Friday, 2 December 2016

Obituary József Gedeon

József Gedeon (Igor Grín 2008)
József Gedeon, manager of the Castle Theatre in Gyula, Hungary, organizer of the Shakespeare Festival (Gyula), member and founder of many Hungarian and international art associations, died Nov. 25. He was 60 years old.

József Gedeon was born in Gyula, spent most of his life in his hometown with the exception when he studied in Szeged, where he obtained his degree in Comparative Literature, and in Budapest to study Art and Design Management at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design. When in his hometown he worked as an extra and then as an actor in theatrical productions, was a teacher of Literature and English, was the head of the Cultural Department of the Local Government, and became the director of the Castle Theatre in 1995. As the director of the Theatre he organized the annual Summer Festival, part of which was the Shakespeare Theatre Festival. He also brought into being an International Jazz festival. He was the founding member of the Hungarian Erkel Ferenc Society, the Association of Outdoors Theatres, the Hungarian-British Friendship Society at Gyula, and member of the Steering Committee of the Hungarian Shakespeare Committee, initiator and founder of the European Shakespeare Festivals Network.

József Gedeon was a man of vision, charisma and uncompromising power. His achievements as a local cultural patriot, as a national and international figure of cultural life need no further commentary. I have known him since the refoundation of the Hungarian Shakespeare Committee, when he was invited to act as an active member of the board of the committee. Since then I have been in touch with him in a variety of capacities, mostly owing to events related to Shakespeare’s reception. He was full of energy and enthusiasm for whatever he was involved in: he was keen on giving a lecture on the history of the Hungarian Shakespeare Festival (he travelled 300 kms to Budapest and another 300 back home for this speech). Besides being passionate and knowledgeable about Shakespeare, the theatre, Gyula, he was always happy to listen to other people’s opinions, he was open to discussions concerning the conference during the Shakespeare Festival, but he was also able to disagree when he found reason for doing so.

His death does not solely fill everybody who knew him with remorse but also creates a vacuum in the Hungarian cultural, theatrical life, also in the Hungarian Shakespeare reception, a vacuum that can hardly be filled. A man of heart and steel has been lost, a man who was one of us and also above us, a man who made history, cultural history, a man we on every side of Shakespeare reception sorely miss.

Zsolt Almási
Secretary of the Hungarian Shakespeare Committee

Monday, 25 July 2016

Academic blogging: why?

Now that the summer is at its full swing, when being away from everyday bureaucratic work, thus having the freedom to ponder about stuff that normally is suppressed by daily duties, I started thinking about why I love blogging. Although I can easily list a hundred reasons why I should not write these blog posts, yet I just love musing about ideas that concern me most temporarily.

To begin with, let us see why it may seem counterproductive to spend time with writing up blog posts. First, blogging has no academic value, it does not count in one's list of publications, so it is a waste of time. Two, a blog post is not peer reviewed, so its contents may well be questionable. Three, this is at least a feature of my blog, that rather few people read it: it is not academic enough for my colleagues, and maybe too academic, at least topic-wise for others. And fourth, I do not publish blog posts regularly enough to attract readers. Surely this last one is a person specific problem, as I run this English and I also have a Hungarian one, the posts appear either here or there so the appearance of new posts are rather rare.

Though these counterarguments seem sound, I would still like to reflect on them. Of course these blog posts do not surface in the list of publications, and yet they are not completely valueless. The list of publications does not have a merit on its on, and I hope and believe that what is meant by scholarly value may change over time. But undeniably at the moment scholarly value remains a problem. Two, clearly the blog posts do not go through the process of peer review. Although peer review has its on discontents, I do not intend to rehears them here, first and foremost because I deem peer review a necessary and beneficial institution. But some sort of peer review is at work in case of blog posts too, even if not in the prepublication phase. Comments function as postpublication peer review, which is as important and relevant as the prepublication one. Three, the problematics of too few readers. I reckon not much more people read my other writings that are hidden behind the paywall, and a comment by Jonathan Hope means much more to me than many references by other scholars. Fourth the two-language blogging. Writing blog posts is really fun, and if it is fun in two languages, then let it be like that, I can live with maybe loosing readers because of the small number of posts per blog. Maybe in the future I will unite the two blogs, where both English and Hungarian posts will appear next to each other.

Refuting counterarguments provides insufficient reasons for blogging though. So why do I find so much fun in writing blog posts? One of the reasons is my fascination with Open Access. I reckon blogging is just contribution to the growth of Open Access content and ultimately to the cause of the Open Access movement, which is in a sense an end in itself for me. It also matters that I enjoy the process of writing up of shorter pieces. Sometimes I get tired of creating longer writings, joy is deferred so much that sometimes I sometimes get tired of that type of work. Writing up a blog post though gives much more immediate satisfaction, since I can finish a short, max. 1000-word long piece in an afternoon. And also there is no suffocating feeling of a must-do activity. Journal articles must be written, a book is under way, these are necessary parts of academic life, and I enjoy these too. But writing blog posts is really for joy: if I have an idea to verbalize in a post, and I have the free-time to work on it, then I enjoy myself this way without the pressure of a compulsory work. It is also significant that I just love putting ideas into words, as an academic and old fashioned humanist I believe in the power of words,that shape reality even if in the most remote sense.

Why I like blogging so very much is also due to the change in register. I appreciate the tense, academic style that addresses the initiate. But I also find pleasure in turning to a somewhat more colloquial style that shoots beyond the small circle of academics. This is one of the reasons why I contribute to Wikipedia with entries from my field. This doesn't mean though that I would have a clear notion of who reads my blogs. Most of the (small number of) comments on this English blog are from friends and academics, but I have no idea who reads this one without commenting. The Hungarian however is clearly read by non-academics as well, I have received comments from people I know to be outside the circles of the academia, and I am also aware of people reading the blog from all walks of life.

And a last reason lies in the fact that very few Hungarian scholars have a blog. Although there is a growing number of academics who write blog posts, still this medium is not so fashionable as it is in the Anglo-American world. There might be some cultural reasons for this difference, e.g. shyness, not so much inclination for writing etc. The cultural differences, however, do not hinder me from this activity but rather encourage me.

These are some of the reasons why I keep using the medium of blogs. They may sound weak for some people, from certain perspectives, yet they are sufficient for me at the moment.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Open Access and the new culture of information flow

I consider myself an advocate of the Open Access movement not only in words but in deeds as well. That said I have to admit or rather just because of being an advocate I must admit that I have some problems with Open Access publications. Namely, I am not quite sure that Open Access publications can reach their target audience as effectively as their counterparts behind the paywall.

Creative Commons
I consider myself an advocate of the OA movement, because whenever I have the opportunity, I speak about it. Surely, I can speak about the concept of OA in the greatest depth during my Digital Humanities classes. There I have the opportunity to elaborate on the difference between free and OA, about the various shades of OA (gold, green), the numerous licencing opportunities from GNU GPL to Creative Commons and the degrees within these, the Budapest Open Access Initiative. I frequently use the OA button in my browser. Furthermore, I also am happy to speak about Aaron Swartz and Alexandra Elbakyan, about The Internet's Own Boy, and SciHub. When reading out parts of the "Open Access Gerilla Manifesto," my voice betrays my emotional involvement, similarly to the moments when reciting Bertrand Russel's "Preface" to his Biography, or when reading out Lear’s words carrying Cordelia’s dead body on stage.

Swartz smiling
Aaron Swartz
Alexandra Elbakyan
Alexandra Elbakyan
Being an advocate of OA does not only involve talking about this fantastic concept, practice and responsibility of the Internet, but also I try to act accordingly, too. Running a blog is one step towards academic openness. With an English colleague we founded an OA journal, e-Colloquia, which is not alive at the moment but should / could be resurrected soon. I regularly contribute to Wikipedia, and request my students to do so within the framework of editathons, too. I share the PowerPoint and Prezi presentations for my classes on Slideshare and make them open on Prezi so that others can make use of them. I share my course descriptions so that anyone can copy and develop them. I am also happy to share my projects (scripts and texts) on GitHub so that anyone interested can copy, download or fork them. So I try to act according to what I preach.

That said I also have to share my problems with accessing OA objects in general and OA books in particular. The case is easy once I learn about an OA object or book: I only enter the relevant strings in the search window of the browser and Bob's my uncle. The problem arises when I just do not know or simply forget about, say an OA book. If I do not know anything about an OA book, then I will not be able to find it. Where is the problem here?—one might ask. Why would you look for something that you do not know if it exists at all? Yes, this is true and the very problem at the same time. I learn about books that are expensive, written by authorities in the field, counting as landmarks in the discipline, well before their publication, as news, would reach me very fast. Appetisers, i.e. academic advertisements would call my attention to them, and by the time of the publication, I would be eager to purchase and read them.

But this is not the case with OA books. Their authors do not mention their OA publications either during the pre-publication phase or after it, clearly because of shyness, or because fearing self-promotion, believing that a good book, article does not need advertisement, you name the reasons. The publishing house does not have an interest in advertising the OA publication, as advertisements need investment without return. Most of the time the funding for the OA publication does not include the cost of advertisements, thus beyond the fact that advertising OA publications is not in the best interest of publishers, funding authorities never think about this: their sole objective is to have the results of a research project published.

Should then the cost of advertisements be built into the research costs? Maybe. Or should a new academic culture of "care and share" be created? The digital arena does not only foster OA publishing but also provides ample opportunities to let colleagues know about one’s publications: they may be notified via personal emails and email lists, the books can be advertised through social media: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, But do we have the time and energy and self-confidence for this self-promotion? This initial step should be made, I’m afraid. But then it is the scholarly community’s responsibility to inform others about the news of an OA publication moving in concentric circles. Furthermore it is also the task of the big names in the guild to promote these publications, as their voice is stronger, it reaches out to more people and is heard more easily. Does this mean that the channels of promotion on the basis of the principle "care and share," a new advertising culture is to be built? A culture that is not founded on profit but on the responsibility for colleagues and for the welfare of the discipline? Maybe.

Creative Commons:
Aaron Swartz By Fred Benenson - User: Mecredis -, CC BY 2.0,
Alexandra Elbakyan: By Apneet Jolly -, CC BY 2.0,