Reflective Post 3

Authorship of Knowledge

As I take the time to stop and reflect after these six weeks, I’m impressed by how well Chapter 3 of Digital_Humanities by Burdick, Drucker, Lunenfeld, Presnet, and Schnapp deftly discusses the transformation of how we view knowledge, authorship, and how the two affect the Digital Humanities. It is also cool to notice how their discussion can be applied to my own experiences with DH this summer.

I’d say one of my favorite aspects of DH is the dedication to open and accessible information, with the goals of making knowledge available to everyone – not just those with position, money, or power. On page 79 of Digital_Humanities, the authors write, “Peer-to-peer sharing and open-source models of production transform “property” into something created, edited, and monitored by the ever-expanding public but ultimately owned by no one,” emphasizing this goal of openness.

I am reminded of a Tweet that has circulated on several modes of social media for the past three years or so, written by Dr. Holly Witteman on the accessibility of scientific scholarly works:


Here, Dr. Witteman makes the case that people can get around paywalls to scholarly works by reaching out to the actual authors themselves. Although it does provide for the open transfer of knowledge, it cannot be denied that it also opens up questions on creatorship and ownership.

As I was pondering the question of this reflection post – “What happens when anyone can speak and publish? What happens when knowledge credentialing is no longer controlled solely by institutions of higher learning?” – I am inclined to be cautious in responding solely positively.

On one hand, the boundaries around knowledge have oftentimes been misused and abused. Examples like obscene textbook prices and prohibitive paywalls on academic journals only serve as gatekeeping devices. This does not promote or encourage widespread knowledge.

However, I also feel that it’s important to give credit where credit is due. In addition, I agree with the authors of Digital_Humanities when they write, “As much as we celebrate the global proliferation of networking, it is important to bear in mind that network technologies do not inherently promote democratic values and community-building. They also create the conditions of possibility for violent backlash, community surveillance, and possibly even genocide,” (81). So, as with many things in life, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.

There are certainly pros and cons to these issues. I think that the greater ability to speak and publish leads to some wonderful outcomes that encourage collaboration, connectivity, greater understanding, and greater knowledge. In addition, it adds to an open-ended setup of expansion in which a continuous chain of events is set off, from which new ideas are sprung, which inspire new ideas from those new ideas, and the chain continues.

I’ve even seen this with my own project, for which I’m taking ideas and scholarship from others and transforming them or utilizing them in new ways, or ways that more closely fit the narrative of my project. I could only hope that others might do the same with my work some day!


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