Division III Proposal

Collaborative Creation and Control through New Literary Technology
Benjamin (Mako) Hill

Version 0.2 | Sun, 13 Oct 2002 20:39:57 -0400


The introduction to my Division II retrospective used a metaphor of a quickly accelerating storm at the crux of literature and new technology. I used this image to represent the ways in which literature, as defined through new technologies, is defying and challenging traditional methods of creation and systems of control. My Division III is a step into the heart of this storm.

My project will investigate and argue for the collaborative creation and control of literature. It will build on the interdisciplinary nature of my Division II by approaching the topic in three distinct ways: historically, technologically, and from a legal and philosophical perspective.

Each approach will be a distinct--but connected--unit. While all three projects are essential, they will not be equally intense endeavors. Combined, the three sub-projects will form a single unit that exhibits the diversity and interdisciplinary nature of my undergraduate education. Together, they will begin to approach collaborative literary creation and control in a way that can hope to shed some light on the complex situation into which advancing technology is plunging literature and authorship.


I will create a firm foundation for my arguments by creating a solid historical foundation. I am interested in researching academic or literary communities that created, revised, and consumed literature as groups. I want to explore the types of technology and the conceptions of authorship that facilitated this type of collaboration while staying keenly aware of the nature and type of works produced by these processes.

This exploration will take the form of a paper that broadly explores the historical role of collaborative work in literary creation. Possible targets include collaborative works such as the King James Bible, encyclopedias, dictionaries and medieval glosses and annotations. It may also touch upon heavily edited works like T.S. Elliot's The Wasteland and political documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the Communist Manifesto, and the Federalist Papers.

I will attempt to use this analysis as a way of exploring trends in collaborative literary creation that transcended centuries. It will also act to disprove critics that claim that collaborative literary creation is impractical, unprecedented, or unable to produce great works of literature. It will address the benefits and shortcomings of collaborative processes. In doing so, it will place my later arguments on thousands of years of historical precedent.


While my papers take a very academic form, my technological sub-project provides a way for me to--in essence--get my hands dirty. Building off the historical foundation, I will use new technology to build (through computer programming) a system that facilitates collaborative literary creation and control.

In technical terms, the project aims to create a robust, free version control system specifically designed for working with documents in a asynchronous collaborative environment. As this is an ambitious goal, I merely aim to create a working standard, framework, and a proof of concept example for the purposes of this project. I've already begun the development project through some early software engineering and the creation of a technical Request For Comment document.

By writing software to facilitate collaborative literary creation, I will be taking steps to define a medium that attempts to reintroduce the historical models for collaborative literary creation.

I want my project to do more than talk about authorship, creation and control. While both of the other sub-projects attempt to explain why literary creation is important, the technological exploration will demonstrate how in a concrete way. It will create something tangible: code that brings form to my ideas.

Legally and Philosophically

In this final section, I will make a philosophical and legal argument for the collaborative creation and community control of literary works. My argument will highlight the importance and persistence of collaborative creation and criticize legal mechanisms that are ill-suited or incompatible with models of collaborative creation facilitated by new technology.

I will argue that by creating and controlling literary documents, ideas, and concepts in a collaborative and community-based manner, we are able to create a more equitable system for the creation, distribution, and reuse of these works while also creating better documents. I will argue that the conception of an individual creator working alone is both a new idea and a potentially restrictive one in many technological contexts.

My work on this paper will be built on firm foundations of arguments made by Lawrence Lessig, David Bollier, Eben Moglen and many others.

Summary and Notes

The fundamental goals of each sub-project as they pertain to the theme are as follows:

In addition to my committee members, I will be working with others involved in related fields--in the spirit of collaboration--to research and write these essays and to refine and bolster my arguments.

Benj. Mako Hill
Last modified: Tue Oct 15 00:06:12 EDT 2002