Building Knowledge to Scale in the Context of Open Social Scholarship: A Humanist’s Perspective

Describing academic production up to early last century, literary theorist Northrop Frye observed of what he called the Wissenschaft period, one of building knowledge via dynamic systematic research, that its “imaginative model was the assembly line, to which each scholar ‘contributed’ something [to] an indefinitely expanding body of knowledge” (Northrop Frye [1991]. “Literary and Mechanical Models”).  Reflecting on tendencies in the mid- to latter stages of last century, William Winder has noted that “Amassing knowledge is relatively simple … [but] organizing, retrieving, and understanding the interrelations of the information is another matter” — encouraging us to imagine the challenge of our information age, a neo-Wissenschaft period  perhaps, as one that “brings with it … issues of retrieval and reuse” and requiring us “to be just as efficient at retrieving the information we produce as we are at stockpiling it” (William Winder [1997]. “Texpert Systems.”).  Today, as we revisit issues related to the production, accumulation, organization, retrieval, and navigation of knowledge, we typically do so with attention to contemporary technologies that have worked to redefine roles associated with these issues, introducing new imaginative models for academic knowledge production and engagement.

My talk builds on this foundation and considers ways in which open social scholarship’s framing of these elements, and beyond, encourage building knowledge to scale in a Humanistic context and others.  Open social scholarship involves creating and disseminating research and research technologies to a broad audience of specialists and active non-specialists in ways that are accessible and significant. As a concept, it has grown from roots in open access and open scholarship movements, the digital humanities’ methodological commons and community of practice, contemporary online practices, and public facing “citizen scholarship” to include i) developing, sharing, and implementing research in ways that consider the needs and interests of both academic specialists and communities beyond academia; ii) providing opportunities to co-create, interact with, and experience openly-available cultural data; iii) exploring, developing, and making public tools and technologies under open licenses to promote wide access, education, use, and repurposing; and iv) enabling productive dialogue between academics and non-academics.