Open Access Schizophrenia

Working with both traditional and digital humanists leads to some schizophrenic moments. Here’s one of the recurring questions I can’t really deal with because, I think, neither answer satisfies me. Who do our ideas belong to and what are they worth?

On the one hand, there is the position of pro-open access. Our original ideas are not actually worth money in themselves, they are worth being recognized by the community. If you are quoted properly, you can only be happy that other people pursue your work in one direction or another. In that logic, you put online all of your publications (see this paper Laurent wrote in connection to the Max Planck Digital Library) . More disturbingly: you put online even the things that are not really finished.What you produce is referred to you through your publication list – in the very second you have made it known to the community as being yours. With typos, missing references, unclean proofs, etc.

On the other hand, you have the copyright-hardliners like Roland Reuß (see the recent article on him or the wikipedia page on the Heidelberger Appell). In that perspective, your work belongs to you and only has to be shared as an untouchable, perfect scientific product that is yours. Open access is hence ruining copyright and diminishing the value of hard science. This position leads to a gesture of retraction on the individual work – we experienced this bitterly enough while preparing our first set of texts (by the way, things are getting closer to reality: an upgraded demo will be online soon and I posted a new version of our project guidelines as an attachment to this page).

I really share the idealistic view of saying that working together, one’s work adding to the others’, actually benefits everybody. But I cannot put together the two pieces of a puzzle with one person telling me “it doesn’t speak for the creativity of the people who need to hide their ideas” and another saying “as long as I don’t have an established position and the necessary recognition, I will not put everything I have out there”. Should it take a professorship to accept open access, to have confidence in yourself (and in the system), to not feel threatened by the wild world?

One thing is sure: we can discuss who and where our ideas belong to, but the texts don’t belong to anyone.
Of course, Philology never fulfilled the promise of its name, never realized the ideal of a common love for the text. Its very history is marked by territorial intellectual fights and there honestly is no reason why open access should in any way solve problems that have been lasting on the discipline for centuries. So what is it we are doing exactly? Fighting over power over texts, fighting over whose text is better?

This last question is not completely meaningless but asked together with the first one, it is depressing. Somehow I wish I was born in a time and place where you could still believe in human progress.

Addendum for the Berlin people: Roland Reuss will speak on December 7th at the FU in the conference series “Im Dickicht der Texte” on Kleist editions.

Additional addition: loved this post about tweeting on open access papers I read on Melissa Terras’ blog!


Anne Baillot

I studied German Studies and Philosophy in Paris where I got my PhD in 2002. I then moved to Berlin, where I have been living & doing research ever since. My areas of specialty include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history. I am currently working at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin as an expert in digital technologies for the humanities.

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