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VCU's digital press launches with British Virginia

July 23, 2013

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In 2010, English Professor Joshua Eckhardt and History Professor Sarah Meacham brought an idea to VCU Libraries.

The idea? To collaborate on an innovative, born-digital project called British Virginia, a series of peer-reviewed, open-access editions of colonial documents and printed books. VCU scholars would identify, edit and prepare for publication new documents and books, and VCU Libraries would publish these editions through its digital repository for scholarship at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Three years later, at the end of spring semester, VCU Libraries launched British Virginia. The inaugural digital publication is the first of the "Virginia Company Sermons," which William Symonds preached in London in 1609. The importance of this and the other little-known, early Virginia Company sermons lies in their purpose: to encourage colonization of the Virginia settlement and to instill the ideology of the endeavor in listeners who had heard much criticism of the colony.

Working with the Virginia Historical Society, Eckhardt edited, described and contextualized the copy of Symonds' sermon. Then, with the images of the rare book that the VHS produced for British Virginia, he designed a second edition of the same sermon, a searchable photographic facsimile.

For VCU Libraries, British Virginia marks a significant contribution to a dialogue about the future of academic publishing and how libraries can assist faculty and researchers to find, use, and re-interpret obscure or previously inaccessible documents.

Librarians historically have been on the vanguard of new and emerging technologies and four librarians collaborated to develop the publishing model for this significant digital initiative. The team was: Sam Byrd, Digital Collections Systems Librarian, John Duke, Senior Associate University Librarian, Kevin Farley, Humanities Collections Librarian, and Jimmy Ghaphery, Head, Digital Technologies. 

"VCU Libraries is confident that British Virginia will inspire and influence how academic libraries and faculty collaborate to create exciting, innovative digital scholarship," said University Librarian John E. Ulmschneider. "Projects like VCU'sBritish Virginia represent the best of the future of open-access, digital publication for the 21st Century."

British Virginia is a series of scholarly editions of documents touching on the colony. These original sources range from the 16th and 17th-century literature of English exploration to the 19th-century writing of loyalists and other Virginians who continued to identify with Great Britain. British Virginia editions appear principally in digital form, freely downloadable. The editorial offices sit appropriately at the research university nearest both the falls of the James River and the site of the first English college planned for this side of the Atlantic Ocean, Henricus Colledge.

To contact VCU's digital publishing program: John Duke, jkduke@vcu.edu, (804) 827-3624.

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