Ethical Concerns

Under the academic jail, or nah?

One of the cornerstones of education, at least during my educational experiences, has been paying respect through the citation of any sources that you utilized, quoted, or referenced when creating your own work. This is extremely imperative as this practice should be one that is ethical and reinforced by laws. It is important, especially within the field of history that we are able to attribute our research and hard work to others who may have had a hand in our scholastic success. But I guess that that lends itself to the question: who owns knowledge and information? In my opinion, I don’t believe that anyone truly does, however, the blood, sweat, and tears that are put into discovering said knowledge is worthy of not only praise but citation.

I really enjoyed several of the points made by T. Mills Kelly. We should look at history with a more fun approach, as this discipline not only gives us perspective on the past but also informs us of the future. I think that it is imperative that professors take initiative to create courses that challenge historical/societal norms around normal topics such as historiography and methods. But honestly, innovation has to start way before college. It is important that we are teaching elementary and middle school students about how to properly conduct research in order to not have issues regarding copyright infringement or plagiarism. I really enjoyed the fact that Kelly spoke about integrating materials such as the US Census and how 5th graders truly enjoyed it. I think that it is not always about what we are teaching, or those lessons, but how we are doing it which piques people’s interest.

Be original. Cite when necessary. Continue laying a path for those to come.

Ethical Concerns

CopyRight or Not?

When it comes to copyright laws, they make sense and work well. Seventy years after the author’s death, in the case of books, as a general rule of thumb. That gives enough time for the authors and their families’ to get their dues, and then you get awesome or horrible remakes, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. 

What about the idea where there have only been four original stories ever, with the details changed? How much has to be changed for a work to be considered original? How many Romeo and Juliet stories are there? Basically, every romance can be summed up with: “And they fell in love, after these obstacles.” What about tragedy or comedy?

What happens when something is no longer held under copyright, legally speaking, but it is in effect? There are some forms of media, like The Simpsons, that is not used, because it would cost far too much to get permission for something that is technically free?

On a far less serious note, what about with youtube? One of my favorite forms of entertainment is finding reaction shows online. I enjoy getting to see someone fall in love with the same series I did. Sometimes they notice things I missed, understood what happened differently, and put everything into a whole new perspective. 

They have ways for getting around copyright, by distorting the audio or visuals, playing clips that they reacted to the most and cutting out what they didn’t. They use the “Fair Use” claim to get around the copyright. If they are commenting about the video they are watching, offering criticisms or opinions, and usually offering a review afterward, not just putting it up, watching silently, and enabling other people to watch it in its entirety for free. 

Depending on the reviewer, the show in question, and if they want to appeal Youtube, they might be able to keep up their reactions, or have their channel shut down entirely. I’m not entirely sure of the legality of it all, I think it falls into a sort of grey area. They don’t (all) do it for profit, some do it to watch a good show and connect with fans. 

There is also fanfiction, writing of fans of whatever work. It’s not under Copywrite, as its only the names of character/places/universes/etc that are being used, not the source in its entirety. Depending on how it was written, fanfic can go very far from the source material, while keeping with the spirit of the original. Some even go on to be professional authors, like Cassandra Clare. Her series, The Mortal Instruments started out as a Harry Potter fanfic series. And what about the Cursed Child? JKR didn’t write it, she just approved it. Jack Thorne wrote it. I’ve read better. 

What about just reviews? Video gamers get to play games online without falling under the same copyright laws.

People are inspired by what they read, watch and listen to. Some are driven to create their own works. You can only learn by looking at what came before you, take what parts you like, and put them together in new ways to create something completely different. After all, there is no such thing as a new story, just new characters, names and places.

Ethical Concerns

The Importance of Trust.

In T. Mills Kelly’s “True Facts or False Facts,” one of the key elements in the success of the original hoax was its riding on academic trust networks. She claims that those taken in “didn’t do their jobs as historians.” I believe otherwise.

Academic trust networks are a vital part of actually being able to do the job as a historian. Simply put, there is too much history, and too much history being made, to do anything else. With citations, in theory, any historian can track any book or article all the way back to the primary sources. However, that is, in many cases, not practical. As a case in point, I have a random book off of my shelf, Timothy Tyson’s The Blood of Emmett Till. The book uses endnotes, and in the 13th citation of chapter 17 “Protest Politics,” Tyson cites the New York Times, and I can go, and find the article. However, not all of those sources are as easy to find. The second citation of the same chapter goes to an article found in the Carl and Anne Braden papers, which is held by the Wisconsin Historical Society. In the latter case, I have to trust that Tyson is telling the truth both about what the article says, and where it is held.

There is more to academic trust than simple citations. As historians and academics, we are often forced to take on questions that do not fully fall into our self defined niche. That can be covering another teacher’s class, trying to answer a student’s oddball question, facing down the public in an open forum, or trying to follow the implications of a question we raised ourselves. . With these questions, being able to answer well often requires some significant degree of trust in the historians around us. No historian has the time to fact check every claim made in every book. In point of fact, no historian has the time to read every book. So, to try and combat the never ending flood of publications, informal trust networks form in order to pass relevant important information to other historians, and gain useful information ourselves.

However, this does not make the historical hoax as an exercise any less valuable. While “”In war-time, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”* In history, a lie often requires a bodyguard of truths. In order to be convincing, the students had to not only learn the basic skills that any introduction to history teaches, but also how to write convincingly, how to weave together sources to create a narrative, and how to use multimedia tools effectively. Any good historian can create a convincing historical hoax, because it requires the same tools of research, writing, and development in order to create a plausible narrative. By teaching how to lie convincingly, Kelly was also teaching how to tell the historical truth in an engaging and meaningful way.

*Winston Churchill: The Second World War, Volume V : Closing the Ring (1952) 338.

Ethical Concerns

Creativity and Collaboration ™

A major theme that appears when studying the copyright laws and trademarking is intellectual property rights. Throughout the readings for this week, each author states how copyright laws originates from our free culture which “supports and protects creators and innovators.” Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig point to how the Founding Fathers intended for copyright law to promote learning, rather than hinder creativity. Copyright, most would argue, protects your intellectual property and what you create. However, it can be easily argued that it also prohibits that same creative process in an indirect manner. T. Mills Kelly cites a young German author Helene Hengemann, who commits numerous copyright law infractions in her book Axolotl Roadkill. But the author defends her work by claiming “there’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” Though this may seem like a clever way to get around fraud, I think this brings up a key point when dealing with copyright law and digital history. While copyright law helps to keep in place of system of ethics around our work, it can lead to some pitfalls that hold our work back. We need to protect and ensure credit is given when due, but also ensure that we can continue to foster an environment for creativity to foster and grow.

‘”There were 14 sentences that I took from a blogger and modified,” she says. “Suddenly they were rubbishing the entire book. Critics who had feted me were suddenly distancing themselves completely. But I think they were looking for a way to neutralize me and debilitate me as an author, and the plagiarism claims were the approach path for allowing them to do that.”’

Interview of Helene Hegemann: ‘There’s no such thing as originality, just authenticity’. Conducted By Kate Connolly

I want to stress, I am not encouraging for students to left even just 14 sentences from a historians’ work and not cite the work. However, I do think Mills Kelly makes a compelling point when she says “history as a discipline has become a bit too stodgy for its own good. It seems to me that we are taking ourselves a little too seriously of late…” We have become obsessed with minute details that turn people away from our work. Historiographies are the best example of this. When we ask undergraduates to research a history of a historical topic, citing all different arguments and approaches to the proper scholar, it is no wonder we are considered to boring elitists. Again, this is an extremely important tool for a historian to have, to see how historians have interpreted an event, but I think we become bogged down in comparing historians’ work rather than noting the development of the topic. I think the point of our work as historians should be collaborating to find the best means of historical interpretation, instead of just reciting past attempts. 

This leads to another important point that Kelly brings up: collaboration. Kelly notes that in their class Lying About the Past, “the students also learned that the creation of history is a collaborative endeavor.” In creating their believable fake narrative about a pirate, students had to work with each other in a variety of ways. I think copyright laws, trademarks, and policies on manipulation have weakened our ability and even desire to collaborate. Though these laws seemingly originated to promote learning and creativity, it really has spurred an idea of wholly original and independent work that is not beneficial to the field of history. As Kelly‘s class demonstrates, the best and most convincing work derives from collaboration. In fact, two of our history professors at Appalachian State, Dr. Silver and Dr. Browning, just released a collaborative environmental and military history on the American Civil War. By utilizing each other, our past work, and current ideas, we as historians can produce the most efficient history. I think Digital History provides a pathway for this. As Cohen and Rosenzweig show, it can be difficult to cover all of our bases with copyright law. But, the malleability and collaborative nature of the field make this easy to correct and continue safely producing work.