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BCcampus Open Textbook Summit 2015

May 29th was a busy day in Vancouver. Bif Naked played the Rickshaw Theatre, the FIFA Women’s Cup Trophy Tour arrived in Vancouver, and the Gastown Women’s TEDx hosted its Fearless event. If this wasn’t enough to quench everyone’s thirst, the Vancouver Craft Beer Week made an early start before its June opening. In other words, it was a day for gender equity, women’s rights, women’s sports, and a deep ethical question of which event would be the most appropriate to attend, in all likelihood with each of them followed by craft beer…

Miraculously, however, the BCcampus Open Textbook Summit soldiered on and even drew in a record number of attendees. MVP and Open Modernisms were prominent in the proceedings, which means its panel was right before lunch when late risers are sure to jump into sessions (and then eat lunch guilt and gluten free). The responses show that beyond BCcampus, the Open Modernisms anthology builder is going to find traction across Western Canada. James Gifford presented a paper co-authored with Stephen Ross and Matt Huculak on the major innovations coming to BC as Open Modernisms prepares to launch its Phase 1 with a custom Islandora build for preparing modernist texts that are in the public domain in Canada. With its “core” and “module” system, Islandora will allow users to upload PDF page images of documents with metadata, OCR them automatically, hand-correct the OCR, and queue it for moderation.

As a first step, this places Open Modernisms at the ready for Fall 2015 modernist anthologies for classroom use across the country. The key, however, is copyright…

Canadian audiences are still slightly surprised to learn that Ernest Hemingway, H.D., George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas, and other authors are actually in the public domain in Canada, at least for work published in their lifetime—they may be so common as to be ubiquitous in the 47 lbs. anthologies we still associate with first year undergraduate studies, but the digital option helps students avoid both breaking the bank and their backs. Even at the BCcampus Open Textbook Summit the recognition that these texts are all entirely free in Canada, even if the books housing the text still cost money, came as a surprise and was clearly heard as a call to action. While the process of developing critical editions will still take some time, Phase 1 of Open Modernisms places reliable texts in student hands through the MVP and Open Modernisms, more or less immediately and without the cost of the book to house it.

The talk also outlined Phase 2, as if Phase 1 were not already giving Bif Naked, TEDx, and FIFA some serious competition. Moving forward from the clean OCR in TXT and PDF formats, Phase 2 allows for other texts to be integrated or extended through encoding in Markdown and conversion through Pandoc. In this stage, the same texts become available in ePub, mobi, and other formats with the option of adding introductory materials, annotations, and a scholarly apparatus. And as Shawna Ross has shown in her Manifesto of Modernist Digital Humanities, this can be quite robust for presenting visually complex materials.

For anyone curious just what a resource could look like for classroom use, Gifford included an excerpt from FDU’s ENGL 3056: Modernism, which has run in Canada, the USA, and reaching out to students in the midst of international travels or returning home, whether to Hong Kong or Harare. Clint Lalonde, one of the event’s organizers, immediately noticed the trouble at hand:



While modernist texts complicate resolving differing copyright regimes in different jurisdictions, this can be easier than it may at first seem. The course in question runs almost exclusively on public domain content and with no direct costs to students nor the problem of differing editions in different countries.


The closing exhortation was to resources, meaning money but also more than money. Open Modernisms has been very fortunate in the first instance with real money, with a legion of 5 funded student RAs at Fairleigh Dickinson, sponsorship from Douglas College, investment from the MVP, and making it all possible an Open Textbook Grant. But money can’t buy you love, nor can it buy you an anthology jam… The students buy in with their own labour to help prepare and proof the text using the Open Modernisms workflow, whether it will be extended into a critical edition or used as it stands. The idea is to use coffee and pizza to open that dialogue and keep the jam running on love of the job, because if students are creating their own savings on textbooks, it really is a free lunch. This process seems a fitting tribute to what Celia Aijmer Rydsjö & AnnKatrin Jonsson have observed about the very same authors, quoting the journalist Sisley Huddleston about the modernists on the left bank in the little magazine This Quartet: “we almost persuade ourselves that it is published by us as well as written by us and read by us.” In other words, its work of, by, and for its community much as the little magazines that fostered modernism as a movement eschewed the commercial interests that would have disregarded the little readership that shaped modern literature.


An important and welcome by-product of this procedure is increased accessibility. This means both the ease with which students can download the text while rushing to class (in order to not feel guilty later over lunch for missing the lecture…) but also and importantly the multimodal access to the text for visually impaired students or those simply needing other forms of access.


So get started. Now. The open textbook revolution will have pizza. And be sure to get your free lunch.



(The full presentation will become available through the Open Textbook Summit archives)


Associate Professor | English | CSPT | U. of Victoria


Prior Blogs – James Gifford

[…] “BCcampus Open Textbook Summit 2015.” Modernist Versions Project. University of Victoria. Web. 3 June […]

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