Hey everyone, it’s a little late, I know, but Michael asked me and I agreed it would be a good idea to write about the first research presentation of 2013 in our NUDHL workshop.
Professor Ben Pauley came from the Eastern Connecticut State University to Northwestern to present a new tool he is now developing. As a member of the Defoe Society, he is developing a tool to catalogue all work that might have been written by Defoe. Just as every author in 18th century, there’s always a mystery involving the writer’s persona, the actual works. Scholars normally use word patterns to claim the authorship of an Unknown/ unsigned text, coming to the question : “If not by (DEFOE), than who?”
If we ignore possibilities of plagiarism or of having influence over other writers of his own time (as many scholars do), the number of texts attributed to Robinson Crusoe’s writer is of astronomic proportions. And that’s what Ben is trying (really, the tool is already in a soft trial, one could say) to gather with his tool. I really wish we had his visual presentation, specially the way he is thinking the cataloguing process to create a better tool. Keywords such as “work” gain a complete new meaning, especially if our reference is the cataloguing “manual” of the library of Congress.
Apart from trying to understand his new categories, we had a vivid discussion about calling the development and launching of this tool a scholarly work/ publication or not. I guess we all have been discussing it for at least a quarter now, right? If other work will be enabled by it, if the scholarship in Defoe’s studies will profit from it, and maybe be developed in ways that would otherwise be impossible, why not? His (Ben’s) first impulse was to say he would not list it as part of his scholarly publications…
Also, as co-founder of Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker (www.easternct.edu/~pauleyb/c18booktracker), an index of freely available facsimiles of eighteenth-century editions, Ben seemed a little skeptical about the future of collaborative platforms. He noted that the contributions were not as abundant as he expected. In our discussions trying to understand why, one of the hypothesis were the search for originality when, again, you want to publish a work. So people would be less willing to share their findings during research, because they can become primary materials. Well, we all know it’s how you read it and use it that counts, but the risk is considered to big. Authorship, originality and our very beloved copyright, again, ladies and gentlemen!