Over the time I’ve been researching harp makers (some twenty-five years), I’ve held to the belief that it is best to keep my unpublished research close, to not share newly discovered sources or realisations, fearing that someone will ‘steal my work.’ I’ve sat on more or less all of it. I have a database with in excess of 500,000 variables relating to the Erat Harp Company, family, and their suppliers; add to this my work on Erard and other London harp makers, surveys of published music and performances (the last two built on the back of open access research by Simon McVeigh and the British Library), there are nearer to 1,000,000 pieces of data – and my databases continue to grow. I’ve heard some researchers talk of others ‘stealing’ their work (by which, as far as I can ascertain, they mean independently working on the same source, and coming to similar conclusions). So, having never really given this any proper thought, I’ve taken a protectionist stance.
At a publishing workshop last week, hosted by The Paul Mellon Centre, London, I changed my mind. The publishers leading the workshop were genuinely open about the challenges of publishing, of the difficulties of understanding who and what a particular academic author is. They were firmly of the stance that putting your work out there, prior to publishing, was not a handicap; sharing work, whether it be new sources, draft writing, private databases, or something else, allows others to talk about it - and yes - to use it, but above all it enables open discourse. Most academic writers will cite work appropriately, hence the originator’s ‘ownership’ is protected. Few will deliberately steal. So, not sharing or sitting on work could be compared to closing a shop for fear of shoplifters – we all go hungry, and no profit is to be had.
I recently finished my doctorate (a year or so ago). On doing so, my first action was to embargo my thesis whilst I looked for a publisher. My source materials, draft writing, and databases have been relegated to an external hard drive in the bottom of a drawer. Some of it, I hope, will form part of a published book; I have plans for other parts – articles, conference papers, blogs, etc., but a lot of it will, if I don’t share it, never see the light of day again. So how can I claim to advance knowledge, a tenet of doctoral study, unless I open up that drawer and start, albeit selectively, sharing? So, over the coming weeks, I will do just that – start sharing.
I’ve already put two spreadsheets detailing harps sold and hired by the Erat Company (1821-1824) on my website – a blog on this site links to it. To this I will add spreadsheets of accessory sales (string boxes, music desks and stools, harp covers, tuning keys and forks, etc); I will also share three fantastic inventories which show how the Erat company changed between 1821 and 1824, and information about the materials used in the manufacture of single- and double-action harps. As I sort through some of my draft writing, it is likely that some of this will also go up on my website too.
I hope that others in the field of organology, and particularly those researching harps, will consider sharing aspect of their work too, that this website will become a source for such material, and a place in which it can be discussed. Anyone want to join me?
Thanks Robert. I've shared information where I've thought it wouldn't directly impact on the 'confidentiality' of my work. Looking back, and thinking clearly now that the thesis is finished, I can see that my approach was more than a little 'precious' - sharing resources in the way that the likes of Simon McVeigh has done with his Concert Life in London dataset (London concerts, 1750-1800 http://research.gold.ac.uk/10342/) is definitely a better approach.
Mike is being modest, as usual. He has hardly kept this research to himself; on the contrary, he has been exceedingly generous about sharing information with colleagues over the years. Putting the Erat research online, however, is a major step forward in harp scholarship, and we should all be grateful to him for this.