Futures of academic publishing

By Alison Fox, on 5 June 2018

Today’s guest post is by Ilan Kelman, from UCL’s Institute for Global Health and Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction, editor of Arcticness: Power and Voice from the North, and is part of a special series to celebrate UCL Press reaching one million downloads. 

Are the days over of roaming the dusty library shelves for sombre articles by world-renowned-but-never-seen scientific figures? Now, you can sit over ten kilometres up on an intercontinental flight downloading PDFs. Or seek the face of a prominent name through an image search or watching them lecture online.

No more must you queue at conferences to harangue them. On the same flight, or from your phone at home, drop them an email or social media message and skype across time zones.

Then, login to google docs from different hemispheres to co-author in real-time. Or use track changes and comments to edit with colleagues whom you have never met or spoken to.

Academic publishing is changing. New media and new ways of accessing media permeate science. With publishers, we can and should explore what could work or fall flat–while never diminishing world-renowned, cutting-edge, innovative science.

UCL Press already pursues personalisable and interactive PDFs. Images have long been part of manuscripts. Electronic publishing permits audio clips, videos, spreadsheets, GIS files, and other formats as embedded or supplementary material.

Patents and legislation are publication formats which academics can write and which are effectively peer-reviewed. Fine and performing arts accept non-written forms for academic credit, whether a composition, a performance, a painting, or a sculpture.

All disciplines should adopt similar approaches and beyond. Rather than being within, or supplemental to, a publication, different forms and formats could be the peer-reviewed academic publication.

A five-minute video of original choreography could express the islandness and urbanity of London or Bangkok as island cities. A dynamic holograph could illustrate decision-making under climate change. A computer programme could provide an online display which automatically collects, processes, and analyses real-time air pollution data.

Any such submission would have to be rigorously peer reviewed, as with papers, chapters, and books. The review process might require as much creativity and open-mindedness as the piece under review.

Other options require careful thought and implementation. Could material submitted for peer review, and peer-review processes, be crowdsourced with anyone contributing, as with wikis? Determining authorship could be challenging, but perhaps no more so than a paper for which the list of 5,154 authors is longer than the manuscript.

With a New Zealand river being granted some legal rights similar to human beings, could environmental features or processes be scientific co-authors? Isaac Asimov’s fiction writings set the stage for robots and other machines to be considered as peer-reviewed outputs and/or authors on them.

Nothing here mean eschewing the lengthy, erudite article or book with humdrum section headings. Nothing here means dismantling libraries or recycling the paper-based journals. It simply means different approaches, forms, and formats complementing and supplementing, not displacing, long-accepted scientific publication outputs.

We must continue standard approaches. We must also embrace and create futures of academic publishing without compromising scientific quality.

We can be creative, innovative, modern, and engaging without losing the positive aspects of what we have. All futures bring forward needed elements of the past.

Brexit and the democratisation of knowledge

By Alison Fox, on 31 May 2018

Today’s guest post is by Benjamin Martill and Uta Staiger, editors of Brexit and Beyond: Rethinking the Futures of Europe, and is part of a special series to celebrate UCL Press reaching one million downloads. 

We started working on Brexit and Beyond in early 2017 when we realised there was a distinct gap in the market when it came to easily accessible yet scholarly works on Brexit. Full-length academic articles were often too lengthy and discipline-specific to appeal to the average reader. In any case, they take a rather long time to reach the market, such that by then the real world often has moved on. Nowhere more so than with Brexit! By contrast, the readily availabile opinion pieces and op-eds through which much of the ‘here and now’ of the Brexit debate took place lacked the rigour of academic works.

So we resolved to create a volume of short, accessible pieces on Brexit which would appeal to a general audience, while being informed by their authors’ long-standing scholarship. UCL Press embraced the idea with enthusiasm.

We also wanted to work with UCL Press because of the benefits of the open access model. Given the acrimony surrounding Britain’s changing relationship to Europe, we felt it was particularly important to bring rigorous discussion of the topic out of the academic ivory tower. To freely provide a volume with some of the biggest names in their field to students and interested citizens alike was, we believed, the easiest – and most direct – way to achieve this. The Brexit vote highlighted a yawning gap between academic debates and the concerns of many British citizens. Meanwhile, the social media ‘echo chambers’ have contributed to divided conversations and the polarisation of viewpoints. Breaking through these divisions and starting a shared conversation on the future of Europe was our aim with this volume.

UCL Press supported our book every step of the way. We had frequent meetings to discuss content, production and marketing, benefitting from the input of all the team members. The book itself came out in January and has been downloaded over 10,000 times in the past three months. What has been most heartening, though, is how pleased readers themselves have been about receiving their ‘free book’. One individual who approached us at our launch event in Brussels couldn’t believe – his words – that such a high quality product would be available for anyone to download. And, more pleasing still, he had sent copies to his friends and family. The hope is that, as more and more people engage with our contributors’ arguments, a greater number of citizens – of the UK and the EU – are brought into the detailed discussions we should be having after the referendum. Only in this way can we attempt to further the democratisation of knowledge. For facilitating these conversations – more and more every day – we are very grateful to the team at UCL Press.

Brexit and Beyond: Rethinking the Futures of Europe can be downloaded for free here.

Global Encyclopaedia of Informality Book Launch Event

By Alison Fox, on 20 March 2018

Join UCL Press and the FRINGE Centre for the launch of the two-volume Global Encyclopaedia of Informality, which marks the first publication in the FRINGE Series.

Date: Thursday 22nd March 2018
Time: 16:00 – 20:00
Location: IAS Common Ground, Wilkins Building, UCL

Register your attendance

Alena Ledeneva invites you on a voyage of discovery, to explore society’s open secrets, unwritten rules and know-how practices. Broadly defined as ‘ways of getting things done’, these invisible yet powerful informal practices tend to escape articulation in official discourse. They include emotion-driven exchanges of gifts or favours and tributes for services, interest-driven know-how (from informal welfare to informal employment and entrepreneurship), identity-driven practices of solidarity, and power-driven forms of co-optation and control. The paradox, or not, of the invisibility of these informal practices is their ubiquity. Expertly practised by insiders but often hidden from outsiders, informal practices are, as this book shows, deeply rooted all over the world, yet underestimated in policy. Entries from the five continents presented in this volume are samples of the truly global and ever-growing collection, made possible by a remarkable collaboration of over 200 scholars across disciplines and area studies.

An open access edition of both volumes of the book is available to download free from UCL Press, in addition hardback and paperback editions.

Publishing with UCL Press – an author’s perspective

By Alison Fox, on 6 November 2017

Today’s guest post is by Gabriel Moshenska, Senior Lecturer in Public Archaeology at UCL and author of Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, a textbook produced as part of JISC’s Institution as E-Textbook Publisher study

The book is out. It has gone where academic books are supposed to go: a copy in the library, a copy to my parents, one to my former PhD supervisor, and one placed casually on the coffee-table in my office as if to say ‘Oh this? Just my latest with UCL Press’. In these moments of pride, it’s easy to forget the blood, the sweat and the tears, so let’s take a few minutes to look back.

The colourful cover image of Stonehenge is a visual cliché in archaeology, and Key Concepts in Public Archaeology is a textbook example. Public archaeology is a mixture of science communication and science studies focused on archaeology and the ancient world, and UCL has been a leader in research, practice and teaching in this field for decades. The textbook draws on UCL Institute of Archaeology’s undergraduate module and the MA degree in public archaeology, and most of the authors of the chapters are regular guest lecturers on these courses.

Collections of papers by multiple authors are challenging to edit: one or two recalcitrant authors can delay publication and strain professional relationships, while the need to maintain a consistent standard and ‘voice’ requires a considerable effort, particularly for a textbook that needs to be more straightforwardly readable than other academic texts. The finished product, beautiful though it is, is considerably later and marginally slimmer than originally intended, but the Press remained supportive and encouraging throughout.

Public archaeology is grounded in a philosophy of openness and sharing scholarship, so the opportunity to publish an Open Access textbook with a Creative Commons license was extremely welcome. To combine this with the high editorial and production standards and the prestige of a University Press was a unique and brilliant opportunity. As chapter authors dragged their feet the Press decided to take advantage of the open, digital publishing format to launch the volume as a ‘living book’ to which additional chapters could be added until the final version appeared in print, pdf and a variety of other digital formats. This willingness to innovate was a significant part of the pleasure of working with UCL Press.

The print-runs for many academic books have dipped from the hundreds into the tens, while their prices have gone in precisely the opposite direction, and production values have apparently fallen out of somebody’s window. In contrast to this, UCL Press have produced a high-quality textbook that is improbably, gloriously free to download in pdf (as nearly two thousand people have discovered), and very reasonably priced in print. From an author/editor perspective the process has been exemplary, and I very much hope to work with UCL Press again in the future.

International Translation Day Excerpt: On Translation

By Alison Fox, on 30 September 2017

This excerpt, by Andre Lefavre, is taken from Poems of Guido Gezelle: A Bilingual Anthology, where it is entitled “Translating a National Monument”

I think that of all the activities open to those who like to think of themselves as literary scholars, translation is the most scientific. I know this goes against all received opinion, and yet if one accepts, with current philosophy of science, that the demarcation line between the scientific and the non-scientific is inter-subjective testability, it is easy to see that what a translator does to a literary text is much more easily testable than what a critic, for example, does to it. I try to translate accordingly.

I believe that what I should do is to give readers the most complete set of materials for their concretization of the text. How they use them (i. e. what the text eventually comes to signify for them) is none of my business. I have no poetics of my own to justify distortions of the source text; what is more, I am not allowed to have one. Again contrary to received opinion, I do not create: I transmit. What I do is as ‘artistic’ or ‘non-artistic’ as what any translator of any text does. Of course I have to know about literature in order to translate it, but does that give me the right to call myself a ‘literary’ translator and cordon myself off from the common herd?

Others have to know about chemistry, say, or biology in order to be able to translate a text. Does that make them ‘chemical’ or ‘biological’ translators? The main thing to me is what is now more and more called the ‘pragmatics’ of the text, which roughly amounts to what used to be called something like its ‘total impact’. This means that I try to find out what effect a text makes on its readers in the original language. But that is not the end of it. I also try to imagine, in some cases, what effect it could have, and I try to find ways to remedy the fact that it does not have that effect. This also means that I translate texts, not words or sentences. It means, moreover, that I translate texts written by very specific writers at a very specific time, not ‘anonymous’ texts.

 

Losing weight without a diet: manipulating a type of brain cell gets results in mice

By Alison Fox, on 2 August 2017

Today’s guest post is by Nicholas Lesica, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at UCL and author of A Conversation about Healthy Eating. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Evidence for a link between obesity and brain inflammation is getting stronger.
Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

Nicholas A Lesica, UCL

A new study has found something remarkable: the activation of a particular type of immune cell in the brain can, on its own, lead to obesity in mice. This striking result provides the strongest demonstration yet that brain inflammation may be a cause, rather than a consequence, of obesity. It also provides promising leads for new anti-obesity therapies.

The evidence linking brain inflammation to obesity has been building for some time. Consistent overeating causes stress and damage to cells in the body and brain. This damage results in a response from the immune system that has a wide range of effects.

Some of these effects help to reduce the problems caused by overeating, but others seem to make things worse. For example, in the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that controls, among other things, eating and activity – inflammation causes problems such as leptin resistance that interfere with the regulation of body weight.

Computer Hope
The hypothalamus controls eating and physical activity.
stefan3andrei/Shutterstock

Leptin is a hormone that is released by fat cells and provides the brain with information about the amount of energy stored as body fat. Normally, neurons in the hypothalamus that are sensitive to leptin will use this information to regulate eating and activity as needed to maintain body fat within some desired range.

In obesity, however, these neurons become insensitive to leptin. As a result, they no longer trigger the decrease in hunger and increase in energy expenditure that are necessary to lose excess weight. This is why the vast majority of attempts by obese people to lose weight fail– inflammation causes the brain to fight against it every step of the way.

So brain inflammation clearly plays an important role in sustaining obesity. But could it also be one of the primary causes of obesity in the first place? The onset of brain inflammation coincides with the other changes that take place in the body and brain as a result of overeating and weight gain. But whether brain inflammation actually causes the development of obesity is not yet clear. The results of the new study, however, demonstrate that the activation of a particular type of brain immune cell, microglia, initiates a cascade of events that do indeed lead directly to obesity.

Manipulating microglia in mice

In the study, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Washington performed experiments on mice. They found that altering the activity of microglia in the hypothalamus allowed them to control the body weight of the mice independent of diet.

The researchers began by testing the effects of reducing either the number of microglia or their level of activity. They found that both manipulations cut the weight gain that resulted from putting the mice on high-fat diet in half.

They then tested the effects of increasing the activity of microglia. They found that this manipulation caused obesity even in mice that were on a normal diet. This latter result is particularly surprising. The fact that obesity can be induced through microglia – rather than directly through neurons themselves – is an indication of how strongly the brain’s supporting cells can exert control over its primary functions.

Computer Hope
Obesity can be induced by manipulating microglia.
Janson George/Shutterstock

So artificial brain inflammation can cause obesity in mice. Of course, that doesn’t mean that natural, diet-induced brain inflammation does cause obesity in humans. But these new results suggest that this idea is worth taking seriously, particularly given that fact that potential solutions to the obesity crisis are in short supply.

The ConversationThis new study alone has already identified several possible targets for anti-obesity drugs. Intriguingly, one of the same drugs that was used in the study to decrease activity in microglia is also being tested in human cancer trials, so initial indications of its effects on body weight should be available soon. But either way, a deeper understanding of the role of brain inflammation will help to clarify the causes of obesity. And hopefully prompt ideas about how it can be avoided in the first place.

Nicholas A Lesica, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Reflections on publishing Memorandoms by James Martin

By Alison Fox, on 17 July 2017

Today’s Guest Post is by Tim Causer, editor of Memorandoms by James Martin and Senior Research Associate at the Bentham Project.

Memorandoms_of_James_MartinThose of us researching the history of convict transportation to Australia are extraordinarily fortunate in terms of resources, as some of the most important have, for several years, been available digitally on an open-access basis. For instance, we can search colonial-era newspapers in the National Library of Australia’s Trove, or consult the Tasmanian convict records, a body of material unique in its detail about the tens of thousands of ordinary people transported to Van Diemen’s Land.

As a callow undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen, making a first foray into Australian history fourteen years ago, such resources were the stuff of dreams. The university library’s holdings on Australian history were largely limited to landmark secondary texts such as Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend (1958) and A. G. L. Shaw’s Convicts and the Colonies (1966). The most recent work we had to hand was almost two decades old: Robert Hughes’s blockbuster, The Fatal Shore (1986). Hughes’s brilliant, terrible book is beautifully written, but is ultimately frequently misleading. But a major strength of The Fatal Shore’s was its use of convict narratives, giving it an immediacy rare in many earlier histories which relied heavily upon parliamentary papers and official correspondence.

Convict narratives fall into two main types. The first, and most common, are those published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, during or around the period in which convicts were transported to the Antipodes. For instance, two of the most well-known are Martin Cash’s The Bushranger of Van Diemen’s Land (1870) and Mark Jeffrey’s A Burglar’s Life (1893), both of which were ghost-written by the former convict James Lester Burke.

Of course, published narratives such as these present issues of interpretation. How much of Cash’s autobiography is authentically his voice, and how much is that of Burke? Ghost-writers often sanitised their subject’s life into a redemption parable, walking the fine line between titillation while still seeking to attract a respectable audience. Those narratives written by the few transported for political offences—male, middle-class, well-educated authors—are unrepresentative of the experiences of the majority of convicts. There is also a racial and gender imbalance, with the overwhelming majority of narratives dealing with the lives of white convict men—Reverend James Cameron’s partly-fictionalised biography of the Spanish transportee, Adelaide de Thoreza, is a rare exception.

The second type of narrative exists only in manuscript. They are often more exciting to deal with: they were not written for publication, do not have to meet the conventions of any genre, and are often more revealing, explicit, and subversive. For instance, the Irish convict Laurence Frayne’s narrative is a graphic account of his punishment and contains a sustained character assassination of James Morisset, a commandant of the Norfolk Island penal station during the 1830s, which would never have been fit to print.

Memorandoms by James Martin is one such unpublished manuscript which, thanks to UCL Press, is now available in open-access for the first time. The Memorandoms tells the story of the most famous of all escapes from Australia by transported convicts, that led by William and Mary Bryant. On the night 28 March 1791 the Bryants with their two infant children, James Martin, and six other male convicts stole a fishing boat and sailed out of Sydney Harbour and out into the Pacific. They reached Kupang in Timor on 8 June, though were subsequently identified as escaped convicts and the survivors were shipped back to England to face trial—where James Boswell lobbied the government for their release.

The group’s 69-day, 3,000-mile journey has been the subject of two television series, poetry, novels, and innumerable history books, with a focus on Mary Bryant. Yet the modern historical accounts are frequently unsatisfactory and derivative; what then, the reader might wonder, could be said about this story that has not been said so many times before?

Quite a bit, it turns out. Memorandoms by James Martin is the only extant first-hand account of the escape, and it provides a fresh perspective to this often formulaically-told tale. Despite the Memorandoms being spare and prosaic, it provides a sense of the hardship of the journey, the terror of those in the boat as it is pummelled by storms and churning seas, and of the party’s fascination and fear in their encounters with Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. The Memorandoms also strikingly reveals just how far some modern historians have departed from the historical record when telling the story.

Memorandoms by James Martin is also important in a second sense: it is the only known narrative written by a member of the first cohort of convicts sent to New South Wales with the First Fleet 1788. The Memorandoms was acquired at some point by one of Britain’s great philosophers, Jeremy Bentham, one of the first and most influential critics of transportation to Australia. The vast Bentham archive is, of course, held in UCL’s Special Collections, and the Memorandoms is but one of the many jewels in the College’s collections.

Now, thanks to UCL Press, the Memorandoms manuscripts are available for the first time, and for free; readers can now access the original narrative for themselves, rather than mediated by some rather dubious historical accounts. The colour reproductions bring the document to life in a way which would not otherwise be captured by publishing a transcript, and I am inordinately grateful to UCL Press for bringing the Memorandoms out in this way. My younger self in Aberdeen would have been thrilled to have had a resource like this to hand, and I hope that those who today may not have ready access to unpublished narratives like the Memorandoms will be equally pleased.

Why the suburbs are important

By Alison Fox, on 4 April 2017

Today’s excerpt, by Mark Clapson of the University of Westminster, is the foreword of Suburban Urbanities, a multi-contributor volume edited by Laura Vaughan, UCL Bartlett.

In recent years there has been much debate within urban studies as to which came first in the evolution of human settlements, the countryside or the city. There was always a third context to this discussion, however, and that was the suburb. Life beyond the city walls was a distinctive feature of ancient urban civilisations from Persia to Minoan Crete, and today in the Anglophone world the suburban population is a majority. How surprising, then, that few scholars have attempted to understand the nature and agency of suburban living as a dominant characteristic of human settlements. This was symptomatic of a wider academic indifference and even hostility towards ‘the suburban’ which has only (ridiculously) recently been challenged by a new generation of scholars who take suburbs seriously.

Suburban Urbanities is a hugely important contribution to understanding our suburban world. Drawing upon scholarship within the now rapidly expanding field of suburban studies, synthesising historical geography with space syntax theories and methods, and the sociology of everyday life, it sheds new light on the historic and spatial evolution of the city. It shows that suburbia is not a synchronic caricature of a life-less-lived, but a dynamic context of metropolitan agency and creativity. As an historic process, suburbanisation is not something that evolved beyond the city to suck the life out of it, but was intertwined with trajectories of growth, with the socioeconomic patterning and structuring of cities large and small. It is impossible to grasp the meaning of class relations, of gendered lifestyles, of ethnic segregation and integration, of urban economies and patterns of mobility and communications, without placing suburbia at the forefront of the analysis. The universality of the themes of Suburban Urbanities is obvious: the dynamics of growth are significant historically because suburbs are starting points in change over time, not the end of the line. Old suburbs were once new, and today’s new suburbs, springing up rapidly across the world, will one day be old. As dynamic environments they continue to act as vectors of social, economic and political development, locally, nationally and globally.

The book is timely in another important sphere, and that is the personal subjectivity of suburbanites. To those who live in them, suburban lives have meaning. Back in 2013, I went for a walk in Fort Totten, an AfricanAmerican suburb of Washington, DC. On a sweltering August lunchtime, as I took photographs of the comfortable suburban homes of middle-class black people in roads that were empty except for flowering trees and parked cars, a woman’s voice called out to me with a gentle but audible ‘good afternoon’. Across her neatly trimmed front lawn I began chatting with a woman in her sixties who was taking tea with a friend on her veranda. She had left downtown DC in 1976 and as she stated with some passion, ‘I couldn’t wait to get out’. Fort Totten had its problems, but it was an attractive and spacious place to raise children, and well connected to the city. Her story is an important one because it is one of millions of inconvenient truths being ushered out of view by the current urban policies that demonise suburbia, and by the retro-fitting of suburbs that were, until very recently, doing just fine. Myriad examples of successful suburban living and suburban happiness and of triumph over social exclusion can be found if academics want to look for them. Suburban Urbanities looks for them, and understands that they are part of an ongoing pattern of human settlement that stretches from the ancient past to the present, and will persist long into the future.

Talking to the BBC about social media in China

By Alison Fox, on 23 March 2017

Today’s guest blog is by Tom McDonald of Assistant Professor at Hong Kong University. He is author of Social Media in Rural China

Earlier this month, I was very fortunate to be interviewed by the BBC on my research onto the use of technology in China. The article that was published as a result of the interview is a good example of ‘public anthropology’,

Photo: Gillian Bolsover

Photo: Gillian Bolsover

showing how the discipline’s research can made relevant to a wider audience.

This commitment to engaging with the public through anthropology is something that is also mirrored in two books that I published last year: Social Media in Rural China and How the World Changed Social Media (the latter is co-authored with the rest of the Why We Post team). Both of these volumes tried to respond to the immense interest in social media from the general public, by writing in an accessible and open style. We chose to keep all citations and the discussion of wider academic issues to endnotes. Many readers seem to have enjoyed this style of easy-to-understand writing.

A central aim of the book Social Media in Rural China was to try and help non-Chinese audiences, who have limited experience of Chinese social media and find it hard to imagine what they are like, to understand the nature of these platforms and the kind of social effects they are bringing to a small rural community in China.

Given this, it’s also been surprising to see how the book has been received in Hong Kong and Mainland China. I’ve gained a lot from discussing sections of the book with undergraduate and postgraduate students—most of whom are Chinese—in my Local Cultures, Global Markets and New Media and Digital Culture courses. Readers are often interested to understand a “foreigner’s” reflections on contemporary rural China.

Photo: Gillian Bolsover

Photo: Gillian Bolsover

This feedback will be particularly useful as I put together articles for academic journals over the coming months. In this way, I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to balance two quite different forms of writing: academic writing aimed at fellow researchers in universities, and a more accessible writing for a general public which can also inspire articles such as the one that appeared on the BBC.

This post originally appeared on the Global Social Media Impact Study blog. It has been re-posted with permission.

Why commemorate Guido Gezelle?

By Alison Fox, on 21 March 2017

Today’s guest post is by Paul Vincent, an award-winning translator and scholar who has published two volumes of translated poetry with UCL Press: Herman Gorter: Poems of 1890, A Selection, which explores the work of seminal Dutch poet Herman Gorter, and, more recently, the multi-translator volume Poems of Guido Gezelle. This excerpt, to celebrate World Poetry Day, is taken from the introduction of  Poems of Guido Gezelle.

Plant
fountain
shoot that roots
jet that spatters
tempest above all deeps
storm across all plains
wild rosetrees blow
stems of alder catkins bare

Deepest distance
farthest depth

calyx that quivers in the cup of both my palms
and darling as the daisy
As the poppy red
O my wild poppy

Paul van Ostaijen (1896–1928), translated by James Holmes

 

This acclamation of Gezelle by an Expressionist of a succeeding generation is typical of the awe with which he has been regarded in his home culture. The writer August Vermeylen sees his significance for Flemish literature in biblical terms – that the poet himself would have no doubt found blasphemous: ‘In the beginning was Gezelle; and Gezelle was the Word …’

However, amid the polemics and recriminations that seem inescapable accompaniments to literary commemorations nowadays, the Flanders-based Dutch writer Benno Barnard recently sparked controversy by suggesting that Gezelle had little to say to him as a reader at the end of the twentieth century.2 Invidious comparisons were made between the official funds being lavished on the Gezelle centenary and the less generous subsidy afforded the twentieth anniversary of the death of the ‘worthier’ irreverent modernist Louis-Paul Boon (1912–79). The puzzled outside observer might wonder why it has to be Gezelle or Boon, and why this tiny corner of Europe that produced two extraordinary originals cannot rejoice in its own cultural richness and diversity.

There are more encouraging signs: it is refreshing to see that the commemorative exhibition organised by the poet’s home town of Bruges celebrates not only the pious regionalist and nationalist icon, but also the polyglot cosmopolitan, as reflected in his extensive library.

The English reader without Dutch has no need to grope for a context for much of Gezelle’s work: his love of regional speech and folklore, and his attraction for the minute details of nature that he shares with Robert Burns (1759–96), like Gezelle a gardener’s son. His Franciscan sense of the brotherhood of Nature sometimes suggests the poetry of John Clare (1793– 1860), while the devotional dimension and formal experiment (for example, onomatopoeia) suggest the sprung rhythms and spiritual questing of fellow priest Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). The Anglophile Gezelle visited England several times on church duties, and one can only speculate on the impact Hopkins’s work might have had on Gezelle, had it been published during his lifetime. Kindred spirits, and in the case of Burns a possible partial influence – but Gezelle, great writer that he was, is much more than the sum of influences. It is hard to dissent from Jozef Deleu’s comments in a recent anthology:

There is no poet who has made our language sing in such an incomparable way. The wonder of the poet Gezelle is his gift of wonderment. Childlike and naive, he spends his life in the midst of nature. He has no explanation for all the wonders that strike his eye and ear, but throughout his life they move him to praise the Creator. Gezelle is always uninhibited and unrestrained in his rapture. When he is overwhelmed by solitude and sadness, his language is just as musical as when he is in joyful mood. His poetry is carried by a Romantic sense of life, but lucidity and simplicity are its most essential features. Gezelle the poet is both a seeker and a finder. Whatever he touches with his word, regains the purity of the first day. That makes him unique.

In selecting poems for the present anthology, my aim was to give as representative a picture as possible of Gezelle’s large poetic output (based on source-language anthologies, critical views and personal preferences), from devotional, through narrative to celebratory and expressionistic. I also wished to include as wide as possible a spectrum of translators in English. It is particularly gratifying to be able to include a number of expert dialect versions, two in Lowland Scots (‘Twa Aivers’ and ‘To…?’) and one Yorkshire flavoured (‘Farmer Nick’). What this volume cannot, of course, do is do justice to the range and versatility of ‘the at least five Gezelles’ identified by André Lefevere (journalist, linguist, educator, priest, experimental poet). I can only offer a window on the last and, arguably, greatest of these: the lyric poet.