Author success story
Context from the author:
I, Professor Helen King, am a historian of medicine and the body, who retired from The Open University in 2017. In 2017-18 I worked at Gustavus Adolphus College, MN, promoting interdisciplinary approaches to history. I’ve held visiting roles at the Peninsula Medical School and the universities of Vienna, Texas, Notre Dame and British Columbia. Since my first monograph, Hippocrates’ Woman: Reading the female body in ancient Greece (1988), I’ve published on aspects of gynaecology and obstetrics from classical Greece to the nineteenth century. I’m currently working on a history of the female body for Profile Books.
Please provide some background information on the research project, book origin, adjacent research, and/or network enabling the book
This book developed from a research project, ‘Hippocrates Electric’, supported by The Open University, who paid for a research assistant – Dr Joanna Brown – to support me while I was carrying a heavy administrative load as Head of Department of Classical Studies. We did a short film on the project on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByTWm2bx_6Y; over 500 hits
What was/were your motivation(s) for wanting to publish this book?
I was becoming increasingly irritated by all the online claims that ‘Hippocrates said’ this or that ‘Hippocrates discovered’ that. As a historian I realised that such claims have been made for many centuries, but that what is different today is that they are most likely to be made in the context of trying to sell a diet, a particular food, a drug or a lifestyle product.
Please give some information on the funding behind the research / book / network
The project was funded by Knowledge Unlatched’s library consortium.
Was the book made available on your own website, or the website of any other editors or contributors, or your institution? If so, please state which.
In addition to the platforms named above (DOAB; OAPEN; Knowledge Unlatched) it is linked through The Open University’s repository, at https://oro.open.ac.uk/59833/
Open access success story:
What makes this book successful?
The topic: people are surprised to find out that the assumptions they had about Hippocrates as ‘Father of Medicine’ are not based on any evidence. But they are also finding out about the way the internet works, with Wikipedia, quotes sites and social media sharing things Hippocrates is supposed to have said. The authority of what claims to be ‘knowledge’ is very relevant to the whole ‘fake science’ question.
Why did you choose to publish this book open access?
I was delighted at the initial suggestion from Bloomsbury to submit the book to Knowledge Unlatched, because I want people to read it! It’s not just for a narrowly academic audience – although I hope they’ll find it challenging too, and the reviews in academic journals suggest that they do. It’s also a book for anyone interested in how orthodox and alternative medicine try to persuade us that what they are telling us is right. It’s about authority, and that matters to people who are never going to spend money on an academic book!
Do you think that open access publication helped the book and if so, why?
Well, without open access I doubt I’d have had anything like the reach I did; on Twitter my tweet linking to the OA site has so far had 24,000 impressions and 858 engagements, and Bloomsbury tell me the book has had more than 21,000 engagements with it.
Did your OA book show immediate success upon publication, or did the success unfold more slowly over time?
I don’t know as I haven’t seen figures for this. But it goes on being referenced.
It was used in an episode of ‘Infectious Histories’ podcast in February 2021 (https://infectioushistorians.com/2021/02/25/ancient-medicine/)
In June 2022 it was mentioned – with a link to the open access version – in a Dutch blog post on Galen, in terms of the blog post developing the approach I had used in the book (https://www.leidenartsinsocietyblog.nl/articles/off-beat-did-galen-really-pioneer-diagnostic-use-of-the-pulse)
If early signs of success started to show, did you try to reinforce this in an unusual or creative way?
As soon as the book was published – bearing in mind that it was about the internet – I offered blog posts about it to some significant online blogs, such as Eidolon (https://eidolon.pub/spin-doctor-25e50ae71508) where it has had over 160 ‘handclaps’, and the Classical Reception Studies Network blog (https://classicalreception.org/hippocrates-as-fan-fiction/)
Did open access help to reach unreachable / unknown / unexpected / new audiences? If yes, how do you know this?
It reached medical audiences; reviewed in the British Medical Journal, https://blogs.bmj.com/medical-humanities/2021/01/27/book-review-helen-king-hippocrates-now-the-father-of-medicine-in-the-internet-age/
It also reached a general Classics audience (public, teachers etc) as it was reviewed in Classics For All (‘leaves the reader both alarmed and amused (in equal measure) by the credulity and the duplicity of the surfing public … Thoroughly and meticulously researched’)
Students: they find my dissection of how the internet works engaging and surprising: I lectured on one section of the book – the imaginary stories created on Wikipedia – to audiences in Minnesota (https://gustavus.edu/calendar/lecture-hippocrates-in-prison-how-classical-myths-spread-online-by-rydell-professor-helen-king) and Utrecht.
Considering that the use of Hippocrates (and fake Hippocrates) on ‘quotes sites’ was something I discussed at length in the book, I was pleased to see that one such site is actually referencing the book! (https://www.quotescosmos.com/people/Hippocrates-quotes-2.html)
Did open access make new connections / follow-up possible?
Not beyond what is already mentioned above.
Is there any long tail (awareness, citations, downloads) of this book that you consider would (most likely) not have happened with print sales only or toll-access?
How do you think academia can benefit from your book being OA?
It’s there for students to read, so it’s easy to put as set reading on a syllabus, but also it may help potential students to think about the issues around the history of medicine, and to consider taking formal courses.
How do you think society at large can benefit from your book being OA?
I hope it will challenge people to read more critically, particularly when it comes to health sites which are trying to promote a diet or sell them a product.
This article is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.