Dickens & open scholarship


You know when you're doing two completely unrelated things and your brain forces connections that aren't really there? You think it's genius, everyone else thinks it's painfully laboured? This is one of those posts.

So, I've been away for a week in the middle of Bodmin moor writing some chapters for my Battle for Open book. I came away with just my dog and a week's supply of beer. It's amazing what you get done when there is nothing else to distract you. I have written three chapters this week on MOOCs, the silicon valley narrative and open scholarship. I'm not saying they're good, but they are written.

Anyhow, when I can't bring myself to think about open education anymore, I've been reading Claire Tomalin's well written and nicely balanced biography of Dickens. Because there is nothing else in my head but MOOCs n stuff, I've been making tenuous connections, which I may as well share. Three connections have come to mind:

1) Publish as you go – for about a third of my book I've been taking existing blog posts and adapting them. I worry that this is cheating somehow, but I figure I've been writing the stuff as I go, now I'm pulling it together. Can you plagiarise yourself? Anyway, Dickens reminds me there is nothing new in this. He famously published many of his novels as serialisations, which would then be wrapped up. This strikes me as very hard to do, there is no revisiting it and deciding that character needs to live after all. Compared to Dickens I have it easy. But it does illustrate that content can have more than one mode of existence.

2) Copyright wars – Dickens was rather screwed over by international copyright. British copyright didn't extend to the US so publishers there could just take his work and put out books, making huge sums of money (they adored him in the states), which he saw very little of. I think with his money obsessions I'm not sure Dickens would have embraced CC licensing, but I think he would've been a champion of open textbooks in education.

3) Hard work never killed anyone, oh wait – after reading this quote, I will never complain about being over-committed again:

"Dickens was now committed to the following projects: He had to continue Pickwick in monthly instalments for another year; he had to provide a few more pieces for the Sketches; both his farce and his opera were being published and needed seeing through the press; he had promised a children's book, 'Solomon Bell the Raree Showman' by Christmas; he had to start preparing for his editorship of Bentley's Miscellany, which began in January and for which he must commission articles and also contribute a sixteen page piece of his own every month; Chapman & Hall were hoping for a sequel to Pickwick; Macrone still wanted 'Gabriel Vardon'; and Bentley was expecting two novels."

So that's alright then. Of course, Dickens kept up an impossibly punishing schedule all his life and it contributed to his early death. So not one to follow in that respect.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *