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April 14, 2004

Expert brings 18th century literary greats back to life in digital book

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Thanks to Purdue University Press' first digital book, readers can learn what some of the greatest minds in 18th century literature might say today if they traded their quill pens for keyboards.

Alan T. McKenzie
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A Purdue University expert in British literature puts words into the mouths of some of the century's key literary figures, such as Samuel Johnson and Lord Chesterfield, in "Enlightening Up Postmodernism: Seven Pastirodies." "Pastirodies," a word that was coined by McKenzie, means part pastiche and part parody.

The e-book ($24.95) is available this month from the Purdue University Press. Purdue's e-books, known as Digital-I books, are published in a digital format, and no paper copies exist. This book is believed to be the first digital book in literary criticism.

"Some may consider my topic, or even the format, academic mischief, but my work is not just a stylistic ploy or academic prank," says Alan T. McKenzie, professor of English in Purdue's School of Liberal Arts. "My approach to using this technology will encourage scholars in the field to revisit great literary criticism and introduce new readers, who undoubtedly will benefit from the digital resources, such as hyperlinks, for some of these great readings."

Many books have been scanned into an electronic format for readers to access on their computers, but this book was conceptualized to exist only digitally. McKenzie wrote the book for a digital format because most of the chapters display the 18th century original text on the left side of the screen and McKenzie's version on the right. The reader can cross-reference both texts on the same computer screen. Hyperlinks also are embedded in the text so the reader can access footnotes, illustrations and other chapters.

Digital e-books are starting to emerge from university presses, according to the Association of American University Presses, but there is still some skepticism about this new publication format, says Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association. But despite some scholars' hesitations, there are a growing number of high-profile academic endeavors, such as the Gutenberg-e project turning history manuscripts into e-publications that have more scholars pursuing multimedia options.

"I understand that Purdue's press followed the same rigorous peer review process in evaluating this work as it would with any other scholarly book," Feal says. "With time, and with more successful examples, this format will gain acceptance as the academic community realizes the possibilities it offers to all those involved in the production, distribution and preservation of scholarship."

In his book, McKenzie twists Lord Chesterfield's letters to his illegitimate son into "Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his Daughter on the Tenure Track." Instead of sharing advice about achieving success in the 18th century, he offers similar advice for succeeding at a modern university. In today's version, the father warns his daughter that rock concerts and roller blades can tempt a young scholar to neglect her university studies.

In "Johnson's Life of Foucault," McKenzie writes about Michel Foucault, the 20th century philosopher, as Johnson, 18th century editor and author, would have written if he hadn't died two centuries earlier.

Funding for McKenzie's research is from the Department of English and the School of Liberal Arts' Center for Humanistic Studies. McKenzie also has written "Certain, Lively Episodes: The Articulation of Passion in Augustan Prose" and "Sent As A Gift: Eight Correspondences from the Eighteenth Century." To order the book visit the Purdue Univerisity Press web page, or call (800) 247-6553.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Sources: Alan McKenzie, (765) 494-3740, amckenzie@sla.purdue.edu

Thomas Bacher, director of Purdue University Press, (765) 494-8251, bacher@purdue.edu

Rosemary Feal, (646) 576-5000, rfeal@mla.org

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Journalists interested in acquiring a review copy of "Enlightening Up Postmodernism: Seven Pastirodies" should contact Thomas Bacher, director of Purdue University Press, by email at bacher@purdue.edu, or fax (765) 496-2442.

PHOTO CAPTION:
Alan T. McKenzie, a Purdue University expert in British literature puts words into the mouths of the 18th century's greatest literary figures, such as Samuel Johnson and Lord Chesterfield, in "Enlightening Up Postmodernism: Seven Pastirodies." The book ($24.95) is available this month from the Purdue University Press. This is Purdue Press' first e-book, which means it is in a digital format, and no paper copies exist. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

A publication-quality photo of Alan McKenzie is available at http://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/+2004/mckenzie-books.jpg


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