Open Source Scholarship

A couple of weeks ago, Bethany Nowviskie visited UNL and talked about adapting the model of “skunkworks” to producing research and development. While her talk included many great insights as well as the most entertaining slides I have ever seen in an academic speech, one part of my notes from the talk really jumped out to me. I wrote: “scholars used to hiding work until polished–> bad for open source collaboration,” which seems to me to be a great insight into academic production of scholarship.

When debating whether or not to start a blog, I found that I too had been trained (by whom I am not sure) to hide my work until it is polished. I was a little cautious because I did not want to be defined by blog posts writing that, while thought out and edited, did not receive the much closer review I give to papers for class. I also worried that I would develop an amazing research topic and mention it, only to have another scholar steal it and beat me to the punch. I feared that I would fall into a situation like in 2009 when two mall cop movies came out within months of one another, and the movie released first made nearly ten times as much.

However, as I have seen the benefits of open sourced work (one example being the open source visualization tools around which I have built my digital history seminar project), I am beginning to think opening the research process up will be much more beneficial than waiting until my work is polished.

Scholars already do share unfinished work, one example being giving conferences papers. However, this sharing is almost always still very polished, like a formal presentation, or only reaches a limited audience, like a few peers off of whom you bounce ideas. Some of the beauty of the Internet and its social networks, is that you can now bounce ideas off of large groups of peers, like a number of twitter followers or facebook friends, or even friends or family you guilt into reading your blog.

Beginning sometime soon (polished details to come later), I plan on officially getting over some of the fear of sharing research. Once I decide on the frequency, I will begin substituting (perhaps supplementing, but we will have to see how productive I am this summer) a blog post on a regular basis to discuss my research in hopes that I can gain productive feedback. Though, even if I do not get any feedback, I figure at least regularly expressing my research ideas in (semi-)coherent words will help me develop the ideas further.

3 responses to “Open Source Scholarship”

  1. Brian,

    This is very well stated. I have decided to research my whole biography on Sarah Farmer in public, and I started my blog in March. I am still trying to figure out how it works best, but I have settled on using the blog to tell the story of my discovery of the subject, and stories of all the interesting people and coincidences I have found along the way.

    I look forward to reading your blog!


  2. […] Brian Sarnacki has noted that a blog is a means of sharing ideas and receiving some feedback on how to address those issues.  The work I have presented in this post is by no means complete.  I am still reviewing text analysis tools such as the ones listed on the Digital Research Tools Wiki.  I am finding out what is currently available and am eager to hear from you about  your experience. […]


  3. […] other main part (35%) is my relatively recent pledge to open my research process. Blogging my dissertation progress is the most obvious way in which I […]


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