online instruction and access. But are libraries willing or able to take over the cost of those textbooks if it shifts from student’s pocketbooks to library budgets? Kate Price at Library of Surrey recognized that libraries and publishers may need to negotiate special business models that suit both parties. Another speaker suggested a model where a library buys etextbooks for their premium prices and charges students a reasonable fee for access. There is a pent-up demand for these titles, so experiments with premium pricing in this area would be useful.

6.    License Negotiations are a Pain—for Everyone. Every librarian begged and pleaded for publishers to use the library’s model license or, at the least, the SERU model license. Is it realistic? Publishers don’t seem convinced. One of the main issues may be SERU’s perpetual access requirement, especially for certain types of ebook packages.

7.    Budgets for eBooks and other eResources. Expect that only about a quarter of the library’s overall budget is being used for books—the rest is for journals and other electronic resources. A high percentage of the library budget is already committed at the beginning of the year, with only a small percentage of discretionary funds. To deal with budgeting issues, many libraries are shifting their collections focus to institutional strengths and local and unique collections. As it’s not always cheaper for a library to go completely e with books, it will be interesting to see what the rise of the ebook will mean for the library budget.

8.    Interface Thresholds. Hope Barton, Director of Central Technical Services at University of Iowa Libraries, noted that a user can only master about three or four different interfaces. Many speakers remarked that one of the challenges to ebook use is that, unlike journals, there is no standard user interface. Sometimes librarians referred to the UI as a “platform”, but I suspect that it’s not about whether you’re using ebrary or MyiLibrary; rather whether these and other platforms are providing standardized methods for browsing, searching, reading, etc.

9.    Keep in Touch. In general, publishers need to be more in tune with library concerns—from the basics of invoices and fulfillment to broader issues related to scholarly communications. Librarians actually want to be consulted during the product development process, and both librarians and university presses are interested in the same subjects: preservation, contextualizing content, discovering content, demonstrating value to the institution, and developing trust in electronic content among users.

10.    Case Studies to Case Out. I didn’t catch every ebook case study presented during the conference, but here are a few case studies to watch: OhioLINK, a consortium of 89 libraries and 600,000 users, is trying a variety of new business models; Georgia State University has been working on their own ebook experiment for several years; North Carolina University is also working on expanding ebook buying and recommends that publishers need to try every kind of model for their ebooks; Kate Price from the Library of Surrey gave an excellent presentation on their growing portfolio of ebooks and the challenges they’ve faced in the process of developing their collection; and University of Texas is testing out demand-driven purchasing models.

Laura Cerruti is Director of Digital Content Development at University of California Press


Amazon Kindling New Interest in eBooks?

Amazon’s unveiling of their new ebook reader, the Kindle, has generated much attention in both publishing circles and in the general media.  Everybody seems to have an opinion about the Kindle.  The most recent high-profile discussion of the merits of the Amazon Kindle was a piece by Randall Stross in the January 27th edition of the New York Times.

From the beginning, Amazon has been betting that the Kindle will be to book lovers what the iPod has been to music lovers.  Whether the Kindle really catches fire (no pun intended) or lands on the ash heap of failed attempts to digitize the general book business, I do think the conversations about books that the unveiling of the Kindle have started have been profitable for both consumers, publishers, and other people involved in the book trade.

UC Press has agreed to participate in the Kindle program, and Amazon is in the process of preparing a few dozen files for inclusion as downloadable ebooks for the Kindle reader, so we don’t currently have a big stake in this.  But from the media attention that’s been lavished on this homely little ebook reading device, one would think that the future of the book business hinged upon its success.  Is it all hyperbole?

From the time I first saw a prototype of the device, I had my doubts that people would want yet another gadget, let alone an expensive gadget, in order to read digital books.  This is, unfortunately, a limitation of today’s digital book reading technology.  The very technology that currently makes digital books more readable on screen, E-ink technology, requires a different display than your computer monitor, cell phone, or PDA use.  Indeed, Joe Wikert of John Wiley and Sons recently blogged about this on the Teleread ebook blog, positing that the ideal gadget for reading digital books would be a laptop that is somehow e-ink enabled.

Ultimately, though, Randall Stross’s piece in the New York Times, spends less time discussing the technology behind the Kindle and more time discussing how the fate of reading book length treatments of anything in this country might be joined at the hip with wider adoption of electronic reading devices.  The book industry (it has been pointed out many times before) is one of the few entertainment industries that has stubbornly resisted digitization.  This is partly attributable to intellectual property issues with digital books and with borrowed material contained within books themselves, which isn’t so much an issue for, say, musical compositions, unless they contain tons of samples.  It’s also partially attributable to a sense that a book is in and of itself an aesthetic object, and avid readers from the time they start reading beautifully illustrated, four-color children’s books are brought up with this mentality.  And, well, frankly, things just don’t move along very quickly in the book business.  But, mostly, readers just haven’t take to reading books online, although they’re increasingly reading tons of other stuff online.

While none of these things is likely to change overnight, I think that the heat is being turned up by a younger generation that is accustomed to reading on screen and wants instant gratification.  But whether ebooks are ultimately widely adopted turns on not the technology itself but whether or not avid readers (those 20% of the population who buy the overwhelming number of the books sold in this country) begin to turn to ebooks.  Gadget collectors and technophiles won’t make or break the ebook business–avid readers will. It also hinges upon whether this country will continue to produce avid readers of books, and some anecdotal evidence from a recent Frontline piece on social networking suggested we might be having some difficulty in this area.

Nonetheless, Amazon is in an excellent position to deliver the goods to these avid readers.  People may argue about Amazon’s use of a proprietary format and digital rights management to lock down Kindle ebooks, but for users who just want to get on with the business of reading and who don’t care much about managing their ebook collections, these features make this system easy to work with.  This could be the real upside to what Amazon has done.

If the Kindle itself hasn’t delivered the future of the ebook, the conversations generated by its introduction have at least given us a glimpse.