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General Print Culture

venerable gutenbergs, coffeehouses, and theses

Venerable GutenbergMark my words: this from The Chronicle.com is going to get some play in the next few weeks.

Writing Students and Professors Fight to Keep Theses From Being Freely Available Online

As more graduate students deposit their theses online and make them freely available, college administrators on a number of campuses are being asked to treat creative-writing theses differently. English professors and writing students are pressing college officials to exclude creative-writing theses from open-access policies, arguing that they undermine students’ ability to get published in literary journals.

Jeanne M. Leiby, an associate professor of English at Louisiana State University, is among those who argue that writing students should not be forced to widely distribute their theses online. Ms. Leiby, who is editor of the literary journal, The Southern Review says in an article in this week’s Chronicle that she will not accept manuscripts that have been freely disseminated online.

She also says that writing students may be hesitant about making their theses open access because of professional pride. “I don’t necessarily want people to go back and read my thesis,” says Ms. Leiby, who earned a graduate degree in writing from the University of Alabama. “I’d like to think that in 15 years I’ve become more of a writer. I don’t necessarily want those early attempts associated with my name.”—Andrea L. Foster

The more complete news article is here. It looks like publishers who want to maintain exclusive rights to work are driving the university policies.

The argument also seems to rest on thinking of a thesis as a magnum opus: as the masterpiece of production. I wonder about that. I’ve always read (and written) theses and dissertations as a first step into the professional field. A start, not an end.

So, choose your theme to discuss:

  • Print and pixels. Print argues that exclusive rights to a work creates value. Pixels argues that less-restrictive rights create value. Discuss quietly among yourselves.
  • A creative work must be in print and controlled by a sanctified publisher to be valuable. Stepping over that barrier devalues the work – now and forever more. Myth or fact?
  • A work deemed creative and worthy by a master’s or dissertation committee is not really worthy. The True Measure is Publishing. Yea or nay?
  • The creative work is fundamentally different than the scholarly work. Art is not scholarship, nor scholarship art. (Of course the work is valued differently, as different genres are. But the successful argument will demonstrate an essential difference between the creative work and the scholarly work.) Extra points for not resting your argument on the trope that Art is Inspired. That needs a proof of the existence of gods.
  • There’s no hiding your juvenilia anymore. (Was there ever? Ask Milton. Ask Eliot.)
  • The quaint idea that a Writer can somehow conceal or control the work that came before the work. (Has anyone read The Road to Xanadu?)
  • The even quainter idea that distribution before Official Publishing is somehow new, novel, or a result of the Interweb. (You may refer to Pound, Eliot, Joyce, Steele and Addison, or any of the coffeehouse writers of the 18th century. Extra credit for making a case against serial publication by Dickens.)

My dissertation (Student Rhetorical Interaction in an E-Mail Conference: A Case Study of a First-Year Writing Course) has been online since the afternoon it was approved. I wrote my MA thesis before the web was invented, although bits of it might still be floating around the MERITS system from 1986. Maybe I’ll scan and upload it this summer. There’s not enough narrative crit on the web, and my thesis was a real cracker: “A Narrative Analysis of John Fowles’s The Magus.