Friday, March 9, 2018

John Willinsky's "The Intellectual Properties of Learning"

John Willinsky is the Khosla Family Professor of Education at Stanford University and the director of the Public Knowledge Project.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Intellectual Properties of Learning: A Prehistory from Saint Jerome to John Locke, and reported the following:
By page 99 of this book’s millennium-plus history of learning, I am dealing with Hildegard of Bingen at the beginning of the twelfth century, the last great age of learning within the monasteries. Hildegard is an abbess in the Rhineland, whose outstanding work in medicine remains a source of research and medication today, while her rich musical compositions are still part of the choral tradition. Hildegard is a heroic figure among monastics, even as she exemplifies learning’s loss, as the universities that began to emerge during that century excluded women.

The book focuses on how Hildegard and others laboring over manuscripts reflected a growing sense of intellectual rights and properties associated with such work. Within communal orders of monasteries, cathedral schools, and universities, the learned pursued their rights to access book chests and libraries, use this work in their writing, and attract the sponsorship needed to sustain their learning and ensure the autonomy it required. These works’ authorship was credited as a means of interpreting them.

In her own day and in her own way, Hildegard extended the intellectual property rights associated with learning by overcoming the monastic enclosure that had a particularly tight grip on nuns. She expanded access rights to learning by recording and sharing her medicinal remedies; by seeking permission to publish her migraine-inflected, visionary cosmology through magnificent illustrations; and by undertaking preaching tours to spread what she had learned to communities along the Rhine.

It would not be until the early eighteenth century – and the book’s final chapter – that the intellectual property rights associated with learned works and authors would first become encoded in the law. It took the passage, in Britain, of “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning,” otherwise known as the Statute of Anne 1710, which stands as the first modern intellectual property law. A point of consideration for page 99 in this book, as well as those pages before and after it, is how much of learning’s original contribution to the concept of intellectual property has been lost our own times.
Learn more about The Intellectual Properties of Learning at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue