A Brief History of the WAC Clearinghouse

The WAC Clearinghouse was originally planned as a companion site for the larger Writing@CSU Web site (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. In spring 1997, Mike Palmquist approached two colleagues, Bill Condon (Washington State University) and Christine Hult (Utah State University), about the idea of developing a Web site 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 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 Web site 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. 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 Web site" 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. It subsequently became home to the International Network of Writing Across the Curriculum Programs, launched three new books series (including its first original book, Writing Selves/Writing Societies, a collection edited by Charles Bazerman and David R. Russell), and entered into partnerships with Parlor Press to distribute its digital books in print format. A key element of its new instantiation was a reliance on a cooperative approach in which visitors to the site 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. By the end of 2010, more than 2,000 individuals had created accounts on the site and the Clearinghouse had become the leading site supporting writing across the curriculum.

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. The Clearinghouse became a sponsor of the Writing Spaces books series, a project directed by Charlie Lowe and Pavel Zemliansky. 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). The Clearinghouse also found support at the University from the faculty and staff at Morgan Library, who have provided 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.

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 serves 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 2015, 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 2016. 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 series, which had been attracting a growing number of high quality proposals. (The Perspectives series has since grown to include more than 35 books.)

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 the UPC had an established partnership with Utah State University Press, 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 remains the largest and most successful project supported by the CSU 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.

In 2018, the Clearinghouse released a new website that supported distributed editing by members of the collaborative. The new 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 in technical and professional writing, edited by Lisa Meloncon, as well as changes to the Practices and Pedagogy series, which was expanded to include work on research practices and renamed the Practices series.

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. The Clearinghouse began working with universities and colleges, research libraries, conferences, and publishers to establish a stronger revenue stream to support its expanding publishing operations.