Teaching and Learning with the Commons

A core value for me, as a scholar, is the open exchange of ideas—among scholars and among the public. Implementing this value requires access and transparency. As gratified as I’ve been, over the past decade or so, to see the growth of open-access publication and the democratized dissemination of knowledge, I have been increasingly dismayed at the financial motives and quality of many of the platforms that have emerged. Importantly, I have been concerned about the inequalities they elide and, at times, contribute to. It is my hope that universities, scholarly associations, and other not-for-profit entities working on behalf of the public good contribute to building digital infrastructures that allow for fair access to the intellectual work produced by scholars. Notably, by fair, I mean that scholarly work should be reasonably accessible for fair use on the part of readers, and fairly compensated on the part of researchers (which, of course, are inextricably linked). I’ve long said I’d like to see an open-access encyclopedia professionally produced by a diversity of scholars and hosted by a consortium of universities; I once said that I’d like to see a not-for-profit platform for hosting and exchanging scholarly work, but I no longer have to, because now, we have Humanities Commons.

As a contingent faculty member, my access to university library resources is provisional and limited (although I must note that dedicated librarians, administrators, and colleagues often try to come to my assistance). The ability to access secondary sources, as well as teaching materials, from Humanities Commons has contributed directly to my ability to conduct research. Quite simply, I would not have been able to get my eyes on many articles otherwise restricted behind paywalls and brick-and-mortar walls, works that I cite directly in my current writing project. I hope that the contribution of my own publications and syllabi will help in the endeavor to disseminate academic research widely—after all, I was fortunate to be institutionally supported, intellectually and materially, in my pursuit of a doctorate. Recently, when I needed to set up a website for a course I was hired to teach a couple of weeks before the start of the semester, I was able to quickly set up a full site hosted on Humanities Commons. My course involves a close reading of original-language texts, meaning that each class meeting’s reading assignment must be responsive to the material we’ve covered at the last session. The course website allows me to quickly update the assignments to allow for a full discussion of these challenging primary sources. It has become indispensable to my scholarly work.