Steamboats are ready for a comeback. A pedagogical one, that is. While in all likelihood the steamboat’s time as a common form of transportation in the United States is finished, over the past several weeks I’ve noticed subtle mentions in a seminar paper, a museum display, comments during last month’s PEAES conference, and only once, I should add, did I bring them up! This may be in part due to my increasing interest in them as a pivotal subject in the history of Anglo-American intellectual property. Yet I don’t think this is entirely an instance of frequency illusion but rather indicates that while steamboats are no longer an effective mode of movement, they are very effective as an illustrative one, particularly when trying to flesh out broader themes in the political economy of the Early Republic. Continue reading
Today’s guest post is from Nora Slonimsky, a doctoral candidate in history at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her dissertation is on the relationship between literary property and politics in the Early Republic. She has previously blogged for the New York Public Library. For the 2013-2014 academic year Nora was co-chair of the CUNY Early American Republic Seminar.
As most graduate students experience first-hand, the relationship between universities and unions can be complex. Our position as students, employees or a combination of the two varies largely by institution, particularly by whether or not our universities are public or private. However, if you’re a Division One football player with a potential NFL career in your future, the construct of a student-athlete underscores a specific question about the nature of labor in higher education. For those who participate in collegiate sports, are academic scholarships a privilege or a right, a special acknowledgement of their abilities on the field or a form of compensation for service to their institutions? Yet the tension between privileges and rights is as much about intellectual activity as it is about physical skills, dating all the way back to Andrew Law’s Privilege of 1781.
Four years ago, Robert Darnton, historian and librarian at Harvard, wrote in the New York Review that “we [had] missed a great opportunity.” Instead of digitizing America’s print heritage in a public project, perhaps managed by “a grand alliance of research libraries,” the United States had allowed a private corporation to control the scanning and storing of books. Depending on the outcome of federal lawsuits, Google Books would enjoy a virtual monopoly on books still in copyright.
“We could have created a National Digital Library—the twenty-first-century equivalent of the Library of Alexandria,” Darnton wrote. “It is too late now. Not only have we failed to realize that possibility, but, even worse, we are allowing a question of public policy—the control of access to information—to be determined by private lawsuit.”