This week seems a bit open in terms of the weekly create, with the opportunity to choose a tool or theory and just run with it, so I’ve decided to take a deeper look at the site I’d really like to research for my final chapter project and see what I can find out.
I was really into the digital archives we examined for our last class and, even though I didn’t love everything the Walt Whitman archive did, I’m feeling like archival work is really interesting and exciting. We were asked, last week, to look into what archives are available in our fields and, since my field is YA dystopias, I didn’t think I’d find much. I didn’t consider fan fiction collections as being within the realm of archives, but the title of one site totally changed my mind.
You see, there is a fan fiction collection called Archive of Our Own. It’s huge, and it’s legitimate and it’s very ripe for critique.
Katherine Hayles voices the belief of the vast majority of digital humanists when she calls for open access to digital information. Citing Gary Hall’s work in Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media or Why We Need Open Access Now, however, she presciently understands that, while DH should “make us rethink credentialing in general” (4), as Hall warns, “The digital model of publishing raises fundamental questions for what scholarly publishing (and teaching) actually is; in doing so it […] poses a threat to the traditional academic hierarchies” (qtd. in Hayles 70).
So it seems in the case of the Walt Whitman Archive which, as I’ve argued previously, provides free and open access to archival materials but simultaneously absolutely reeks of a site created by and for academics at the intentional exclusion of the dreaded amateur. The Whitman Archive serves as an example of this type of say-one-thing-but-do-another attitude, but it is in no way singular–and it is, by far, not the most egregious. Hall’s truly provocative and energizing Digitize This Book!, you’ll note, was in fact not digitized. It currently sells for $20 in paperback format from the publisher and roughly half that for a Kindle edition. Not too pricey, but definitely not free.
It’s difficult to place blame in this instances, not only because we are unable to tease out who made what decisions regarding publication and access, but also because, as Hayles and Hall emphasize (and we, as burgeoning academics empathize) the stakes are so very high. For an academic, publications equal tenure, tenure equals salary security and salary security enables not only the continuation of one’s well-being, but also of one’s work. From within these bounds, then, it is hardly any wonder that one argues on behalf of the legimization of digital texts but upholds the peer review process on behalf of one’s own career.
Perhaps, then, in order to study the expansive limits of the archive, we must leave those academic bounds and inhabit the realm of a truly open acess site, one in which access means not only use but also production–a site like Archive of Our Own.
First, a word about infrastructure. We are academics, after all, and we do so often require at least a nod toward legitimacy. The site is one of many projects of Organization for Transformative Works (OTW), a nonprofit entity with a board of directors, elections, committees and the like. At the time of this post, OTW maintains seven projects, including Archive of Our Own, as well as a blog, a wiki, a legal advocacy network to protect fan work from “commercial exploitation and legal challenge,” and a peer-reviewed journal that “seeks to promote scholarship on fanworks and practices” (“Our Projects“). All of OTW’s pages are translated into 18 languages, making the organization and its projects truly open access internationally.
Archive of Our Own is still in beta, but there are countless fandoms, each with it’s own set of authors and texts. In the “Books and Literature” fandom, for example, I counted over 200 fandoms just within the letter A. These fandoms catalog the work of anywhere from 1 to 20,000 fan authors, based on texts ranging from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, a canonical classic about a working class family in 1920s Mississippi, to Malinda Lo’s Ash. a young adult speculative novel with nuanced LGBT themes set in a land laced with references to Ancient China. While most fandoms are categorized with English titles, several other languages are represented, like Arabic and Mandarin. Unlike the scholarly archives we’ve reviewed thus far, and unlike Hall’s and Hayles’s work, Archive of Our Own is truly, truly a rich, active open access project.
I’m super excited to continue digging around on this site and analyzing what’s happening here–hopefully in our final project platform!
“About the OTW.” Organization for Transformative Works. Organization for Transformative Works. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.
Archive of Our Own. Organization for Transformative Works. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.
Hall, Gary. Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media or Why We Need Open Access Now. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Print.
Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Kindle Edition.
“Our Projects.” Organization for Transformative Works. Organization for Transformative Works. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.