January 3, 2013
Gallatin School of Individualized Study professor Stephen Duncombe has brought Sir Thomas More’s 16th-century tale, Utopia, into the 21st century with the first Web-based, open source, and open access edition of the classic work.
Duncombe uses the Web to enable readers to engage in Utopia by creating a platform for others to comment upon More’s text and write their own ideas, building communities of critics and creators. In collaboration with the Institute for the Future of the Book, “Open Utopia” features a “Social Book” edition that allows Utopia readers to annotate the text online and then share their thoughts with communities as small as a local book club or as large as the online world. Through “Wikitopia,” a wiki platform for collective authorship, readers become writers—drafting individual and collective visions of Utopian societies.
“Open Utopia” also features an ever-expanding library of user-generated, Utopian-themed videos and images as well as audio files of Utopia read aloud.
“We need Utopian thinking more than ever,” explains Duncombe, “and I’ve always thought it ironic that a text that lauded common property was restricted by copyright and limited in its distribution through its paper and ink form. My ‘Open Utopia’ project is an effort to open up More’s text in every way possible.
“Utopia is more than the story of a far-off land where there is no private property,” adds Duncombe. “It’s a text that instructs us how to approach texts, be they literary or political, in an open manner. Open to criticism, open to participation, open to modification, and open to re-creation. I’ve done my best to convey this message and continue the tradition.”