The Big “O” of Open Scholarship / DH Openness and Giving Things Away

Wednesday, September 11, 12:30-1:30 pm
 Williams Building 415

Openness—a core value in digital scholarly work—is nothing if not complex. In our growing reliance on intellectual and cultural commons, our expectations of large data-store projects such as the newly launched DPLA, and our calls for new critical paradigms for humanities work, the question of what constitutes agency, power, and control in such open arrangements remains pervasive and recurrent. There is much to cause both Open Access advocates and skeptics some discomfort, if for no other reason than the discussion often stalls in debate. In light of recent events—N. Katherine Hayles’s proposal for Comparative Media Studies [FSU-accessible ebook]; campus decisions to accept or reject open-access mandates; the AHA’s proposal to embargo students’ intellectual work; Wikileaks’ defense of shared metadata; even MLA President Marianne Hirsch’s selection of “vulnerability” as the 2014 conference theme for its influence on the acts of critical imagination, political resistance, and social change—what are our possible stances towards openness, and what questions should those stances invite? What are some alternative ways to understand and question the ethic of “giving it away”?

We invite you to complicate this topic with us at the first meeting of this year’s Digital Scholars group. We will be prepared to discuss particular projects whose involvements with intellectual property and metadata raise concrete questions about openness, but more importantly, we will invite Open Access experts and dabblers among us to give their perspective on other consequences of this debate, including how it has evolved since Digital Scholars first broached the topic in 2010, and what questions  should guide the future development of open scholarship. In advance of our meeting, attendees are encouraged to explore any of the following resources:



Open Library of the Humanities

Proceedings of THATCamp tagged Open Access

Open Access Now

Disembargo – a recently launched project by Mark Sample



8 thoughts on “The Big “O” of Open Scholarship / DH Openness and Giving Things Away

  1. As a new scholar moving into the research and discovery portion of her program, I wonder whether blogging the process would diminish the potential of finding new knowledge.

  2. Pingback: How radically ‘Open’ is Open Access scholarship, after all? | FSU Digital Scholars

  3. Despite the “digital revolution,” where the internet is often seen to be a modern analogue to the printing press, and Web 2.0 blurs the lines between production and consumption, certain hierarchical structures persist in the circulation of knowledge. Brown and Duguid, in their 1999 book The Social Life of Information, point to the “sticky” nature of social structures in spite of the popularization of new technology. They point out, for example, that “paperless” technology, far from eliminating paper, has caused it to proliferate. Thus, it should not be surprising that while online culture flourishes, traditional print culture plods grimly on.

    Academic scholarship, in particular, is an area that is still fairly bound to tradition. Most dissertations are archived by universities, perhaps to be published, in part, in conventional academic journals, or to be repackaged for a full-length manuscript. This system allows the university to benefit from the scholarship, and the scholar to carefully guard his or her work from theft or public critique. It also follows a fairly conventional economic model: the scholar publishes his or her work in a journal or book, and is rewarded with prestige, which may result in promotion. The field benefits from the new knowledge, and the publisher benefits financially.

    Some universities are beginning to publish dissertations online. But the public, while enjoying unfettered access to data online, still sees comparatively little academic work. One recent AHA push, in fact, is for PhD students to have the ability to embargo their work for six years, which will, in theory, allow them to develop their ideas without fear of theft or public criticism.

    Micah Vandegrift disagrees with the premise that open access enables theft; in fact, he suggests that publishing a scholarly work online may enable scholars to “stake a claim” to an area of study, and follows Harvard University Press in seeing a greater chance of a scholar being “discovered” if she represents her work effectively online.

    And Kathleen Fitzpatrick argues that a defensive stance is ultimately counterproductive in an information economy. For one thing, while it may be tempting to academics to sequester themselves for fear that their work will be misunderstood, more public access actually might increase the value the public places on education. She claims that the new emphasis, in academic publishing, should be value instead of cost (this would probably put more impetus on granting bodies to underwrite academic publishing).

    Because there is, after all, a cost to all of this. Paul Fyfe reminds us of the work that goes into edited and fact-checking manuscripts that is quite independent of peer review. And Daniel Cohen, along with Roy Rosenzweig, see a kind of “social contract” in academic publishing, where academic rigor is rewarded with serious consideration by the readers. This kind of rigor costs money, and this kind of rigor may be lost, many worry, by changing the publication model to open access.

    Ultimately, there is much to be said in favor of open publishing. In fact, I agree with Mills Kelly (quoted by Vandegrift) in affirming that in some degree, publicly funded universities “owe” the public research results because they are supported, in part, by public funds. As a scholar, though, I worry about how the changed funding model will affect the motivation to produce, edit, review, and curate high-quality work. I want to see how the open publishing model will adapt the sticky, hierarchical structure of the university to more grass-roots efforts at “openness” that are currently proliferating.

  4. In preparation for our discussion of Open Access scholarship, I have spent perhaps two or more hours bouncing between hyperlink associations on the topic of Open Access publishing. At times deeply absorbed in a particularly engaging piece, at other times scanning some of the more informal materials that have found their way–oftentimes by accident–into my purview, I have run the full spectrum of academic publishing venues (I use the terms academic and publishing loosely here): scanned images ripped from chapters printed by the traditional processes and procedures of the academic presses, amateur and professional blogs, crowd-source sites, academic journal articles (both OA and non-OA), and even Tweets. This self-directed rhizomatic crash course in the discourse and debates of DH has acted–by no premeditated intention of my own–as a notably illuminating case study of Open Access in practice, rather than in theory alone. So I begin my (grossly broad) overview of the many intricacies and paradoxes of the debates surrounding OA scholarship and publishing acutely aware that my ability to even contribute to this conversation has been afforded by the open accessibility of the scholarship that I have been invited to critique, and that this debate over academic standards–which appears as a redrawing of power lines– would not be nearly as visible in its infancy if it were taking place behind the more restrictive confines of traditional publishing networks.

    My experience today with surfing these topics of heated debate certainly registers a shift in the production and dissemination of academic knowledge. This shift toward abundance and accessibility, as well as timeliness, has lent itself to what Kathleen Patrick, in “Beyond Metrics,” describes as the inherent “promiscuity” of DH: it is a discipline that self consciously offers itself to collaborative engagement and accessibility. Fitzpatrick points out the way that the more open-ended and interdisciplinary “structures of intellectual engagement” in DH are postured against the traditionally selective, exclusive, and limiting processes of traditional peer review and academic publishing. Daniel J. Cohen’s chapter, “The Social Contract of Scholarly Publishing,” also contrasts the traditional academic press against increasingly available alternatives for digital publication, remarking upon the rift that has been forged between new and old mediums: the solipsistic social contract that is implicitly forged in the production and consumption of the academically sanctioned, bound volume is under fire, and the collaborative and open-ended nature of digital publishing appears, for many, to be the solution to the constraints of disciplinarity, as well as an opportunity to bolster public support for the work of the Humanities in the university system. Perhaps most radically, though, digital publication specifically and digital scholarship in general harbor the capacity to (perhaps?) eventually usurp the hierarchies of the publishing market as well as disrupt many of the current obstacles for getting new scholarship on the market.

    The notion of reconceptualizing the composition and character of our advance guard is certainly an appealing one. Ideally, digital publishing (and its recognition by hiring and tenure committees) could open new avenues, new collaborations, and new questions for the disciplines in general, and could provide broader access by individual scholars to both the academic and the general public, increasing their visibility, justifying the role of academia in regards to its public responsibilities, and allowing for quick publication of and feedback for new research. Debates on the future of digital publishing, whether implicitly or explicitly, challenge–in varying kinds and degrees–existing structures of academic authority. And the anxieties and pleasures of these new models of authority can not avoid but be political in nature.

    Thus, as Micah Vandergrift notes, debates about the role and nature of academic publishing very often cycle around issues of “agency, power, and control.” Nathaniel Tkacz remarks upon the similar nature of recent political trends and academic trends toward openness, transparency, and the dissolution of hierarchical systems. For Kathleen Fitzpatrick, digital publishing allows for a system of production that is community authorized rather than controlled by a traditional review boards and publishing houses, and their oft-times entrenched agendas. She points out the way in which open, digital systems of publishing allow for faster and broader access to new scholarship and, perhaps most importantly, create a system of academic discourse circulation that is driven by consumption rather than production.

    DHThis is an excellent example of this model of crowd sourced and crowd controlled academic production. Contribution of content is non-restricted, and registered users are encouraged to upvote or downvote material. Those with the most votes are featured on the homepage, and enough votes guarantees an opportunity for publication produced in collaboration with the site’s editorial staff. Allowing the scholarly community to “vote up” or “vote down,” to use a somewhat vulgar generalization of the process of crowd-sourcing, is for scholars like Fitzpatrick a new opportunity to redraw the boundaries of knowledge by, essentially, taking the keys from the hands of the oft-times highly conservative gatekeepers of academic publishing and handing them to the academic public, allowing the consumers of academic production to hash it out amongst themselves, or to self police.

    Yet Kris Shaffer questions whether crowd sourcing will in fact prove to be an “effective and fair gatekeeper for academic discourse.” Less than a week after its release, users have broadcast concerns about the site’s voting mechanisms, citing a deeply entrenched cronyism amongst the DH “in-crowd,” an issue that has also been addressed on a larger scale by Lisa Spiro. Concerns regarding the claimed versus actual “openness” of DHThis have been aired on anonymous academic blogs and have sparked an ongoing debate in the Twitterverse. Some early attempts have been made to question the impacts of DHThis and the crowd-sourced model upon the traditional machinery of peer review.

    The question that I pose in the title above, then, seeks to draw attention to a concern that has been expressed by many (otherwise) idealistic DH enthusiasts: that the same hierarchies of scholarship that are prevalent in traditional academic networks (hierarchies of access which are often constructed and encouraged by large research university funding packages) are being replicated in the digital humanities. The issue of concern here is not so much with the inclusion or exclusion of individual scholars, but is specifically with the types of knowledge and scholarship that we, as an academic community, (re)produce. If we do not carefully attend to the dynamics of power as networks and models are being redrawn, Open Access scholarship runs the risk of replicating the same discursive holes that cultural studies, gender studies, race studies, and the like have worked to fill. As models of crowd-sourced OA scholarship like DHThis are being launched and tested, it is crucial that we continue to hash out our loyalties to the buzzwords of inclusive scholarship.

  5. [I moved this comment off the front page, but am not its author – Micah V.]

    This week, I was trying to process both my digital humanities readings about the values of open access scholarship and my Renaissance Lyric readings about other (much more historical) technologies – specifically listed in Walter Ong’s Chapter on Orality and Literacy. In his chapter, Ong discusses just how the development of the “technology” of writing has had an impact on human consciousness. Ong shows us the movement or shift from oral cultures to literate ones, and then talks about the ensuing fear from the “traditional” oral culture that the new technology might harm or weaken the standards of learning or message transmission. In the oral culture’s case, Ong recalls Socrates’s view on writing: “[it] destroys memory … Writing weakens the mind” (Ong 135). Ong goes further to say that in the early 21st century, there is the same suspicion about computing devices that make us weaker scholars: “enfeeb[ling] the mind” by allowing for a pocket computer to feed us information on google, anyplace and anytime.

    I begin with Ong because I feel that this is comparable to Digital Humanities right now. Moving from oral to literate to digital modes of thinking and processing, we can see that the information can be more widely shared: I can disperse an emergency message to thousands of people via the internet, when I can only shout to about 50 – maybe. If this model of digitizing scholarship and making it open to everyone is valued as a positive technology, then why is there any resistance among the discipline? Why don’t we all just stop what we are doing for the printing press and start blogging? I think our hesitation is driven by the same fear that Socrates felt: we may (wrongly) believe that new technologies “enfeeble” the mind or make scholarship weak or sloppy. Of course, these may faulty assumptions, especially when we are more responsible in our approach to good DH scholarship.

    If scholars accept the “residue” model of advancement (meaning that digital humanities and MOOCs will not, in fact, make print, writing, our teaching and orality obsolete), then perhaps we can convince more traditional scholars to join us in a sort of open access scholarship. My hesitation that I brought to the meeting comes from this idea. If open access DH is such a great idea (which in theory, I agree with), then why are we having to work so hard to sell it to people? As a young scholar, hoping to put food on my table with a PhD in literature someday, I would do backflips for open access scholarship if I could see a viable and financially secure future in it. This means that the scholars committed to DH need to place themselves in influential positions and change the views of traditional humanities scholars. Otherwise, I have to play the “print game” with everyone else. and as I say this, I acknowledge that strides in open access and digital publishing are happening slowly as I speak.

    There is one distinction that I was unable to make in the meeting. I think that archived material should always be open access. So digitized collections, indexes, and the like should be available online. This does sound like I’m contradicting myself, but I am happy to follow open access models if I could see more concrete examples and see the rewards of those modes of information transmission. I want to learn more and see concrete examples about how these peer-review processes and comments from outside the discipline function. How do they turn out?

    I will go ahead and close here — but with one last thought. Those committed to the values of open access should also think (as Fyfe does about error correction): what (if anything) is lost in open access digital scholarship? Without thinking about what may be at stake, we may over-idealize the digital. I don’t know the answers to those questions. But perhaps as I explore examples of these open access projects in the humanities (I’m mostly talking about peer reviewed journals here), I may come closer to answers.

  6. In nearly every instance of the copyright debate, I can be found sitting near Lawrence Lessig on the far left side of the room. While my copyleft attitude extends to the entertainment side of things (because, let’s face it, grad students don’t get paid enough to afford a lot of fun things), I am still capable of seeing why most artists don’t just want to give their work away for free. What I don’t see, however, is why scholars would want to keep their work under wraps. While I can, in some ways, understand the argument that OA can lead to a decrease in opportunities for jobs/publishing/etc. and a decrease in a scholar’s ability to make a living, it’s not like there aren’t a lot of roads in academia that lead to champagne wishes and caviar dreams (except maybe the one that Henry Jenkins has taken…). As Fitzpatrick points out, most of our work exists on “long tail,” which only certain people may be interested in, and even less people are willing to pay for. It seems like getting our work out to a wider audience, getting cited in other people’s work, and advancing the knowledge in your field would ultimately be more beneficial than holding out for a royalty check from a university press.

    I think a more convincing argument against OA is the one that Fyfe and Cohen point out in their articles, that there is a certain rigor that is expected by readers in an academic text, and this rigor (in the form of copyediting, fact checking, etc.) does in fact cost money. In an age where we have the opportunity to circumvent the traditional avenues of publishing, which have these roadblocks—or speedbumps—built into the process, we could end up harming/losing the ethos that these processes imbue. Even in the face of this, I think it’s not worth discounting OA entirely because of these issues. Especially because, as Fitzpatrick and Fyfe both point out, these tasks can be crowdsourced through things like open review and distributed corrections. We’re also no longer bound to the finality of printing a book; instead, we can merely amend the digital version of our text and it’s as if the error never existed.

    The biggest advantage that I see in OA is the increased collaboration that it offers. Our ability to collaborate with people in different areas—both physical and academic—has never been as easy as it is now. We can work with scholars in computer science to have their ideas augment ours and vice versa. Our access to texts can be paired with a computer scientist’s access to the tools to digitize those texts, our access and understanding of the importance of data can be paired with the ability to create a program that can collect, code, and analyze mass amounts of data. As Rick Anderson (quoted by Micah) points out, OA “creates tremendous benefits and opportunities for scholarship, as well as challenges—one of them being that authors have far less control over their published work than they once did.” And while I would imagine this lack of control would be terrifying to someone who spent an incredible amount of time finishing a dissertation, I can’t imagine that the fear would outweigh the benefits (e.g. getting your information out to more people, getting “discovered,” having someone use your work in order to advance their own, etc.).

  7. The questions that open access raises for me as a writer and an academic concern the work (getting published in academic journals and university presses) expected from the profession. Cohen notes that humanities publishing should follow law blogs, where the blog post will become “as accepted as a peer-reviewed academic journal.” Yet specific academic journals and university presses have a status over others. As a PhD in literature, publishing in a journal like modernism/modernity carries more weight than publishing on a blog. Thus, if the university maintains such a hierarchy, what does publishing in open access journals mean for our future development in the academic community? What would happen if these journals and university presses were open to a larger community?

    Fyfe also addresses these concerns when he writes about the role of correcting a text in the “semantic web.” He finds “the automated network of citations…will significantly be shaped by the proliferation of data in accurate or perverse forms.” Yet what seems most insightful about Fyfe’s article about the role of correcting an open source text is seeing “correction as a postpublication process.” This is what’s exciting to me about open access, where texts are not understood as a static object, but writing that constantly changes over time.

    As a process, open source allows critical and creative discourse to develop and change.

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