An Introduction to Amherst College Press and Open Access

ACP's Greg Call summer intern, Joy Won ('23), on What Open Access Means to Undergrads

open access logo opened lock

Every October, a banner with the Open Access logo adorns the front of Frost Library to commemorate Open Access Week. The open lock is eye-catching, and yet many students easily glance over the sign and continue speed walking as most Amherst students are seen doing on the daily. Despite living at North and glancing at the banner multiple times throughout the week, I too was guilty of being yet another speedwalker too busy to indulge my curiosity. Only now, months after my initial exposure, am I beginning to grasp what open access is and why it not only holds relevance, but importance, to me as an Amherst student.

Open access (OA) is defined as “the removal of price and permission barriers to scholarly research.” OA attempts to address the various problems that have arisen with the current system of scholarly publishing such as libraries being unable to purchase all the scholarship being published as well as shrinking print runs, which means that publishers have to charge more per title produced. The reason why the banner was up (I believe) was to spread awareness about our press, the Amherst College Press, or ACP for short. The ACP embodies our school motto “Terras Irradient” or “Let them give light to the world as is seen by the work and objectives the press upholds and stands for. According to our about page, the press’s objectives are to find and present scholarship integrating ideas across disciplines, cultures, languages, and fields of study; to engage faculty and affiliated scholars of Amherst College as an editorial board for the press; and to produce this scholarship in formats accessible to scholars and readers everywhere for no cost through the Internet, and at the lowest practical cost in print.

With these objectives at the heart of the press, the goal of OA and the press to support authors (mainly professors) in the research they do, so in turn quality resources can be published for not only students and members of the Amherst community to access, but the whole world.

Funding from the Frost Library allows the press to operate, but it’s also important to keep in mind who and what is being published. The authors for the ACP are professors who want to share the speciality research they have devoted years to, and they wish to share their work as much as possible to as many people as possible regardless of the revenue they make off of it.

While a scholarly book is typically written by a single author, I’ve learned that each title is actually the product of many people. All works at the ACP undergo a meticulous process of peer-review, which involves experts in the field of the book being published pour over the manuscripts, check for any inaccuracies and give their input about the text. Open access is a community effort to produce and uphold scholarly works with education and free access to valuable literature to anyone and everyone being the major ambitions behind OA publishing.

In light of current events, I’ve been on a search to find OA scholarship that can serve as resources in educating myself and seeking new and different perspectives on the interlocking crises of structural racism, police brutality, and the carceral state. One title of significance published by the ACP is Unburied Bodies: Subversive Corpses and the Authority of the Dead. Now more than ever, the sharing of reputable information and research lies at the heart of staying educated and aware of our society’s shortcomings and faults in order to collectively work towards a better future.

James R. Martel, a political science professor at San Francisco State University, was considerate enough to be interviewed about his title. Professor Martel first heard about the ACP during his time teaching at Amherst as a visiting professor and chose to publish with the Press “because it’s free, anyone can look at it. It’s just a great model that is also very rare.” Professor Martel prefaces his book saying he wrote it, “so that we feel not despair but resolve, not just loss but a gain as well, not just terror but a sense of what life is and can be when we remember that the dead also have something to tell us… [for] theirs is a power that can, if we allow it to affect us, bring down even the mightiest structures of state and biopolitical oppression.”

During our interview, Martel connected the recent protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to the arguments he made in Unburied Bodies. “Part of what my book was about was how dead bodies and dead people can be agents and can really change the world. I think George Floyd fully proves that; I think the world that we live in is a different world than it was a month ago when George Floyd was still alive… In the book I talk a lot about Michael Brown’s murder and how he was a huge influence on fighting Anti-Blackness, I think George Floyd and Michael Brown build on each other. Michael Brown has been reactivated as an agent, so has Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, Sandra Bland, and so many black people have been murdered by the police. So each time one of these happened, it’s like they’ve all come back into a form of a kind of power agency. I think they’re all working together right now to fight white supremacy, and I really do think it speaks to the agency of the dead and how powerful an effect they have on the living in a positive way.”

Professor Martel recommends Walter Benjamin’s Critique of Violence as a great read that explains how “the police are this violent, chaotic force that are [unfortunately] the reality of the law. It’s the opposite of what law imagines itself to be. It’s the source of chaos not the solution to chaos.” In addition, Martel believes “it’s fair to say yet that racism is ending or anything like that, but [I do] think that what [George Floyd’s death has] done is it’s exposed the hypocrisy of a lot of white liberal apologies for racism.” Professor Martel’s words are strongly felt, and offer a view that urges us all to reflect upon our actions and thoughts as we look to the future.I hope Unburied Bodies as well as other open access resources (check out our instagram for our racial justice OA book list) can be tools for you and your friends, peers, and family to take one step further in the pursuit of knowledge, which lies at the core of Amherst and the ACP.

* Special thanks to Professor Martel for his willingness to contribute to this blog post through his interview.

Joy Won ('23) is a rising sophomore at Amherst College majoring in English with an interest in educational and health equity. As the Greg Call Summer Intern she dived into the world of open-access and hopes to learn more throughout her career at Amherst. In her spare time she plays with her kitten who has listened in on many of Joy’s Amherst classes during the last few months.