Working on the Panton Principles for Open Literature and Humanities

The, it appears indefatigable, James Harriman-Smith and I, amongst others, had been talking about porting the Panton Principles to Open Literature and Humanities uses. After a Skype call, we created a first draft which is now online on the Open Literature wiki: http://wiki.openliterature.net/Principles and on the Open Literature mailing list.

One of the matters that did concern us was the word “data” and what this might mean to literature and humanities. One assumption that we had was that it perhaps had a more defined meaning to scientists. But what is data to humanities? Is it the manuscript, the notes, or the published work? We decided that ‘Work’ might be a better word for the overarching principle.

One of the issues that is important is re-use and subsequently closing the re-used work down and making it non-open. The major party that we had in mind was Google Books. Whilst they are making good and admirable strides in the digitising of out of print works but there is no API or metadata store that can be used to mix up the data or to mine it in any other way. Effectively we end up where we started: with a technically open text tied up in ways that cannot be re-used.

Re-use and re-mix are extremely important within digital humanities. Influence and building on works are central to movements like Modernism and also ensuring that works and authors are accessible. Works are adapted and take on their own lives or segue from such moments.

The final major point was that citations and the underlying cited text should be open. Whilst the core of the principles are about the work and ensuring that it can be worked on, a fair amount of work goes into notes and annotations to the text (such as the great Annotate It tool) and these provide a meta work for people to build on. It is vital for debate that these are not put into a closed arena, not just for the sharing of notes but also building on the notes. They might also be put together into a new work or an annotated version of a work put together to build upon the work with communal notes.

This does represent a step forward in open literature and digital humanities. I really hope that debate does start and that these can be developed and make concrete.