A Brief History of the WAC Clearinghouse

The WAC Clearinghouse was originally planned as a companion site for the larger Writing@CSU website (writing.colostate.edu). Initially envisioned as a set of resources to support the writing-across-the-curriculum (WAC) program at Colorado State University, the growing capabilities of the web made it clear that the planned site could also address the needs of teachers of writing at other institutions. On March 14, 1997, during the annual CCCC conference, Mike Palmquist approached two colleagues, Bill Condon (Washington State University) and Christine Hult (Utah State University), about the idea of developing a website that would provide access to scholarly work on WAC. By late 1997, an initial planning group, which included Luann Barnes, Linn Bekins, Nick Carbone, Gail Hawisher, Will Hochman, Kate Kiefer, Donna LeCourt, Paul Prior, Martin Rosenberg, Cindy Selfe, and Richard Selfe, as well as Condon and Hult, was working together via electronic mail, and a collection of resources had been established on the web.

When progress on the site stalled in early 1998, due largely to what Bill Condon later described as an inability to find ways to make work on a website count for purposes of merit evaluations (personal communication to Mike Palmquist, 1998), the decision was made to convert the project into an online journal. In a May 1998 email message to the planning group, Palmquist wrote:

I am imagining a journal that is essentially an evolving, growing document (or, more accurately, a collection of documents) on the Web. Many, but not all materials published in the journal would be peer reviewed. For instance, in addition to peer-reviewed articles (both linear and hypertext), we could post WAC program proposals, successful grant proposals, program evaluations, material collected during research on WAC, and so on. (These would need to be reviewed, of course, but not in the same way as scholarly pubs, and permissions would need to be obtained before posting.)

In 2000, the Clearinghouse became academic.writing, a peer-reviewed online journal (see wac.colostate.edu/aw/). The collection of resources developed for the Clearinghouse was converted into a "related resources" section of the new journal. Members of the project team subsequently gained recognition for their work through peer-reviewed publications, editorial positions, and editorial board memberships. Over the next few years, however, the original vision of the Clearinghouse continued to shape the direction of the journal, to the point where academic.writing became home to the digital archives of two print journals (Language and Learning Across the Disciplines and The WAC Journal) and one online journal (RhetNet) and provided access to out-of-print books in digital format.

As conditions within the field changed to the point where "working on a website" began to be viewed as legitimate scholarly work, the decision was made to restructure the collection of materials that had become academic.writing. The WAC Clearinghouse was re-launched in 2002 as a publisher of scholarly work addressing writing across the curriculum and as a site providing an extensive set of resources for the WAC community. Importantly, the shift coincided with the publication of the Clearinghouse's first original scholarly book, Writing Selves/Writing Societies: Research from Activity Perspectives, a collection edited by Chuck Bazerman and David Russell. It was the first book in the Perspectives on Writing Series.

The re-launched Clearinghouse site allowed visitors to create accounts on the site, an act referred to as becoming a "member" of the Clearinghouse. A key element of its new instantiation was a reliance on a cooperative, crowd-sourcing approach in which Clearinghouse members could contribute to the site's development by creating an account and adding information—such as bibliography entries, program descriptions, conference announcements, and calls for proposals—to the site's database. In 2003, in a plenary presentation for the Research Network Forum at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Mike Palmquist described the organization and operation of the Clearinghouse as a "publishing collaborative." As the number of individuals working in editorial roles with the Clearinghouse grew over time, that description would grow increasingly apt.

A year later, the first issue of Across the Disciplines was published. Initially edited by Sharon Quiroz and Mike Palmquist, it combined the print journal Language and Learning Across the Disciplines with the online journal academic.writing and was published as an open-access online journal. Michael Pemberton took over as editor the following year and served in that role through its 2019 volume. Michael J. Cripps became editor the following year.

In 2005, the Clearinghouse became home to the International Network of Writing Across the Curriculum Programs. By the end of 2010, more than 2,000 individuals had created accounts on the site (with most allowing themselves to be listed in the INWAC membership directory). The language describing the partnership with INWAC stated:

The Clearinghouse is presented in partnership with the International Network of Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Programs. When you create an account on the Clearinghouse, you become a member of the Network. The Network exists to support the exchange of information and ideas concerning WAC, to support existing WAC programs, and to support institutions considering the development of WAC programs. Members of the Network can display information about the WAC programs at their institutions and can vote on issues brought to the membership by the Network's director and Board of Consultants.

The relationship with INWAC ended in 2018, when the Association for Writing Across the Curriculum (AWAC) was established and INWAC's work at the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication was assumed by the WAC Standing Group. AWAC and the Clearinghouse began a strong partnership that has resulted in several important projects, included the WAC Repository (in development) and the WAC Awards

In the years following the re-launch of the Clearinghouse, it entered into partnerships with other organizations and groups within the field of writing studies. In 2005, the Clearinghouse launched three new books series and entered into partnerships with Parlor Press to distribute its digital books in print format. Later, the Clearinghouse became a co-publisher of the Writing Spaces books series, a project initially edited by Charlie Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky and now edited by Trace Daniels-Lerberg, Bryna Siegel Finer, Mary Stewart, and Matthew Vetter. It also partnered with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) to provide access to key articles on writing across the curriculum published in NCTE journals, provide access to NCTE books on writing studies, and (potentially) to jointly publish a series of new books on WAC.

At about the same time, the Clearinghouse began working with the directors of CompPile to develop a stronger WAC bibliography. At Colorado State University, support for the project followed Mike Palmquist from the University Composition Program to the Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT)--and eventually to CSU Online and most recently, following Mike Palmquist's return to the faculty in fall 2020 after 14 years in university administration, to the English department. The Clearinghouse also found support at the university from the faculty and staff at Morgan Library, who provide assistance digitizing and cataloging books on the site.

In early 2011, a redesigned site was launched. New books, many contributed by NCTE and some included in a new series of occasional publications called Practice and Pedagogy, increased the total number of books available on the site to more than 40 (of which more than a dozen were original publications). In addition, the Journal of Basic Writing joined the Clearinghouse, offering its archives for access by visitors to the site. Susan H. McLeod became editor of the Perspectives on Writing series, taking over from Mike Palmquist, and quickly transformed it into a leading series within writing studies. 

At the 2012 International WAC Conference in Savannah, Georgia, the Clearinghouse celebrated its 15th year of operation. At the conference, it also announced the Sustainable Publishing Initiative. The Initiative served as an umbrella for a collection of projects intended to explore and/or demonstrate sustainable approaches to scholarly publishing, including the publishing collaborative model that has been pioneered by scholars associated with the Clearinghouse since the late 1990s. The most notable project was the 25 Collective, which had a goal of publishing 25 scholarly, peer-reviewed monographs and edited collections for a total cash expenditure of $50,000. While it was an ambitious goal, it was also viewed as attainable. 2012 also saw the launch of a newly designed site that supports mobile browsing and provides greater accessibility to visitors.

In 2012, the Clearinghouse established a new book series, International Exchanges on the Study of Writing, edited by Terry Myers Zawacki, Magnus Gustafsson, and Joan Mullin. The first book in the series was published in 2014. In 2017, the series launched a partnership with scholars in Latin America and Federico Navarro joined the editorial team for the series. In late 2015, Rich Rice joined Sue McLeod as editor of the Perspectives on Writing series, which had been attracting a growing number of high quality proposals. (The Perspectives series has since grown to include more than 40 books.)

The journal Double Helix: A Journal of Critical Thinking and Writing joined the Clearinghouse in 2013. Founded by Robert Smart, with a grant from the Davis Education Foundation, the journal gets its title from The Making of Meaning, in which Ann Berthoff muses on the structure of the DNA molecule as a model for the composing process. It has been edited since then by Glenda Pritchett, Justin Hayes, and Paul Pasquaretta. 

2015 saw the creation of the Across the Disciplines Books series, founded by Michael Pemberton in response to his observation that the calls for contributions to special issues published by the journal Across the Disciplines often drew more high-quality proposals than could be included in a single issue. The series was designed to expand and build upon the topics addressed in the special issues by publishing a larger number of contributions in richer, more expansive edited collections. It published its first book, Frankie Condon and Vershawn Ashanti Young's collection Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication, in 2016.

By 2016, growing interest among scholarly presses--and in particular university presses--in open-access publishing (or, perhaps more accurately, in how to adapt to a changing publishing landscape that challenged traditional publishing models) led to a number of funding opportunities to study alternative approaches to scholarly publishing. Unfortunately, the editorial board of the Clearinghouse learned relatively quickly that these funds were intended largely to help established presses. While members of the Clearinghouse publishing collaborative had no doubt learned a great deal about new approaches to publishing, and while the Clearinghouse might have had a great deal to share with the larger publishing community, it became clear that the funds were not intended for them. In response, and following Terry Myers Zawacki's observation that "perhaps we should start our own university press," Mike Palmquist secured permission from Colorado State University Provost Rick Miranda to establish the Colorado State University Open Press. Because of Colorado's long support of the University Press of Colorado (which had been established by several Colorado universities and colleges in the 1960s), the Clearinghouse entered into a partnership with University Press of Colorado (UPC) and Palmquist joined its Board of Trustees. Because Utah State University Press had become an imprint of the University Press of Colorado, this meant that the Clearinghouse began to work more closely with another key publisher in the field of writing studies.

The goal of the Colorado State University Open Press was to support open-access publishing in disciplines outside of writing studies by encouraging the adoption of the publishing collaborative model developed by the Clearinghouse. Within a year of its founding, the Open Press had begun working with scholars in the area of labor studies, veterans studies, and learning analytics. The Clearinghouse, however, remained the largest and most successful project supported by the Open Press.

In mid-2017, the 25 Collective reached its goal of publishing 25 books at a cost of $50,000 or less. The average cash expenditure for work related to each book came to less than $2,000 (largely copy editing). Volunteer labor and university resources (software licenses, office space, web servers) made possible the review, development, design, and distribution of the books. 2017 also marked acceptance of the Clearinghouse to the Library of Congress Cataloging in Process program, which simplified the process of preparing books for publication.

2017 saw the publication of the first book in the #writing series, Network Sense: Methods for Visualizing a Discipline, by Derek N. Mueller. The series, edited by Cheryl E. Ball, publishes open-access and print books in digital rhetoric, new media studies, digital humanities, techno-pedagogy, and similar areas of interest. By the end of 2017, the Clearinghouse had published 87 books, was supporting four active journals, and was housing the archives for five other journals.

2017 also saw the first awards for books published by the Clearinghouse. Asao B. Inoue's book, Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies: Teaching and Assessing Writing for a Socially Just Future, was selected as the winner of both the 2017 CCCC Outstanding Book Award and the Council of Writing Program Administrators Outstanding Book Award. Later, in 2019, Derek Mueller's book, Network Sense: Methods for Visualizing a Discipline, won the CCCC Research Impact Award. Clearinghouse books have since won several book-of-the-year awards.

The Journal of Writing Analytics published its first volume of work in spring 2017. Initial discussions about establishing the journal had been held at the 2016 IWAC conference with an editorial team led  by Joe Moxley, Norbert Elliot, and David Eubanks. 

In 2018, the Clearinghouse released a redesigned website that supported distributed editing by members of the collaborative. The updated website increased the resources available to teachers and writers, largely by repurposing more than 100 teaching and writing guides developed for the Writing@CSU website. 2018 also brought the launch of a new series, Foundations and Innovations in Technical and Professional Communication, edited by Lisa Melonçon, as well as changes to the Practices and Pedagogy series, which was expanded to include work on research practices and renamed the Practices & Possibilities series.

By the end of 2018, the number of individuals contributing to the operation of the Clearinghouse through service on editorial boards, as reviewers, and as editors or associate editors of the journals and book series associated with the Clearinghouse had grown to more than 160.

In response to its continuing growth, the editorial board of the Clearinghouse began exploring a more robust editorial staff structure and placed a new emphasis on securing support from institutions and organizations. In 2018, new associate editors were joined the editorial teams of several Clearinghouse book series. These new positions were created to attract more early and mid-career scholars, including graduate students, who could eventually take on leadership roles in the Clearinghouse publishing collaborative. A year later, the position of associate publisher was created, and six individuals took on those roles. Their contributions led to the development of a website application that supported the creation and registration of DOIs with CrossRef.org, the creation of a website to manage submissions to Clearinghouse book series and journals, and a site that houses tools that support the operation of the Clearinghouse (such as the DOI application, the administrative pages for CompPile, and various applications for resources published by the Clearinghouse). 

In 2019, Open Words: Access and English Studies joined the Clearinghouse. Previously supported by Pearson, the journal's archives had become difficult to find and its editors, Yndalecio Isaac Hinojosa, Kristina Gutierrez, and Sue Hum, partnered with the Clearinghouse to republish its archives and publish new issues. Its first issue with the Clearinghouse was published in December 2019.

In the late teens, with a recognition of needed social change highlighted by the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements, the Clearinghouse began to examine its editorial practices. This examination led to the creation of policies articulated in several documents, including its Invitation to Contribute Scholarly Work and its statement on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice. In 2021, it also endorsed and adopted practices found in the statement and guidelines on Anti-Racist Scholarly Reviewing Practices and created two new associate publisher positions that shared responsibility for equity and accessibility.

As the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and disrupted educational operations, the Clearinghouse began offering resources to address the teaching, learning, and professional development needs of the writing studies community. These included the links to resources for teaching during the pandemic and the Coronavirus Stories Archive. As a publishing collaborative that works online in a distributed manner, the Clearinghouse experienced relatively little disruption to its operations. But the lack of face-to-face contact at conferences proved challenging.

By March 14, 2022, 25 years to the day after its founding, the Clearinghouse publishing collaborative included more than 180 editors, reviewers, and editorial board members. Since its founding, the Clearinghouse had published 96 original scholarly monographs and edited collections and republished more than 60 out-of-print books. It was supporting six active scholarly journals and providing access to eleven others in archival form. In the previous seven years, its books had been honored with eight book-of-the-year awards from professional organizations in writing studies. And, since mid 2001, when it began keeping web stats, the Clearinghouse website had been visited more than 30 million times and more than 27 million PDF and ePub documents had been downloaded. In the previous year, the site had received more than 3.4 million visits.