Commons Highlights: Kendra Preston Leonard

Kendra Preston Leonard’s involvement in the Commons goes back to 2016 with MLA Commons. As a music scholar, librettist, and poet, Leonard has created a number of sites and groups on Humanities Commons that express her interests and expertise. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Silent Film Sound and Music Archive and the founder and manager of Shakespeare in Early Film. She is the creator and administrator of the Commons groups the Julia Perry Working Group and the Southwest Music Studies Colloquium. Her CORE deposits include poetry, articles, reviews, and four books, including Music for the Kingdom of Shadows: Cinema Accompaniment in the Age of Spiritualism. We recently sat down (virtually) with Dr. Leonard to talk about how she’s leveraged the Commons to create groups, publish books, and establish a robust digital presence.

Dr. Kendra Leonard, music scholar, librettist, and poet
Dr. Kendra Leonard, music scholar, librettist, and poet

Finding a Digital Home

“The span of what people can do [on the Commons] is really terrific,” Leonard remarked as we discussed the Commons. With a background in music, teaching, and textbook publishing, she grew disillusioned with the paywalls and prohibitive pricing of books and articles, especially for those who are early in their careers. With the Commons, she found a place where she could publish on her own terms:

“I got into open access and was looking around for ways to share my own work. At first I went the traditional route, publishing with traditional publishers and scholarly journals. It wasn’t such a big deal to think about access then because most people I knew had some sort of institutional access. Then I wasn’t in an academic job and I didn’t have that access.”

After emailing authors asking for copies to access information and understanding the difficulties faced by independent researchers and students who don’t have access to paywalled information, Leonard became committed to her work being open and free to access. While she’s continued to publish some work with traditional publishers, she’s also making her preprints, and in many cases her books, open access by depositing them into CORE and making them available on websites hosted on the Commons. Her book Music for the Kingdom of Shadows: Cinema Accompaniment in the Age of Spiritualism was peer-reviewed on the Commons using CommentPress, and converted to PDF using Anthologize. Setting an example, she’s encouraged others to make their work available as well. Leonard explained:

“I’m not discounting the fact that for a lot of people writing is what earns their living. I’m not trying to suggest that that’s not important. I think when it comes to particularly academic work, for people who work in the humanities, we don’t make money from writing a journal article, and the money we make from writing book chapters is usually pretty negligible. I thought it was important that I had a site where I could kind of model this and I could show people here’s how it works but also that I could use it in a sandbox.”

By engaging in open peer review and making the entire process public, Dr. Leonard has found that it has both streamlined her process and engaged those who are invested in her work:

“[Publishers] find reviewers, and the reviewers are late or the reviewer drops out. Everybody revises, and you do it all over again. The nice thing about open peer review is that the comments are right there and you can get working on it as soon as someone comments. You don’t have to wait for review number two or review number six. I find that people who are invested in open peer review, the people who are going to make comments, are the people who are going to provide feedback in a timely manner, because they want that too. I really think it is the future.”

Taking advantage of the Commons publishing tools has allowed Dr. Leonard to effectively create, engage in peer review, and publish all in one place at no cost. The ability to directly engage with the community has allowed the publishing process to be streamlined without the loss of quality.

Finding Community

Finding like-minded scholars and other interested parties to work on projects is a big part of The Commons infrastructure. Dr. Leonard’s interest in women in music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has led to the formation of the Julia Perry Working Group, dedicated to the collection and dissemination of the works of Julia Perry, an  African-American composer.

While on a fellowship in Colorado four years ago, Leonard stumbled upon a collection of African-American women composers’ work, including Perry’s. Much of Perry’s work, letters, and other documents were lost after her death, and what’s left is scattered across many different institutions. She scanned what they had on her phone, and began to talk about what she’d found on social media. When she posted a list of Perry’s works she’d captured on her blog, people started to contact her requesting scores or contributing other material. As the requests began to snowball, she created the Humanities Commons group in order to start crowdsourcing and building a library of scores, articles, and other documents related to Perry and her work.

The resulting interest has resulted in additional opportunities to showcase the work, including consulting with the Louisville, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra (Perry was originally from Kentucky) on an all-Perry program and panel. Leonard is looking for other scholars, particularly BIPOC students and scholars, who may be working on Perry or on the works of African-American women composers, in the hopes of turning over the opportunities to someone in the community with more time to work on them. Seeing this as an opportunity to create community and to empower other scholars is a big part of the creation of the group.

The Southwest Music Studies Colloquium also began in a quest for community. Sponsored in part by the Southwest Chapter of the American Musicological Society, the Colloquium is a program of bi-weekly virtual gatherings for not only musicologists but also music librarians, performers, ethnomusicologists, and all those curious about music research. Members do not need to be members of the American Musicological Society to join. Using Zoom to facilitate meetings, the group encourages all to take part and discuss the latest in research and to attend talks and events in the larger music studies community.

Create your own communities

Dr. Leonard’s personal website on the Commons links to all of her work, serving to organize her digital presence, scholarship, teaching, and creative works. Her profile lists all of her sites, groups, and CORE deposits. Taking full advantage of the free hosting and collaboration tools, she’s established a robust presence online that gives visitors the opportunity to access much of her work. Using the Commons to connect with our 28,000+ members, she’s found connection with those who share her passion for discovery and bringing light to works that deserve more attention. Utilizing the tools at her disposal, she’s created a home not just for herself, but for an entire community of scholars.

Commons Highlights: Global Digital Humanities Symposium

The Global Digital Humanities Symposium first started in Spring 2016 and has been held annually, making the 2021 edition its sixth year. As the event has grown organizers have established two groups on Humanities Commons, one for planning (private) and another for community involvement (public). In addition, a new proceedings website has just gone live, bringing an ever-expanding collection to the CORE repository.

Global Digital Humanities Symposium team
The Global Digital Humanities Symposium team (from top left clockwise): Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Max Evjen, Kate Topham, Kristen Mapes

As the world has grappled with a pandemic over the past 18 months, conferences and other gatherings have had to pivot to online spaces. The Global Digital Humanities Symposium is a great example of how the Commons can be used as both a planning tool and the space to preserve the information shared. The Commons has served the community as a resource when unexpected changes alter the ways in which we come together. We sat down with Kristen Mapes, Assistant Director of Digital Humanities at Michigan State University, and Max Evjen, Digital Humanities Coordinator, to find out how the Symposium used the Commons to navigate a virtual-first global event.

What do you do when the world shuts down and your event is in three weeks? 

The 2020 Symposium was scheduled for March 26-27, just as the world was shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The planning committee had three weeks to convert the event — with attendees slated to come from multiple countries — to an online meeting, choosing Humanities Commons as the venue. Pivoting online, the team created the public group to serve as a gathering place, updated their website to explain the new format, and the Symposium took place primarily over Zoom. The website served to communicate the new technology plan, backup technologies should Zoom become overloaded, and information for presenters on strategies for converting their presentations to an online format. The Global Digital Humanities Symposium group now has 120 members, and may be used in future for calls for proposals and discussions that grow out of the symposium itself. 

Why the Commons?

“Humanities Commons perfectly suits our community as it is open to all, regardless of institutional affiliation, status, or geography,”  Mapes states. The Commons is attractive because, as Mapes continues, “we are bringing [participants] into (or encouraging their use of, if they already have a profile) a space that will not sell their information or surveil their work.” The Commons is academy owned and operated, and has a strong terms of service and privacy policy that is built on openness, but not at the expense of user privacy. 

The Commons Offers Communication and Publishing Tools in one Package

The Global Digital Humanities Symposium was held online once again in 2021, and Humanities Commons again played an integral part. Planning was done via a private group on the Commons. Utilizing the discussion forums, the group served as a space for making visible the conversation that was taking place in the subcommittees. Mapes says that “by ensuring that discussion was included in the group threads, the entire planning committee could see what work was taking place, even within subcommittees, reducing confusion.“

Presenters had the option to email their deposits to the organizers or to deposit their materials to CORE, linking to the public group. Deposits to CORE assisted the creation of a new proceedings website, allowing organizers to quickly publish materials and giving  participants and those who were unable to attend access to all the materials on a timely basis. Mapes reflects, “We are thrilled to use the Commons to host our Proceedings because it mints DOIs for all CORE contributions, making the work more readily cited and understood in academic contexts globally. Humanities Commons also allows us to create a site without a financial outlay that may not be sustainable in the future and keeps the site free from any institutional affiliation, in case the Symposium grows in different directions in the long term.”

What’s Next for the Global Digital Humanities Symposium?

This year’s symposium welcomed proposals in English, French, and Spanish along with real-time interpretation and closed-captioning. By using the Commons, organizers ensure that artifacts can be tagged with the correct language and subjects for easy searching and can be accessed worldwide. In thinking about the future for the public group, Mapes says, “we hope to see it grow in number as the Symposium grows, especially as we work to make the Proceedings site a referenced publication space for Global DH work.” Using the Commons allows organizers to preserve the institutional memory of the Symposium, and to ensure that committee members from across institutions have an equal voice in planning within their private planning space.

By utilizing the free tools within the Commons, the Global Digital Humanities Symposium was able to pivot online within weeks, hold two conferences serving a worldwide audience, and disseminate the work within weeks. In future, the groundwork laid during the pandemic will allow the Symposium to grow and continue to reach a larger and more diverse audience.

Commons Highlights: The Composers of Color Resource Project

Welcome to Commons Highlights — a new series highlighting groups, sites, and organizations that make the Commons their home. We will be speaking with users who have created vibrant and thriving communities on how they did it, and the lessons they have learned.

The Composers of Color Resource Project

What do you do with the urgent desire to make societal change? How do you capture that initial spark, and turn it into sustained momentum? As Aaron Grant, a founding member of the Composers of Color Resource Project has said, “Many want to do anti-racist pedagogy in classes, but where do you start?” In May of 2020, as worldwide protests erupted in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, a group of music theorists created a Slack channel that was committed to start answering these questions. The channel was created, in part, as a space to discuss ways of diversifying the music theory curriculum and developing anti-racist pedagogy. The channel immediately had a large influx of members as the music theory community reckoned with how to create and sustain badly needed DEI (diversity equity and inclusion) work within the discipline, but after a strong start the channel began to lose momentum. Among those who joined the Slack channel were the scholars who would start the Composers of Color project: Amy Fleming, Aaron Grant, Megan Long, Jan Miyake, and Sam Reenan.

Members of the Composers of Color Resource Project. From top right: Amy Fleming, Aaron Grant, Megan Long, Jan Miyake, and Sam Reenan.
Members of the Composers of Color Resource Project. From top right: Amy Fleming, Aaron Grant, Megan Long, Jan Miyake, and Sam Reenan.

As membership and discussion slowed down within Slack, Jan Miyake suggested using Zoom to have a workshop where a subset of Slack channel members analyzed music by BIPOC composers in small groups, wrote up analytical notes, and tagged their notes with search terms that they would want when looking to diversify their teaching examples. Those who were invested in making change had something to participate in, and with this first Zoom workshop the Composers of Color Resource Project was born.

Where Do You Start?

Since July, the Composers of Color Resource Project has hosted seven analysis sessions, generated 78 pages of analytical notes,  explored the work of 31 BIPOC composers, analyzed at least 80 works, created at least 30 annotated scores, built a user-friendly spreadsheet cataloging these works, and presented it all within Humanities Commons. Many users, including team members themselves, have found new research topics through the spreadsheet cataloging all of the works. Users can submit new entries through a Google Form, which are then vetted and added by the project team.

Creating the Composers of Color Resource Project wasn’t easy. To engage members the team devised a deliverable-oriented workflow to crowdsource this work, allowing users to participate without feeling solely responsible for the entirety of any one piece of it. According to Grant, “It was low effort on an individual level with crowdsourcing, but created a high impact on the discipline and on theorists’ everyday lives. Finding suitable pieces and recordings for the classroom would normally take an immense amount of time.” Crowdsourcing allowed the many people who wanted to do something to accomplish much more than they would have been able to do on their own. The group has now been able to link to existing recordings, and to identify pieces that need recording through this process.

How Humanities Commons Helped the Project Grow

Team member Sam Reenan was on a Society for Music Theory committee looking at using the Commons for society business, so he was familiar with the basic functionality of the platform. As the project team looked for a place to store the ever-expanding amount of materials, it became clear to the team that Google Drive and other file sharing services would not be adequate. Humanities Commons’ group functionality, with its ability to upload files, create collaborative documents, and group website capabilities proved to be a good fit.

“The website gave our subset of people an identity, a name, and an email,” Megan Long says. “It gave the project boundaries and became more focused. [Humanities Commons] made it easier to do stuff and organize events.”

Grant, too, sees the Humanities Commons group and site as giving the group legitimacy: “That legitimacy is necessary for things to become more than ‘backyard projects.’ There have been Google spreadsheets circulated for years. But while they are useful, not everyone feels as invested in a spreadsheet. Legitimacy makes a big difference in terms of momentum.” Grant notes that earlier projects that relied on technologies like Google Sheets didn’t create a sense of personal responsibility in those who participated. He goes on to say, “Humanities Commons is much more accessible to those who are not as tech-savvy. Having it all hosted on this website and easy to navigate is so crucial. Just like using Zoom for our meetings. Everyone now knows how to use Zoom. It’s easy to lose track of the conversation on Slack, so it’s been great to use HC and Zoom in tandem.”

While the Humanities Commons group is private (Commons users must request membership), the website is open to the public. Reenan explained, “Our field is sort of odd in that there’s a lot of people teaching music theory that aren’t music theorists (e.g. performing musicians, high school teachers). The group website is a great way of targeting people who aren’t doing this all day everyday — graduate students, adjuncts, and those who teach it as part of a larger curriculum, providing them with accessible and readily-adaptable materials.”

Publicizing the Group and Gaining Momentum

The project has over 200 members on their mailing list, and 78 participating in the Commons group. The membership has drawn those early in their career as well as senior scholars. The team has used social media (primarily Facebook and Twitter), Society of Music Theory (SMT) listservs, and Zoom events to grow their network. Through word-of-mouth even non-members are using the group’s resources. One of the ways the project team has sustained their growth and expanded the available materials is through events. Zoom sessions to work collaboratively are announced through their email list, social media, and SMT listservs.

As the collection grows, more people are exposed to the project, and the team notes that there is almost always someone in their annotated score spreadsheet. The majority of discussion has been held within Zoom, email, or Slack, however they’re currently looking at utilizing the group’s forum for further discussion. Future plans include finding ways to leverage the social media aspects of the Commons, and taking advantage of the group’s event calendar to announce events.

Plans for the Future

What’s in store for the Composers of Color Resource Project? Some of the next steps planned by the team are:

  • Multiplying the number of resources they have available through further crowdsourcing
  • Mining the resources currently available for future projects
  • Collecting volunteered, ready-made handouts and lesson plans that educators have created for their individual classroom and sharing them on our website
  • Further growing membership
  • Creating small groups to discuss anti-racist policies in syllabi
  • Creating opportunities for performers to make recordings of the pieces that have yet to be recorded

In addition to further growing the current resources, there are plans to create resources to fit into other types of curricula, crowdsourcing syllabi, and continuing to develop the raw resources available into more classroom-ready materials.

“The idea that in addition to some groundwork laid in data mining a lot of these sources, there’s a lot of room for refinement of these materials,” Grant says. “For a lot of people who may not have as much pedagogical training we could streamline that process and have a repository for handouts, lesson plans, and units.”

The Composers of Color Resource Project is a great example of like-minded people finding each other and using the power of crowdsourcing to get things done. The old adage “many hands make light work” applies here. While this type of project would be a huge and heavy lift for just a few people, by spreading it across a group diverse in age, background, and training they’ve successfully launched a growing and thriving space providing materials for those both within and outside the music theory community.

Commons Highlights: The Open Access Books Network

Clockwise from top left: Lucy Barnes, Agata Morka, Tom Mosterd.

Welcome to Commons Highlights — a new series highlighting groups, sites, and organizations that make the Commons their home. We will be speaking with users who have created vibrant and thriving communities on how they did it, and the lessons they have learned.

The Open Access Books Network

The Open Access Books Network (OABN) was begun by members of OAPEN, OPERAS, ScholarLed and SPARC Europe to foster discussions about OA books among researchers, publishers, librarians, funders, infrastructure providers, and other stakeholders. What started on Slack after the ELPUB 2019 conference has become a thriving Humanities Commons group of over 180 members, engaging in events, discussions, and the sharing of ideas and information.

Clockwise from top left: Lucy Barnes, Agata Morka, Tom Mosterd.
Clockwise from top left: Lucy Barnes, Agata Morka, and Tom Mosterd.

The OABN Humanities Commons group was built by the OABN’s coordinators, Lucy Barnes, Editor and Outreach Co-Ordinator at Open Book Publishers; Tom Mosterd, Community Manager, OAPEN/DOAB; and Agata Morka, European Coordinator OA books, Open Book Publishers. The group was looking to boost engagement and open new ways for members to interact. They chose to move to the Commons because, as Lucy Barnes states, “The ethos of the Commons and the way it’s run is very much in line with our own values.” The Commons’ emphasis on privacy for user data, openness to all regardless of affiliation, and the fact that it is an explicitly academic space made it the ideal home for the group as they sought to increase discussion and boost membership. As Tom Mosterd points out, “A lot of the people on Slack were already familiar with the Commons,” so it seemed like a natural fit as they worked to grow the group and increase participation.

Using the Commons to Engage Members

In addition to providing a forum for discussion, the Commons group structure also provides an event calendar, shared files and docs, and the ability to maintain a WordPress-based group blog or website. The OABN website is used to publicize live events and uses a WordPress widget to incorporate a feed from the Open Access Tracking Project to provide updated news and information from the wider community. By consistently updating their website, the OABN team keeps members engaged and continues to activate discussion within the community. Lucy Barnes on driving group growth: “It’s been a mix of letting it grow naturally and using events to drive traffic.” For example, the team celebrated Open Access Week by posting a “mini-series of blog interviews about new and interesting initiatives within the open access book ecosystem” (Mosterd, 2020).

As the team uses the blog to drive event traffic, they use the discussion forum to alert users to events and engage members in discussion. The group puts on one to two events per month and providing links to the event recordings on the Commons reaches those who could not participate live and preserves the content for future members. By creating group events using the community calendar and publicizing those events through the group blog and Twitter, they have been able to not just maintain discussion, but grow it. Allowing the group to be publicly visible encourages people to drop in to see the conversation and then join to take part in the discussion. Twitter has been vitally important in driving users to the group and events, as well as own personal networks and peers.

Finding Ways to Grow

The OABN team has done several things to grow their group and that have contributed to their success. By reaching out and engaging with other initiatives who are working on similar topics, Barnes remarked, “it’s easy to collaborate with other groups on Commons.” CORE deposits can be posted to up to five groups at a time, alerting not just your own members but other key groups to new papers, syllabi, or learning materials. As a public group, any member of Humanities Commons can join in the conversation, which can help draw in users who may just be exploring the idea of open access publishing.

Barnes, Mosterd, and Morka were also conscious of helping to “demystify” the Commons for new users by providing a clear description of the group, contact information for the administrators with specific information how to seek help, and providing an explainer pinned to the top of the discussion forum on how to register and join the group with clear guidelines on participation. The openness has encouraged people to join and ask questions and has allowed several students to post surveys and conduct research among its members.

By using multiple forms of engagement, the OABN team has been able to gauge how the community has received different kinds of content. Twitter allows for discussion with the wider community outside of the core group membership, and the discussion forum and blog allow for focused discussion on events. Barnes has also been using the Google Analytics plugin to look at site traffic and most-visited content.

What’s Next for OABN?

Barnes says the group plans to “use [the Commons] to gather community feedback in a more structured way.” She indicated open access publishing is a diverse community and that there are a lot of policy developments under discussion. Large presses have advantages in getting their voices heard, while many smaller presses do not. The Humanities Commons group makes gathering the perspectives of smaller presses easier. While they have not used the Docs feature much yet, Barnes views it as a way “to think about different policy areas that might benefit from discussion and where people may not always agree, but where they can represent their points-of-view in a way people can look back on and refer to, and that we can perhaps present as well.”

The other key area that OABN wants to grow is to find ways to make it more useful for people new to open access publishing. The community is currently made up of mostly publishers, but seeks to bring students, researchers, librarians, and others with an interest in OA publishing on board. Barnes remarked that Humanities Commons attracts the kinds of individual researchers and students that they would like to connect to the community. Mosterd added, “I hope that people will find our network and ask their questions. That it becomes more of a place where researchers, students, or people new to the library or publishing world can find resources. There are a lot of people there who can help them.”

To find more information on the Open Access Books Network please visit their group on Humanities Commons.

If your group is interested in being featured in Commons Highlights email hello[at]