The meme-o'-the-week seems to be something going by the name of "Open Scholarship" or, alternately, "Open Biblical Studies"; and it is somehow (I'm not sure how yet; they seem to be completely different to me) tied to the open source movement.
Some recent posts are:
I'm sure there's more (like this one from Peter Kirby) but that's the thrust of the past day or so.
Before I go too much further: even though I do have a specific disclaimer link noted at the bottom of each post, and even though this blog is my own and is not that of my employer, I need to state that these thoughts are my own and should not be construed as a statement by or policy of my employer.
And I apologize in advance for the randomnity below; but writing will help me understand what I think about all of this. And that's really my goal.
Now, with that said, I'm confused by this whole "Open Scholarship" thing. As near as I can tell, it means that people do work and write stuff, and then they upload it somewhere that purports to be a central repository. And somehow, that's "open" and therefore cool. So everyone is excited.
But I'm really confused. I don't see how "scholarship" isn't "open" already. Anyone with an interest can look into pretty much any topic they please. Right now. Let me offer a few scenarios on how folks get started.
Situation 1: Grad Student. This is something I'm unfamiliar with as I have not pursued formal graduate studies. But people interested in scholarship do it. I dare say a fair number of readers of this blog are currently pursuing graduate studies or directly make their living from people pursuing graduate studies. When folks pursue such studies, they get access to faculty, access to facilities, and they get direction and training in their chosen area. At least, that's how it is supposed to work. Right? Yes, it involves the ability and financial means to pursue, but people do it. Anecdotally, I'd guess more folks are pursuing graduate studies today than in times past.
Situation 2: Motivated Amateur. Ahhh, home. This is me. I've looked into graduate studies in the past. I'm sure I'll flirt with the thought in the future. But for now: No way. There's nothing stopping me from pursuing the fields I'm interested in. Resources are available from a number of sources. AbeBooks.com and other online aggregated used book sellers (BookFinder.com, Amazon.com's used books) are awesome sources. My own thought (and practice) is to take a portion of the money that I'm not spending on graduate studies and call it my book budget, and spend that on titles in areas of Biblical Studies that I'm interested in. I'm in a decent sized city, so that means that interlibrary loan is a viable option as well, if I really want to peek at a book I can't justify purchasing (Crum's Coptic Lexicon is in dire need of a reprint, and I wish Lampe's Patristic Greek Lexicon was just a bit cheaper.) I stumble along, write some things, thoughtful folks out in the biblioblogosphere offer comments, direction and most importantly, encouragement. But my point is: the motivated amateur doesn't need some existing framework in order to jump in and explore the areas he's interested in. He can jump in. Really. The water's fine. C'mon in.
These are only two paths -- I'm sure there are more -- that can be one's start along the road of "Biblical Scholarship". But I don't see how "open" applies here, so I'm still confused about what "Open Scholarship" is.
Is it a philosophy?
Is it a grand, glorious wiki site where anyone can opine on whatever theological whatnot they so desire?
Is it open because it's on the internet?
I mean, I read what Tim Bulkeley wrote on Sansblogue, but I must be dense because I'm not "pickin' up what he's puttin' down". Are there really scads of people around the world thinking, "Oh, I'd be a Biblical Scholar in no time if I only had access to more resources on the internet!" It all sounds remarkably generic and therefore thoroughly unobjectionable, which is why I guess I object. I need specifics. I need to know why folks who would scarcely pick up a Bible Dictionary or commentary (available freely from just about any church library and rather cheaply from Christian Bookstores, used book stores, CBD, or even stores like Barnes and Noble) would flock to an "Open Scholarship" web site, or how they'd even know it existed, and what they'd be expected to do with it.
Is it some community-driven commentary thingie? The web has plenty of half-started and never-finished projects of this nature. What makes "Open Scholarship" different?
Is it like the Joint Association of Classics Teachers' Greek and Latin programs? If so, how is "open" different or better than what they've done?
Is it scholarship by committee? (please say 'no')
Is it a Biblical Studies version of arxiv.org?
Is it CCEL?
Is it different from Crosswalk.com? Gospelcom.net? How?
Is scholarship like N.T. Wright, but "Open Scholarship" like Tom Wright? Less cryptically, is one goal attempting to convey scholarly material in a more palatable mass-market form?
Is it one thing (one web site)? Or is it a number of different things? If different things ... why do we need to have a discussion? Why not just do it, and let it stand or fall?
Is it doing an end-run on academic publishers? I mean, I cringe at Brill prices like everyone else, but they put out some very good stuff with very limited marketability that, frankly, wouldn't ever get published anywhere else. This sort of work isn't easy, and it isn't cheap, and folks don't just happen to know about it if it gets posted on a web site somewhere. Even then, its status is questionable. And even then -- shouldn't the guys who did the work receive some remuneration in addition to the accolades of their peers? You know, like bread on their table? Relying on a "sugar daddy" somewhere to write a blank check to cover it probably isn't a realistic expectation and should therefore be discouraged.
With all of that said, I'm still confused. But the "open" meme starts to make sense to me with one assumption: In the context of "open scholarship", the terms "scholarship" and "publishing" are equivalent. That is, if publishing and disseminating one's work is the goal, then "open scholarship" makes things easier because the difficulty of publication is removed -- anyone can hop in the pool. The bar is lowered.
But I don't buy that, and I don't think that's what anyone I've linked to means by the term.
To my uninformed and naive thinking, "scholarship" has absolutely nothing to do with publication. I won't knock publication -- it would be cool to be published, and I have a basic understanding of the requirement that those in more academic settings have in this area. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to be published some day. But if I do work or write things simply (or primarily) to be published, then I've got to wonder about my motives. In my view, for scholarship to really be scholarship (as opposed to name-building or department-building) one must be motivated by compulsion. That is, the problem or subject area is looked into, studied and examined because it is interesting or because one has an insight on a particular problem or issue. That insight may lead well down the road to other things, or it may amount to nothing. But I'd offer that the reason for examining it is to solve the problem -- not (primarily) so that everyone knows the person who solved the problem, or made the connection, or shed new light on an old issue. The scholarship is in the doing.
Additionally, scholarship isn't just adding to the work in a given area, it is also familiarizing one's self with the existing dialog, and the history of dialog in given subject areas. It is reading source editions and not relying upon abstracts, summaries or selected readings. It is reading journals that publish new research/scholarship in your field and familiarizing yourself with back issues of the same journal. It is evaluating and understanding the arguments you agree with and the arguments that make you queasy. It is attending conferences and interacting with others in one's field. It is interacting with and adding to the conversation in one's chosen area.
And I haven't even got into collaboration yet, which I thoroughly am confused by. I sort of understand it with software, but not with scholarship. So I write something and someone else comes along and edits it, without my approval or consideration, and now the thing I did is different? Huh? But, alas, I've gone too long, rambled too far, and probably offended some people along the way with some of my comments. Please accept my apologies if my tone or manner offended; no such offense was intended.
Update (2005-08-30): My time is pretty tight, and I don't quite have another post on this subject in me, so I'll offer a few trailing thoughts here.
First, there is a bit of "rhetorical slant" to what I wrote above, but that is semi-intentional. I probably did go overboard in a few places, though. Apologies if that muddied my questions.
Regarding Mike's example of Funk's Grammar: That whole thing actually confuses me too. I don't understand how Funk's Hellenistic Grammar isn't already accessible. I searched AbeBooks this afternoon and found used or print-on-demand copies listed ranging from $60 to $90. For a three volume Greek grammar, that price seems okay (cf. Moulton-Howard-Turner at four volumes for well over $100, which folks seem to think is a good deal). I'm also sure that Funk is available at several libraries and (though I haven't looked) it could probably be retrieved by interlibrary loan to evaluate, if someone wanted to see if it was worth shelling out $90 for. It isn't necessarily easy -- one would have to at least go to a library and fill out an interlibrary loan request. And it isn't cheap or free -- time to do the interlibrary request or $90 is required. So, I'd say it already is accessible. It surely isn't ubiquitous. But it can be had.
For those who don't know me personally, my nature is pragmatic. I want to know about the application of an idea; I don't necessarily want to completely define the idea before I can apply it. So I see major themes in this "open" meme -- essentially (please correct me if I'm wrong or rash):
- on the 'net
- quality Biblical Scholarship
And that's great. One thing I appreciated about Peter Kirby's post on the topic was that he had real projects listed as suggestions. He said, "Ok, here's some stuff that I'm doing. How can these projects work within the proposed framework?" (e.g., free, on the 'net, and decent scholarship). I haven't seen any follow-up on that, and I haven't seen further mention of it outside of Kirby's blog. But I see the major trends, and I see Peter saying, "how 'bout these?", and then nothing else seems to happen.
So the pragmatist in me keeps wondering about the application, because once I see something in motion or have a clear idea of how scholarship would actually take place in such a system (e.g., "use cases", which someone suggested in a comment on Ed Cook's blog, as I recall), I'll be able to make more sense of it.
Either that, or someone can blog a psuedo-socratic dialogue between Socrates, Oigosoursicus, and Kataphronicus to explain. That sort of stuff usually works for me too.