Brown Library’s First Born-Digital Publication Awarded Prize by the American Historical Association

Prize will support a companion website to amplify the pedagogical and public engagement possibilities of Furnace and Fugue.

The American Historical Association has awarded the Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Creativity in Digital History to Furnace and Fugue: A Digital Edition of Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens (1618) with Scholarly Commentary, the first born-digital monograph developed by Brown University Digital Publications. Edited by Tara Nummedal, John Nickoll Provost’s Professor of History at Brown, and Independent Scholar Donna Bilak, the open access book was published by the University of Virginia Press in 2020. Furnace and Fugue brings to life in digital form an enigmatic seventeenth-century text, Michael Maier’s musical alchemical emblem book Atalanta fugiens. This intriguing and complex text from 1618 reinterprets Ovid’s legend of Atalanta as an alchemical allegory in a series of fifty emblems, each of which contains text, image, and a musical score for three voices. Re-rendering Maier’s multimedia masterpiece as an enhanced born-digital publication, Furnace and Fugue allows contemporary readers to hear, see, manipulate, and investigate Atalanta fugiens in ways that were perhaps imagined when it was composed but were simply impossible to realize before now.

Screen captures of interactive features from Furnace and Fugue

According to Professor Nummedal, “Furnace and Fugue makes possible the playful capabilities implied by Atalanta fugiens while also enabling and encouraging new interpretations of this early modern emblem book. The prize funds,” she explains, “will be used to build a companion website to amplify the pedagogical and public engagement possibilities of Furnace and Fugue.”

The interactive publication has attracted more than 16,000 unique visitors from across 167 countries since its launch just over two years ago, reaching specialist and non-specialist audiences alike. By contrast, the print run would have been 500 copies. “Born-digital publication is not only allowing scholars to realize their most innovative ideas in ways not previously possible,” says University Librarian Joseph Meisel, “it is also radically expanding the reach and impact of their work.” 

The Rosenzweig Prize, sponsored jointly by the AHA and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) at George Mason University, is awarded annually to honor and support innovative, freely available work that reflects thoughtful, critical, and rigorous engagement with technology and the practice of history.

Furnace and Fugue was developed by Brown University Digital Publications, generously launched with support from the Mellon Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and, at Brown, the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Social Science Research Institute.

Screen captures from Furnace and Fugue

Questions about Furnace and Fugue can be addressed to Allison Levy, Director of Brown University Digital Publications ([email protected]). 

About Brown University Digital Publications

A collaboration between the University Library and the Dean of the Faculty, generously launched with support from the Mellon Foundation with additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Brown University Digital Publications creates exciting new conditions for the production and sharing of knowledge. Widely recognized as accessible, intentional, and inclusive, Brown’s novel, university-based approach to digital content development is helping to set the standards for the future of scholarship in the digital age.