International Open Access Week interview: NWO-funded book editor Karène Sanchez-Summerer
Thu 27 Oct 2022
Since the start of our collaboration with NWO – The Dutch Research Council, the OAPEN Library has seen the NWO collection grow, now containing almost 200 titles. To celebrate Open Access Week, OAPEN asked authors/editors of books arising from NWO-funding to share their experiences and views, the second interview is with Karène Sanchez-Summerer:
Karène Sanchez-Summerer, Professor and Chair Middle East Studies, Faculty of Arts at Groningen University. She obtained her PhDs from Leiden University and EPHE (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris Sorbonne). Her research considers the interactions between European linguistic and cultural policies and the Arab communities (1860-1948) in Palestine. Currently, she is the PI of the research project CrossRoads: European cultural diplomacy and Arab Christians in Palestine. A connected history during the formative years of the Middle East (1920-1950) funded by The Netherlands National Research Agency (NWO). Five books by Karène Sanchez-Summerer are included in the OAPEN Library.
Just recently you published a book titled The House of the Priest. An Orthodox Palestinian Life (1885-1954) which is included in the OAPEN Library collection. This book is the result of the CrossRoads project funded by NWO. Could you tell us some more about your motivations for conducting this research project?
This project aims to revisit the relationship between the European cultural agenda and the local identity formation process, and social and religious transformations of Arab Christian communities in Palestine, when the British ruled (1918-1948). When we started, our main questions were: what was the role of culture in European policies regarding the Arabs of Palestine; how did Arab Christians use culture to define their place in the proto-national and religious configuration between 1920 and 1950? Eighteen months after the beginning of the project, we found in Lebanon (Beirut) so far unpublished and untranslated memoirs of Niqula Khoury, a senior member of the Orthodox Church and Arab nationalist in late Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine. This amazing manuscript discusses the complex relationships between language, religion, diplomacy and identity in the Middle East in the interwar period. We wanted to share an annotated translation of this precious and significant manuscript to explain Khoury’s memoirs and their significance for the social, political and religious histories of twentieth-century Palestine and Arab relations with the Greek Orthodox church. Khoury played a major role in these dynamics as a leading member of the fight for Arab presence in the Greek-dominated clergy, and for an independent Palestine, travelling in 1937 to Eastern Europe and the League of Nations on behalf of the national movement.
This is one of two books, available in the OAPEN Library, from the new peer-reviewed series, Christians and Jews in Muslim Societies, published by Brill. Previously you have also published your work with Springer (now SpringerNature). What was your experience with these publishers?
I’ve published several volumes in OA the last years, with Brill, and, though different with Springer (an extended book proposal is evaluated), the process went rather smoothly. The publishers wanted to know whether the book was going to be open access before starting the editing process. In addition, you can apply for NWO’s Open access books fund only after the book has been accepted for publication by the publisher (which was my case for the House of the Priest). As for the NWO Open books grant is concerned, I thought it was a very easy process, so I recommend it to anyone who would like their book to reach out to a bigger audience. Open access might cause some delay in the publication, but the advantages are worth it.
Your recent books are published under an open license, CC-BY, making it freely available and granting others a certain level of re-use, what was your motivation for publishing the book openly and under this license?
First of all, I believe any academic endeavour should be open to the public. Since this book is the result of an NWO project, which was paid for by public funds, open access is now required. Furthermore, working as a scholar on Middle Eastern studies, I’ve seen various academic settings and open access is essential in regions where many do not have access to print copies, fewer institutions can afford subscriptions.
How do you think academia and society at large can benefit from your book being available open access?
Scholars working on the Middle East can now easily prescribe parts of the book to their students, it gives them an easy access to a source translated from Arabic, all the more relevant that it is a critical edition. They can also prescribe only some of the chapters, so that students get an idea of certain aspects only (for example the Arabs in Europe and their political representation during the interwar period). The fact that institutions/individuals don’t have to purchase the book makes it easier to prescribe only some parts of it.
It has been a while since you have published these books. Did unrestricted access in any way help you to reach new audiences? In new, unexpected ways or in any way different compared to traditional publishing? If yes, how do you know this?
The creative commons engage audiences beyond the traditional readers, broadening and diversifying the audiences who get access to the book, anyone can access it. We were contacted by various types of readers, in Europe and from the Middle East – we even received a message with photos of the persons mentioned in the manuscripts (1920’s and 1930’s). The book The House of the Priest has been published just before the summer; we are eager to receive more reactions in the future.
Looking at your own publishing journey, have your views on open access book publishing, its benefits or limitations in any way changed over the years?
I was always convinced by the necessity to share widely publications, to make them available to various audiences, and that all students and scholars, all the more so when they are from/in Middle Eastern countries, in my particular case, should easily and immediately access them. Over the years, this opinion was only reinforced.