5. The Commons and Oral History (2017)


This week focuses on the issue of oral history and the commons. We will start with a short discussion on the commons, especially the question: “who owns history?”  We will be particularly concerned with two interrelated problems.  The first concerns the balance between authority, expertise, and public engagement in digital humanities work.  The second concerns the institutions of authority and power and what role they play in shaping and defining the practices of the digital humanities. In the second half of our meeting, we will focus on best practices in oral history, looking at the ways that the digital humanities might reshape our approaches to oral history.


I.  Discussion: The Commons (1 hr 15 min)
II. Break (10 min)
III. Discussion: Oral History and the Commons (1 hr 15 min)

Assignments (due before class)

Required Reading


Optional Reading

We will begin our reading by examining the classic article, “The Tragedy of the Commons” by Garrett Hardin in 1968. While there have been many responses to Hardin, one of the most influential writers on the commons was Elinor Ostrom.  We will read her reflections on the literature on the commons, published in 1999, as well as an essay on collective action.

Transitioning to the notion of “digital commons,” we will read a chapter about the so-called “knowledge commons,” which defines some of the problems facing the digital commons.  Then, we will read a recent article which discusses the digital as a common pool resource as well as the idea of community governance.

Next, we will turn our attention to the practice of history in the context open knowledge and the commons.

Finally, we will to a debate over open access that took place around the American Historical Association’s “Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations.” Here is a piece that I wrote in August 2013: “Open Access and the Historical Profession.” It covers the history of open access before turning to the AHA statement. The readings below were selected for the September 2013 edition of Perspectives.