THATCamp Switzerland (7)

In the afternoon the first session I attended was “How is the writing of history changing?”

The session began with a Ted Talk by Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel on Google’s n-gram viewer and what we can learn from 5 million books (500 billion words), a topic I’ve also played with here in the blog.This was a way of raising the question of “data driven history” and will this change our writing?

A second question was how has the process of writing changed (or is changing)? A third, are we going to keep writing books anyway? What are some of the truly new forms of writing? Does this mean we are thinking differently about history? Are ePubs going to be something different in the sense that 35-40 pages is an article, 200 pages is a book, but what about 100 pages, which is neither? Who is doing the writing? What is the future for collective authorship?

I raised the issue of what happens when writing is taking place in real time in public as in the case of my current research project? What does it mean that I’ll be getting comments–are those who comment co-authors, for instance? How does my writing and thinking change as a result of their input and what does that mean for authorship?

I’m also thinking about this because in my short term plan, once my book on teaching history in the digital age comes out, is an ePub tentatively titled “Edwired: The Book.” My plan is to take a selection of half a dozen or so larger issues I’ve raised in the blog that also elicited a higher degree of engagement from readers, pull them together in a sort of chapter form, add some commentary at the beginning of the chapter (new content) including a reflection both on where the issue is today and what I think about that commentary now that I’ve had more time to reflect on it.

One of the issues batted around in the room for a while revolved around the question of authorship in the digital world. If work is collectively authored, or includes comments, or other input from others, what does that mean for authorship? So, for instance, to what degree can McKenzie Wark claim authorship of Gam3r Th3ory if he incorporated content from the website where he wrote the book in public?

Another question raised was about narration in digital media. How do we tell stories differently in these new media? How is the new media working its way into our writing if writing is the core of what we do in the humanities? Does the writing process change? Does imagination change? Does our sense of time change?

Another question was related to the issue of what happens to us when we create a digital publication like Docupedia? To be specific, authors for this project were generally resistant to taking “interactive responsibility” for things they wrote, because they wanted to be done once they had submitted their work. It seems to me this is a point well worth keeping in mind, because there is certainly a danger in taking on too much interactive responsibility over time. I know journalists who speak of this issue with respect to having open comments on their stories and being glad that there is a point when the comments are closed so they don’t have to keep monitoring them.

Projects discussed were Hacking the Academy and Writing History in the Digital Age and what projects like these mean for things like the authorship question raised above?