Category Archives: Scholarly Communications

Digital Medieval Studies

I talk about creating my DH capstone project.

I talk about creating my DH capstone project.

How DH Has Helped Me Make Sense of My Field

Early in my graduate studies, when I took the Digital Humanities Colloquium at Boston College, the professor had us read a series of definitions of “the Digital Humanities” to introduce us to the scope of the work we might be doing. Many of these definitions rightly focused on interdisciplinarity, computational analysis, multimedia pedagogy and scholarship, and the need for an umbrella term to encourage institutional support and funding. One definition, however, continues to resonate with me as it is particularly germane to my own field of medieval studies: “[u]ltimately, what sets DH apart from many other humanities fields is its methodological commitment to building things as a way of knowing.” This emphasis on DH as primarily a methodology of building things clarifies what I can do with DH. When conceptualizing a new DH project, I begin by asking myself, “what am I hoping to build to help me know something new about this topic?”

Often, the answer to that question has something to do with the materiality of the topic. As a translator in medieval studies, I have spent untold hours poring over manuscripts and textual editions, navigating the webs of cramped handwriting spilling across pages and the matrices of the apparatus criticus. Text encoding, the DH work I have done with such manuscripts, has given me a deeper insight into the physicality of the scribal tradition and allows me to represent the complexity of the folios. Because DH prioritizes the creation of new material, I get to know the material culture of my field more closely than I might have otherwise.

This digital methodology of “building” gives me a different way of knowing the content and the context of the material I study. Both formats, manuscript and XML file, have their affordances for marking intertextual material, line breaks, section headers, etc., and the painstaking encoding process creates an intimacy with the text, which more traditional humanistic scholarship may not allow. In many ways, the detailed encoding (done in an XML file) feels like the practice of copying a manuscript, and the final result visually complements the original folio.

DH methodologies ask me to think about the medieval world in a new way, demanding that I consider how to transfer the technology of the manuscript into digital technology. As I build a digital manuscript of my own, I can almost see through the lens of the scribes themselves how they constantly referred back to their source text to produce a faithful copy. Digital humanities offers a new entry point to the field and literally allows me to continue the tradition I study, and it doesn’t hurt that the end result is really cool, too!

Manuscript viewer built from the XML file above through Edition Visualization Technology v. 1.3. This work-in-progress provides multiple nodes of engagement with both the manuscript and the text itself.

How Open is Open?

A closer look at Transformative Agreements, Hybrid Journals, and OpenAPC

For approximately the past two decades, with a sharp increase over the past five years in particular, open access articles are becoming more and more commonplace. So much so, in fact, that notoriously large, subscription based publishers such as Elsevier and Springer, have started offering a different model for accessing journal articles that does provides more access for the extremely high cost of subscription. Now, these companies have begun to make available new contracts with universities that allow for broader access for all affiliated scholars, and discounts or removals on Article Processing Charges (APCs) that are required to help fund the publication of open access articles.

On the whole, these “Transformative Agreements” break down barriers for access to students and save money for institutions so that they can spend their collection budgets on one-time purchases, rather than having their budgets tied up in subscription costs each year. And many journals indeed have made the transition from a Transformative Journal to fully Open Access. However, most Transformative Agreements tend to stop short of being fully open access – particularly when published by a major, well-known, well-funded publisher. Many make use of the Hybrid Journal model – which sees some of the content of a journal open access, and some still subscription based. Additionally, these agreements sometimes limit the publishing accessibility to a particular population affiliated with an institution; while fully open access publications are readily available with an internet connection and a URL. Recently, Boston College has signed a Read and Publish Agreement with Cambridge University Press.

Costs of Open Access

The costs associated with publishing open access can vary a great deal as well. In 2020, Springer was under fire in the public eye for listing an APC at 11,000 USD, when the average is closer to 2,000 USD. First, this again presents a barrier to access – as only institutions with liberal publication budgets, or professors who don’t mind going very deep into their own pockets – are able to meet this. Additionally, as major publishers try to maintain their subscription model while promoting open access – smaller independent publishers who are committed to publishing scholarly fully open access are left out of the picture. Publication funds that are generally meant for developing open source repositories and communal methods of sharing are instead going back to the same publishers pushing their subscription models.

OpenAPC is a project to gather data about APCs being paid to different publishers by institutions all across the world. While it is not comprehensively used, this data shows different trends in APC payment data, and create a narrative about how effectively librarians and research institutions are using open access publishing funds create more accessible work via publishers that are working explicitly to create open models for publishing.

This Treemap from shows the breakdown of funds used to cover Article Processing Charges across different countries, publishers, and funding institutions.

Plan S

In 2018, cOAlition S was launched. Composed of different national research funding institutions throughout Europe, the coalition’s main principles focus on making open access publication a reality. This coalition centered around Plan S – which has the goal of making public all research and publications that are supported through grants by national research institutions; making published researched immediately accessible to everyone and anyone with an internet connection. This – and efforts like it – amount to building pressures on publishers to offer open, immediately published options for authors looking to publish their work, which in turn creates a wider, globally accessible portfolio of scholarly work.

Supporting Open Access at Boston College

At Boston College, we publish seventeen open access journals and provide funding to authors via an Open Access Publishing Fund. Our E-Journals are free to read all over the world and can be found at Additionally, scholarship that has been published open access via our publishing fund can be found on our Open Access Publishing Fund LibGuide. If you want to start an E-Journal or submit an article to an open access journal – get in touch with the Digital Scholarship Team here at the O’Neill Library!

Open Access Week Display

Thank you for checking out our Open Access Week Display! All of the content below with an orange tag has been made Openly Accessible to anyone around the world via our Open Access Publishing Fund. Scholars from BC who have authored this work have chosen to make their content available by working with publishers who do not charge subscription fees.

We will be having a meeting to discuss the Open Access Movement and how you can get involved at Boston College.

Orange QR Codes

The QR codes you see here on each article will link you directly to the online, open version of that article. Open Access publications mean that even if you were not on campus, you would be able to access this content with a working internet connection and nothing more. All of this content has been submitted by BC authors, and the Article Processing Charges associated with making the article open access are covered by Boston College Libraries as an aim to create more accessible assets worldwide.

Green Price Tags

These articles are from subscription journals – because we are on the Boston College campus, we have access to these articles while we are logged into the VPN associated with our BC usernames, however, this is not open access – and it is not accessible to users who are not affiliated to a subscribing institution. The price tags indicate how much full access to the article would cost.

Open Access Rocks?

Indeed, most rocks are freely accessible. These are here to highlight the 3D sketches of rocks that have been used to illustrate the collection for a geology class during the pandemic. Using these models, students can study geological formations in detail from wherever they are, without having to commute or interact in person. As technology improves and develops, finding new ways to deliver lessons or educational materials will increase accessibility across the board, and engage new learners who may have had large physical barriers that can now be circumvented.

It is not just articles that are open access. Books can be published open access as well. Peter Suber’s Open Access costs to own physically, but the entire content can be accessed online through the publisher’s website.

Public domain book display in the O'Neill Library

Happy Public Domain Day (err…Month)!

Post by John O’Connor, Scholarly Communications Librarian

January 1, 2019 marked the first Public Domain Day celebrated in the United States in 20 years, and we at Boston College are spending the month of January celebrating this wonderful day and all the new works going into the Public Domain in 2019. So what is Public Domain Day? Well, let’s first start with what the Public Domain is.

What is the Public Domain?

The Public Domain is the idea that creative works are eventually the property of humanity as a whole, not just one person. Whenever someone creates a new work (a story, poem, sculpture, research paper, software code, etc.) they are allowed to have an absolute monopoly over the use of that work. This allows them to get a fair return on their work assuming there’s a market for it by selling bits and pieces of that monopoly. For example, when someone paints a new painting, they can sell the original painting to a collector, but they can also sell prints of that painting because they own the copyright in the image.

The ultimate goal of this is to reward authors and creators for advancing “science and the useful arts”, which is to mean any kind of art. Critical to the creation of new works and new knowledge is building upon those that have come before you.

Without being able to borrow and steal from others, we as a society cannot create new things. And we want to reward those the borrow, steal, and add their own new ideas to create something useful. But that kind of borrowing and stealing isn’t possible when someone owns (or claims to own) every other idea that came before you because they could sue you for that.

That is the beauty of the Public Domain. Eventually, the monopoly that creators have over their newly created works ends. Once that happens, the work falls into the Public Domain and anyone can take that work and use it for whatever they want without having to worry about infringing on someone else’s rights. If Copyright is the reward to individual creators, the Public Domain is the promise to the rest of society that they can eventually use the things that creators make regardless of their ability to pay for them.

The act of old works eventually becoming the property of all of humanity is a critical part of the copyright bargain. You create something new, and you get to make money off of it for a limited amount of time. After that time (which is generally long enough for it to no longer be of direct economic value), anyone is able to use your work for the good of society.

Wait, so how does the Public Domain work?

Pretty simply actually. Anything that is in the Public Domain is free for anyone in the world to take, remix, change, build upon, or re-sell directly. Most often, people take something that was old, add new elements, and re-sell that. Disney is probably best known for taking stories in the Public Domain and building upon them. Here’s a list of Disney movies and the Public Domain works they’re based on:

Disney Movie

Public Domain Work

Adventures of Huck Finn (1993)

Adventures of Huck Finn by Mark Twain (1885)

Tom and Huck (1995)

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

Aladdin (1992)

One Thousand and One [Arabian] Nights (1706)

Bug’s Life (1998)

Aesop’s Fables

Frozen (2013)

Ice Queen by Hans Christian Anderson (1845)

The Lion King (1994)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1603)

There are tons of other examples of public domain use by Disney: Snow White, Cinderella, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Sleeping Beauty, and Tangled all are based on works in the Public Domain.

And Disney isn’t the only one. Star Trek uses stories in the Public Domain as the basic plot for dozens of episodes. James Joyce’s Ulysses is a nearly direct re-telling of Homer’s Odyssey. The motion picture Seven is based on Dante’s Inferno.

As you can see, the existence of the Public Domain has a direct influence on our modern society.

OK, OK. I get it. But what is Public Domain Day?

Depending on when something was created and when/if it was published, the amount of time that someone has a copyright over their work varies. Generally speaking, something created today is copyright for the life of the author plus 70 years. Before 1976, published works (such as books, movies, paintings, etc.) were copyrighted for 95 years from the publication date.

The way that copyright law works is the those copyrights expire not exactly 95 years from the publication date, but January 1 of the year after they would expire. For example, if a book was published on March 1, 1923, the copyright doesn’t expire on March 1, 2018 – it actually expires on January 1, 2019. Same thing for a book published on June 1, 1924 – its copyright will expire on January 1, 2020. This makes the math and record keeping easy for publishers and courts to keep up with.

That’s why we call January 1 Public Domain Day. On that day all off the work for the year 95 years prior goes into the Public Domain. On January 1, 2019, all of the works published in 1923 went into the public domain.

Uh huh. And why hasn’t the United States had a Public Domain Day in 20 years?

Well, we have the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998—also called the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, the Sonny Bono Act, or (derisively) the Mickey Mouse Protection Act—to thank for that.

What that law did, among other things, was to extend the copyright terms for works published before 1976 by 20 years. Ostensibly, the reason for this was to more closely align US copyright law with European standards. However, some people note that the law was created under intense lobbying from Disney as the character Mickey Mouse was about to pass into the Public Domain (hence the nickname).

Since the terms for works were extended for 20 years, that effectively put a pause on the Public Domain in the United States that lifted on January 1, 2019.

Cool! So what’s passing into the Public Domain this year?

Anything published in 1923 is now in the Public Domain. Lifehacker has a wonderful list of some famous works of art that are passing into the Public Domain this year—including works from Aldous Huxley, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, and Pablo Picasso.

Boston College has created a display in the lobby of O’Neill Library that highlights more than two dozen books and films that are now in the Public Domain. Some examples include:

  • Bambi by Felix Salten (PT2637.A52 B313 1929)
  • The Ego and the Id by Sigmund Freud (BF175.5.E35 F7413 1989)
  • New Hampshire by Robert Frost (PS3511.R94 A6 1995)
  • The Prisoner by Marcel Proust (PQ2631.R63 P76 1972)

Sweet. So what about Mickey?

Well, Mickey the character and the first drawings of him from Steamboat Willie will pass into the Public Domain on January 1, 2024. But don’t get too excited. You might notice that that Mickey looks different from the modern Mickey. All of the modern versions of Mickey will still be under copyright. In addition, Disney uses Mickey as a logo and has Trademarked him. That put Mickey anyone wanting to use Mickey for their own purposes in a difficult spot since Trademark protections never expire as long as they’re used.

Mickey might never be available to the public, but we won’t know until someone tries in 2024.

That’s a bummer. Anything else I should know?

I think that’s mostly it. Get excited for 2020 when we get a whole new batch of works (published in 1924) into the Public Domain. And get out there and make use of those newly Public Domain works!