Date February 24, 2023
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Publishing award recognizes Brown’s innovative digital scholarship

Created by Brown faculty and library staff, the digital publication “Shadow Plays” won a prestigious Professional and Scholarly Excellence Award from the Association of American Publishers.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — An interactive scholarly publication created at Brown University won a 2023 Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE) Award from the Association of American Publishers — a testament to the growing impact of Brown University Digital Publications, a program based at the University Library.

The online publication, titled “Shadow Plays: Virtual Realities in an Analog World” and published by Stanford University Press in 2022, was created by Massimo Riva, a professor of Italian studies at Brown, alongside library staff. “Shadow Plays” won the prestigious PROSE Award for best e-product, a recognition given in past years to highly original creations, such as an interactive writing style guide and an app that helps users identify birds.

To Allison Levy, director of Brown University Digital Publications, the award is an important recognition of the University’s efforts to advance scholarship by creating “born-digital” publications — media-rich, interactive research projects intended to be published by university presses.

“Brown is at the vanguard of supporting and promoting innovative faculty scholarship that opens up dynamic new possibilities for authors and readers alike,” Levy said. “By expanding traditional research and publishing pathways, open-access works like ‘Shadow Plays’ serve as models for developing and presenting research in the digital realm and extending its reach well beyond the academy.”

According to Levy, “Shadow Plays” explores popular forms of entertainment in the 18th and 19th centuries, such as stereoscopes and moving panoramas, that were used to transport viewers to a new world. Through six case histories and eight interactive simulations, Riva shows how those early innovations foreshadowed present-day virtual, augmented and extended reality experiences.

Levy said that Riva’s scholarly project is not only fascinating but also urgently needed. At a time when the gap between simulation and reality is closing, Levy said, “Shadow Plays” can help researchers and the general public alike draw on history to better answer questions about the potential psycho-social effects of augmented and virtual reality.

“Current advances in artificial and augmented environments are sparking questions and concerns that seem new and urgent but, in fact, have deep historical roots,” Levy said. “In the case of ‘Shadow Plays,’ a set of eight interactive simulations advances Riva’s argument and engages readers in ways that could never be accomplished in a conventional print format.”

“Shadow Plays” is Brown University Digital Publications’ second completed born-digital project. The first, “Furnace and Fugue,” breathed new life into a 400-year-old multidisciplinary book with newly commissioned and interactive vocal performances, translations between the book’s three languages and a series of supplementary essays. Several more born-digital publications are in the works, thanks to support from a Mellon Foundation grant.