Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Ernest Hartley Coleridge: Proto-Proclaimer

I won't lie to you: there is a reason why Ernest Hartley Coleridge is not as famous a poet as his grandfather, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ernest is mostly remembered for editing STC's works, from the earliest publication of selections from the notebooks in Anima Poetae (1896), through a detailed reprint of Christabel (1908) and on to the Complete Poetry in 1912. He published one volume of his own poetry in 1898, and it's not a collection that really deserves poetic fame.


In the poem below, Ernest describes to his lover how far he would go for her. He's walk 50 miles. Later, he says he'll walk 250.

Then, skip forward 80 years, and we find the Proclaimers walking 500 miles:

And now, for all your Victorian-geeky-pleasure for the week, sing Ernest's poem along with The Proclaimers tune. (If anyone uploads a video of themselves doing just that, I will think of some sort of prize. Probably sweet-related.) The 1st and last stanzas work especially well:

Love in Absence

If I could travel fifty miles,
Then cross a stream and mount a hill,
(I've done it mad for joy erewhiles),
I know that I would find her still.

She's sitting in the window seat,
Her face is resting on her hand;
She's looking out onto the street,
The fairest maid in all the land.

She does not note the passers-by,
Some vision of her own she sees;
Some grief she hath which makes her sigh,
But doth not make her ill at ease.

Her cheek is like the rose in May,
Her hair is gathered off her brows,
Her wistful eyes look far away,
Her soul hath left its pleasant house.

I see her thus when I am near,
Albeit she is far from me,
And could I stand beside my dear,
This self-same maiden I should see.

And could I touch her face once more,
I know where all the dimples hide;
And that dear land I've travelled o'er
Is yet in all its virgin pride.

And I would travel fifty miles,
Or five times fifty could I know,
My love would welcome me with smiles,
Nor til I kissed her bid me go.

Friday, 5 July 2013

JISC: Open Access Monographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences

So you spend three or four years chained to your computer. You read so many books and articles that your dreams start to conform to the MHRA style guide. You have moments of pure excited joy and (usually longer) moments of unadulterated despair. And at the end of it all, you produce your thesis, your article, or your book.
And no one reads it. No one can, outside a very small group of fellow-academics whose institutional affiliations mean that they can access your work. Even institutions are not operating on a level playing field; say half of your colleagues are from small institutions whose libraries just don’t have a big budget, or they specialise in a subject area very different to yours. A huge proportion of your intended audience is already locked out from being able to discover your work. The problem is even more acute if you’re publicly-funded. Almost everyone you walk past in the street is contributing something to your research – but they can’t read it, unless they’re willing to pay extortionate amounts of money to access it. And, remember, they’ve already paid for it; their taxes are the reason you could carry out your research to begin with.
The open access debate is not a new one; it’s been brewing for nearly two decades. But, to talk specifically to the UK context, at a time when we’re being increasingly asked to demonstrate the worth of our research to a wider audience which reaches outside the academic bubble, the conversation about open access is heating up. This week’s JISC conference, ‘Open Access Monographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences’, amply demonstrated why this is not an issue we can ignore, and why it’s a conversation that should and must be engaged with across all subject disciplines and about all academic publishing.
The conference, held at the British Library on July 1st-2nd, provided a rare opportunity for academics, librarians, publishers and policy-makers to come together, providing a space for dialogues which seem long overdue. If open access is, as several speakers suggested, based on collaboration, this conference set the right tone; the very active Twitter feed indicates the kinds of conversations being had, and the need for these dialogues to continue as the open access movement progresses.
It’s nearly exactly one year since the Finch report suggested how open access publishing might work in the UK. (See this blog post from Helen Rogers for an idea of some of the issues this report raised.) It identified two routes by which open access publishing would work: gold, where the author or institution pays the publisher for open access rights, and green, where the work is subject to an embargo for a set time before it is made open access. Open access policies so far have only applied to journal articles, but the conversation now is beginning to consider the future of monograph publishing. Although HEFCE confirmed at this conference that there is unlikely to be a formal requirement for the next (c.2020) REF, they are in the beginning stages of a consultation to consider how open access monograph publishing might be brought into effect.
At the heart of this conference was a dilemma: how appropriate are monographs for publishing research anyway? Jean Claude Guédon asked this question in his opening keynote, suggesting that we now need to find ways to go beyond the monograph. He argued that we need to recognise that all of our research is collaborative; even the monograph is not the work of one lone researcher, but is instead one document entering into a society of texts. The concept of the author-centric text is, he suggested, flawed; it implies ownership over an idea that was, in fact, not developed in a solitary mind, but in conversation with others – whether that be with other academics, or with your partner, your friend, your mum, all of whom will contribute something to your thinking. And anyway, he continued, the single-author thesis does not train us sufficiently for the jobs we’re likely to get after it, when we will be working collaboratively with other people. Why not collaborate on your thesis, then?
Guédon was openly indebted to Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s study Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy (2011), and indeed she reiterated many of Guédon’s points in her own keynote later that day. Fitzpatrick went further to suggest that the academy is organised by a vertical hierarchy, whereby established scholars self-propagate their own ideas. In other words, if all our new work is being assessed by the same outdated ideas, it will never get very far. Fitzpatrick argued for a move towards a ‘horizontal’ order, whereby we are all assessed on our trustworthiness and skill rather than out credentials. She stimulated the discussion on the peer review process by comparing the two peer review methods undergone by Planned Obsolescence: ‘traditional’ review, and open access, some examples of which you can see here. She was not arguing for a complete switch to open access peer reviews, but she did demonstrate how the two approaches might work together to produce a better final product. She also indicated how this approach might be used for teaching at all levels; students from across disciplines and institutions can comment side-by-side on the same text, diversifying their conversations and engaging them with a much wider social and critical field.
These keynotes highlighted the broader issues at play in humanities and social sciences publishing in the international market, and the sessions between them illustrated the specific ways in which open access publishing might be approached. As chair Martin Hall noted as he introduced the first panel, ‘to Finch’ might not yet be a recognised verb, but it’s role as a noun has certainly expanded since last year’s report. Panel 1, ‘HSS after Finch’, provided an opportunity for a diverse range of companies and policy makers to articulate their responses to open access publishing of monographs. Rupert Gatti, the Director of Open Book Publishers, received a lot of Twitter praise for his enthusiasm over the course of the conference, and he asked the event’s key question: how can we prove our relevance if our main outputs are not being read by the majority? It was a question with which HEFCE are demonstrably struggling; they confirmed that there would be no mandate for open access publishing in the next few years, despite the growing support for it at government level in the EU, as Carl-Christian Buhr, member of cabinet of the Vice President of the European Commission, explained. As Caroline Edwards suggested in the afternoon session, we risk falling into a ‘prestige trap’, whereby young scholars can’t publish open access because it isn’t as well-recognised – but it never will be if there are no mandates for it. These dialogues seemed to indicate that policy makers and academics are stuck, to a degree, in a loop, whereby academics won’t publish open access until there’s equal prestige attached to it, and policy-makers won’t mandate it until academics are seen to be doing it.
The majority of day 2 saw delegates split into three different strands: one for researchers, one for librarians and one for policy-makers. The researcher strand explored practical ways researchers might explore the possibility of publishing their monograph open access. Ed Pentz, the Executive Director at CrossRef, introduced us to ORCID, an online researcher identity; Ernesto Priego guided us through Creative Commons and CC-BY licenses; Janneke Adema suggested how to find a reputable open access publisher; Ellen Collins explored issues surrounding funding, mandates and embargoes; Will Brooker made the case for actively promoting your work; and Lucy Montgomery provided an introduction to altmetrics. The main message from this strand is easily summarised: you have the power to control your research destiny. Get on ORCID – provide your own information so that people looking for you know who you are and what you’ve published. Get keyed up about Creative Commons so that you know how, and where, to publish open access. If you don’t ask for funding, you won’t get it (publishing OA with Palgrave currently costs £11,000), and you should discuss your own embargo lengths too. Don’t leave it all to the publisher or institution to promote yourself, and get online to track the impact of your work. Open access may put more emphasis on collaboration, but it also highlights the need for self-determination. Your work isn’t finished just because it’s published.
The practical difficulties of open access – where do you get the money, how do you make sure it’s sustainable – may seem unconnected to your concerns. In a traditional publishing landscape, you’d probably be right. But this isn’t a problem that’s going to be fixed by the older generation of academics: this is a problem that we will need to solve. It’ll be our generation implementing this solution, building on the work done by the likes of OAPEN or Knowledge Unlatched. And it’ll be us having the conversations with HEFCE towards making sure that our research can be read by the majority, and can be read for a long time to come. This isn’t a conversation to eavesdrop on; this is one to enter into.
We’re doing our PhDs at a small university. There are a ton of advantages – and there are a ton of ways to eliminate at least some of the disadvantages. Our library cannot buy all of the research platforms that we each need to perform on a world-class platform. The debate at this conference was, in some ways, getting ahead of itself: it asked how we can make our research available to the public when it’s not yet equally available to academics. We’re running before we’ve fully worked out how to walk. But this is the kind of debate that somewhere like Keele needs to make its voice heard, because it’s somewhere like Keele that is going to get the most out of open access publishing. If we don’t have the resources to buy our way onto a world-class research stage, then we need to go by a different route. Open access will bring our work more into the wider public community, yes – but it will also help us to engage with the world-class research community that we deserve to be a part of.

Useful Links:
Here’s just a few of the resources mentioned at the conference. For a more in depth idea of the content and context of the event, check out the Twitter feed at #oabooks or the Storify of that feed for easier reading.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Bloomin' Bioshock Infinite #1

"This game has loads of bloom in it."

So declared my boyfriend, as he watched me play his new computer game Bioshock Infinite (Irrational Games, 2013). I turned around, somewhat dumbstruck. "Why, yes... it has," I replied [NB: some expletive expressions of shock have been edited out of this conversation], "I didn't know you'd been listening to me talk about him."

Confusion ensued, until we realised we had crossed our wires somewhat. He was talking about bloom, the lighting effect used in some video games to mimic the effect of a bright light on vision as experienced through a camera. I was talking about Bloom - Harold Bloom, the [in]famous theorist whose most well-known academic legacy is the always-contentious theory of the 'anxiety of influence' (all poets are influenced by a previous poet, and they're all unhappy about it) and whose best-known extra-academic legacy is his 1994 publication The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, and with whose works I've been spending an inordinate amount of time lately.

Bioshock Infinite: a potentially Coleridgean vending machine
When applied to this game, the two ideas are not so disparate as they might at first seem: in fact, one bloom often signals the presence of the other. But it's the theoretical Bloom I want to focus on here. In a lot of ways, this post follows on from my last, in which I read the Romantic sublime into Bethesda's 2011 release Skyrim. It could, in fact have been more closely connected; Bioshock Infinite contains humanoid vending machines which quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and warn you to mind the proverbial albatross - and this is only the most blatant Romantic reference - and a lot of the views could certainly be described as sublime. Connections have already been made between Bioshock Infinite and its hidden literary influences, such as to The Wizard of Oz here. But what about its literary-theoretical ones? In this post, the first of two in which I'll explore this theme, I'm going to look at one of the trailers for the game.

At this point I should say: ***SPOILER ALERT***

Zachary Hale Comstock -
from the Bioshock Infinite wiki

The historical
Anthony Comstock
(source here)
The Bloom connection in Bioshock Infinite is almost as blatant as the Ancient Mariner one; in some ways more so. The main character's names - Booker DeWitt or Comstock depending on which temporal dimension you happen to be in - are loaded with histories:
Bryce DeWitt (1923-2004) was a theoretical physicist who, appropriately for Bioshock's needs, advanced Hugh Everett's many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics; Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) was quite literally post-Civil War New York's morality police - George Bernard Shaw coined the term 'comstockery' after one of his plays was censored by Comstock - and the fictional Comstock is something of an Evangelical moralist who consistently reiterates similar morality laws in his floating city of Columbia. Historical influences pervade the narrative, from the anti-abolitionist rhetoric of Columbia's ruling classes to the echoes of the French and Russian Revolutions found in the that of the Vox Populi here. But, as the article linked there suggests, 'Columbia is both the setting and the ultimate threat to be averted at all costs'. And it is in Columbia itself, in the setting, that we can find the most obvious, visual Bloomian tropes. Columbia is a stage: it's a stage on which to talk about influence, historical, literary and, most importantly, familial.

Now, Bloom's theories, on the surface, are all about the temporal - except that, time and space are not dichotomies for Bloom. Bloomian time and space is more like the Doctor Who timey-wimey-spacey kind - all mixed up. If time changes, so does the space, and spaces affect what goes on in time. And that is what we find in Bioshock Infinite. The historical influences are undeniably important - you need a decent grasp of transatlantic nineteenth century history to follow the nuances of a lot of the plot - and the game is supremely self-conscious about it. This isn't a game which is anxious about its influences, as such; on the contrary, it flaunts them.

The mocumentary trailers released before the game introduce several strands of influence that will remain present throughout the game; the title - Truth from Legend: A Modern Day Icarus? - suggests the elision between historical fact and game, between 'fact' and legend in the narrative itself, and the classical/literary references which underpin so much of the game's plot and imagery - most importantly, Biblical allusions. The documentary itself is reminscent of that cheap 1980s kind 90s kids got shown in school: scratchy prodution company music; the deep, serious voice of a neutral-accented narrator; unsteady graphics. It's an audiovisual scrapbook of the 'history' of the floating city, Columbia, from it's beginning in 1893 to its cessation from the United States following a diplomatic crisis (in China - you're right to think of the later Manchurian crisis) in 1901. The narrator asserts that this city - the star exhibit at the Great Exhibition-esque 1893 World Columbian Exhibition, 'a gathering of the greatest technological feats the world had ever seen' - was the result of the vision of 'one man'. But the narrator is clearly wrong, as his own name suggests: the city arises as the monstrous result of a collaboration between characters within the game, and with the game's developers and diverse social, cultural and historical sources outside of it.

The fact that our narrator's name is A. Bloom surely cannot be coincidence. The unusual spelling of his first name suggests that this is something we should be paying attention to.  Firstly, Alistar is introduced after the viewer has been drawn back through a galaxy of stars; the cosmic/legendary/scientific tensions explored in the game are already evident here.  Secondly, the name invokes allusions to another contemporary game: Alistar is a Minotaur in League of Legends, the online multiplayer role playing game launched in October 2009. According to his Wiki page, Alistar the Minotaur was 'initially unwilling to cater to his celebrity status as a champion' until he 'discovered that there is power in fame, and he has become a vocal advocate for those whom the Noxian government treads upon'. This emphasis on vocality is important here; both Alistars are, in different ways, oral advocators of truth in the face of something hidden. The Bioshock Infinite trailer narrator's surname reinforces that the viewer - and the future player of the yet-to-be-released game - should be paying close attention to the game's external references, whether they be extra-textual (I'm including literature, film and game here), theoretical, or historical.
A screenshot of the opening of the Bioshock Infinite 'documentary'
 In the next post, I'll move on to look at the themes developed by the second part of this mocumentary, and into Bioshock Infinite itself; in particular, I'll follow the trailer's lead in bringing the game into the academy by quizzing the two dominant images - the angel and the songbird - in terms of Bloom's theory of the 'anxiety of influence'.