Annotating Utopia: an online community project

Quick note on a very cool project recently reported in the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

“It takes a bit of audacity to introduce yet another version of Utopia,” Mr. Duncombe writes in the introduction to Open Utopia. “Yet I have done so here because what the world does not have, and what I believe it needs, is a complete English-language translation of Utopia that honors the primary precept of Utopia itself—that is, that all property is common property.”

In that spirit, Open Utopia is published under a Creative Commons license, “open to read, open to copying, open to modification,” the site announces.

Hoping to take the idea of reimagining even further, Mr. Duncombe also created a wiki called Wikitopia, where users can create their own visions of utopia.

It’s too early to say whether the masses will take up the invitation. “I love the idea that there’s a world out there of people clamoring” for an open, online edition of a 16th-century text, Mr. Duncombe said. “But that’s a utopian idea itself.”

The article goes on to talk about the potential pedagogic applications of this project, and I think it is quite exciting. I’ve been pondering how I could use something like CommentPress myself in my teaching. I’m in the process of putting together a syllabus right now, and as it’s currently conceived, I don’t know how I’d work something like this into it. It’s my feeling that I could experiment with it and see how it goes, but it’s also my feeling that, were I to make something like this a part of my classroom, it should be a central part. And I’m too timid regarding my overall lack of experience to jump in with both feet. I intend to experiment with the software over the summer and see what kinds of things I could do with it.[1]

That said, I don’t see why a project like this would need to be restricted to More.[2]  There are plenty of utopian texts floating around out there without copyrights, and many of them could really benefit from an approach like this. It would be especially interesting were I to teach the same text—annotations included—successively over the course of years, and watch generations of students not only engage with the text but hold conversations with each other over the span of years. We could probably learn a lot.


[1] We’ll see how that goes. I suspect that “summer” is a wasteland where academics, like reluctant Spartans, punt their mewling projects to see which ones crawl back to the threshold leaner and stronger, and which ones simply die of exposure to the unimagined future.
[2] Although I do hope that a bunch of Latin nerds out there are raring for their chance to pounce on More’s ecclesiastical erudition.

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