Open Access and Breaking into the Ivory Tower

Democratizing information is the way of the future. This is especially evident when you look at under-served areas of study, such as minority studies, women’s studies and LGBT studies. Since so often the dominant narrative erases these populations or devalue and misrepresent their contributions, open access resources invite more scholars and laypersons to the table that has been traditionally hidden.

Into this comes open access, a way for these students to understand and get access to their history and how they fit into the larger scheme of things. Open access helps them see themselves in history, in society and gives their experiences weight and validity.

Nota Bene: The examples I am using are of people who are either publishing outside of academic journals or not from academia. I am aware of great Open Access journals out there like Southern Spaces, but that’s a discussion for another day.

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A great example of this is MedievalPOC. ( The blogger focuses on art and art history that shows persons of color in ancient to modern art, with a specific focus on medieval and renaissance art. She also discusses the historiography; how we learn history and how history has often been edited to erase persons of color who do not fit into the dominate and quite racist conception of an all white Europe ignoring the trade, social ties, and existence of persons of color. The blogger uses resources that are readily available to the public and talks about the way that historical narratives are constructed.  MedievalPOC is a perfect example of the democratization of academia as a way to empower those who would otherwise feel disenfranchised by dominant narratives.


Janet Stevens Youtube Page

Janet Stevens Youtube Page

Another great example is Janet Stevens. An Amateur Archeologist and hair dresser she’s best known for discovering how roman women did their hair, with the help of Ornatrix. In 2008, she published an article theorizing that the accepted translation of the Latin “acus” was probably inaccurate, and didn’t mean a single pin for hair, but rather needle and thread and also that it would have been completely possible for a Roman woman to use her own hair for the elaborate styles, rather than wigs. She based this on her own desire to recreate the hair styles, and her knowledge of hairstyling techniques. She now is a published academic author and also posts tutorials and recreations of Roman hairstyles on her Youtube channel.

Recently, a 19 year old college student discovered 500 year old music and then published it on tumblr. Not in a journal article, not presented at a conference, but on tumblr. You can’t get much more democratic than that.

While the sciences have been actively involved in Open Access for some time, the humanities shows great promise for the future of Open Access. As MLA Director of Scholarly Communication Kathleen Fitzpatrick said, (and I paraphrase poorly) “Humanities must show value, and we can’t do that if everything is locked up.”


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