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Raymond Siemens

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11/11/14 Ray Siemens: “The Building Blocks of the Social Scholarly Edition”

This talk explores elements of the scholarly edition in the context of new and emerging social media from two pertinent perspectives: the first from the foundational perspective of its theoretical context, particularly as that context intersects with a utility-based consideration of the toolkit that allows us to consider the social edition as an extension of the traditions in which it is situated and which it has the potential to inform productively; the second is from the perspective of an iterative implementation of one such edition, A Social Edition of the Devonshire MS [BL Add MS 17,492] (http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/The_Devo…), carried out via a research team operating in conjunction with an advisory group representing key expertise in the methods and content-area embraced by the edition.

Ray Siemens (http://web.uvic.ca/~siemens) is Canada Research Chair in Humanities Computing and Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Victoria, in English and Computer Science, and visiting professor at NYU in 2013. He is founding editor of the electronic scholarly journal Early Modern Literary Studies, and his publications include, among others, Blackwell’s Companion to Digital Humanities (with Schreibman and Unsworth), Blackwell’s Companion to Digital Literary Studies (with Schreibman), A Social Edition of the Devonshire MS, and Literary Studies in the Digital Age (MLA, with Price). He directs the Implementing New Knowledge Environments project, the Digital Humanities Summer Institute and the UVic Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, and serves as Vice President of the Canadian Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences for Research Dissemination and Chair of the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Scholarly Editions, recently serving also as Chair of the international Alliance of Digital Humanities Organisations’ Steering Committee.

“Community of Practice”

In response to our readings, the talk and workshop involving Raymond Siemens, the consummation of knowledge one can leave with is as described perfectly by Ann before me; knowledge is messy. It was wise that Ray initiated the worksop with this question to the group: What is knowledge? As also stated prior, the lectures featuring Siemens and Kathleen Fitzpatrick  speak as to how knowledge has historically been made accessible via the authoritative governance. “Knowledge” is – according to the Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia – “information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education.” For our purposes we’ll focus solely on experience and education as it pertains to ‘social knowledge creation’.

Despite what Nancy Fjällbrant writes regarding the origins of peer review, “the [scholarly] journal had significant ties with the concurrent birth of learned societies (i.e. the Royal Society of London and the Académie des Sciences in Paris),” the Devonshire Manuscript exhibits, as per Siemens’ work denotes, an earlier example of social knowledge creation. Another way to say this concept is ‘social knowledge production,’ which Ray declared as having “always been really messy.” Part of the reason why such developments are messy is because of this idea, “community of practice.” As described in the Toward Modeling the Social Edition: An Approach to Understanding the Electronic Scholarly Edition in the Context of New and Emerging Social Media article, a community of practice:

Refers to a group that forms around a particular interest, where individual members participate in collaborative activities of various kinds. Active involvement in the group is key; through this involvement, group members ‘develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems – in short a shared practice’

Creation and consensus on knowledge is not simple or perfect. However, the practice and symbolization of the book being the source of knowledge (essentially an extension of an exclusive authority), has influenced an often misconceived notion of physically published infallibility, at least until the next edition! which will repeat that declaration. It is this erroneously defended and long held tradition which castigates the potentiality of collaborative knowledge producing sites like Wikipedia.

Knowledge is messy

The theoretical backbone to the Devonshire Manuscript project demonstrated by Raymond Siemens is the meditation on the process of knowledge creation and conveyance, specifically in relation to the social and power: who is creating the knowledge and legitimizing it? These questions invite us to consider the history of the institution. The separation of the “mad” and the “civilized” under the clinical institution in the eighteenth-century that Foucault pointed to, created the power division of the institution as the sole entity that holds truth and ability to cure, and those who were dependent on the institution.

The lectures by Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Siemens, in addition to the past readings suggest a trend of the digital age that is exposing and balancing the power relation between the institution and the mass. As entities outside of traditional institutions (independent corporations, organizations, etc.) began to forge ways of distributing and effectively creating knowledge that drew from the network of the mass, traditional institutions are now faced with adapting to the new configuration, and in tern self-critically assess its history of knowledge creation, which, as Fitzpatrick and Siemens suggest through the origin of journal review, originates in a non-institutional, person-to-person review of text in the royal society.

As a member of an institution that holds influence in a global scale, I am encouraged to think about these power dynamics and how it relates to the institution’s current branding in the global arena. Creating partnerships that result in economic and/or cultural capital in regions, its strategies range from self proclaiming agenda to assess its presence as a cultural cannon, to direct goal for fundraising and building global membership. I am working on the former strategy, which, if done sensitively, perhaps could manifest in results that are sincere revision of the power dynamic problematized above. I am learning the mechanism of the digital that allows us to put a check in the traditional institutional structure, and bring forth a new type of knowledge making.