Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Open classics - a modest proposal

In the sciences one of the great current tropes is open access, ie publishing research papers in journals that do not require a subscription to access them, and equally importantly making research data available for re use and reanalysis.

There are other parallel movements such as open textbooks, open online courses etc.

Classics is also an area ripe for open access. Much of the material revolves around texts and the reanalysis of texts, and authoritative translations abound. I suspect that many classicists only know a number to texts from translations.

Acquiring the key texts and translations is not particularly difficult or costly - many have been around for years and reasonable second hand copies can be picked up through the various online second hand booksellers for a few dollars.

But of course, that does present a barrier for access - first of all one needs these few dollars and scronly one needs the time and the inclination to hunt for decent second hand copies and then wait for the postal systems of the world perform their miracle of nineteenth century technology.

Absolutely fine for a dilettante with a disposable income like me, less so for a student undertaking a course, especially one in a country such as Australia where the classics are most definitely fading.

So, to my proposal:

  1. Assemble a list of university reading lists
  2. Identify the most commonly listed items
  3. Identify suitable online (free) sources where possible
  4. Make the resource list available online

A very simple idea, and one that can be extended to other areas, for example medieval studies, English literature etc.

The virtue of this idea is that it works to reduce the cost of access, and also encourages ‘reading around’ a topic, ie don’t just read the set texts, read related ones, and get some understanding and insight.

In a time when books were paper and most university towns had a couple of second hand bookshops stocked with cheap second hand paperbacks, happenstance and reading around could be done very cheaply - forty years ago I used to play a game with myself on a Saturday afternoon - take my spare change after I’d attended to the week’s expenses, count it up, split it in half, and see what I could find in the way of interesting reading for half of what I’d got left of the week’s money.

Nowadays such a game wouldn’t be possible - second hand bookshops are mostly online which robs the exercise of the happenstance element - and happenstance is an important part of learning and discovery.

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