Division III Proposal/RFC (Request for Comments)

New Literary Technology: Creation and Control
Benjamin (Mako) Hill

Version 0.1 | Sun, 29 Sep 2002 17:38:21 -0400


The topic of my Division III will be authorship in relationship to collaborative creation and group control in the face of changing technology. The introduction to my Division II retrospective used a metaphor of a quickly accelerating storm at the crux of literature and new technology. I claimed that this storm was building quickly and that my Division II aimed to prepare me with perspective and background and to place me on a firm intellectual foundation before the storm hits. With my Division II completed, my Division III aims to be my first step into this storm.

My project will mirror the interdisciplinary nature of my Division II by approaching the topic (perhaps theme is a better term) from legal, historical, and technological perspectives. Each approach will be a distinct--but interconnected--unit. While all three projects are essential, all three will not necessarily attempt to be equally intense endeavors. While the project as a whole is ambitious, I am not attempting to write three Division III's. 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 authorship in a way that can hope to shed some light on the complex situation that advancing technology is plunging authorship into.


Any good analysis of current trends takes history into perspective. I will use historical research to put my legal and technological work onto a firm foundation. The focus of this work will be authorship as it pertains to the collaborative creation of literature. I am interested in researching academic or literary communities (perhaps only one) that created, revised, and consumed literature as groups. Medieval annotations are an example that I've worked with before. I am interested in the technology and conceptions of authorship that facilitated this type of creation as well as the nature of these groups literary works. I want to use this analysis as a way of exploring trends that transcend any one period. Either explicitly or implicitly, I'm interested in applying this research, especially through the other facets of my Division III, to contemporary methods of literary creation and conceptions of authorship.

As stated, this topic is overly vague. I'll work to create a concise thesis that cuts to the core of the issues I'm investigating.


I will engage issues of new technology and authorship by building technology that encourages a radical interpretation of authorship. This may turn into the largest sub-project in terms of hours of work. I've already begun the development project through some early software engineering and the creation of a technical Request For Comment document which I encourage you to browse.

In simple terms, the project aims to create a robust, free version control system specifically designed for working with documents--especially in a asynchronous collaborative environment. For the purposes of my Division III, I aim to create a working standard, framework, and a proof of concept example that I, along with other developers, can continue to develop and improve.

By writing software to facilitate collaborative literary creation, I will be creating a mechanism for a type of literary creation that challenges the dominant paradigm. In research for my papers I will study how information and ideas have been conceived, developed, and distributed over time and how they might be in the future. My code provides a way for me to, get my hands dirty.

To me, this is the most unique aspect of my Division III and will distinguish my project from most others. I want my project to do more than talk about authorship, creation and control. While my project will certainly exactly that, I will also create something tangible: code that can bring form to my ideas. As a programmer, I have the ability to create and manipulate a literary medium and I want my project to take advantage of this.

Legally and Philosophically

In the final piece, I will take a legal and philosophical approach to group creation and control. This essay will argue the importance and persistence of collaborative creation. My work will be influenced by arguments made by Lawrence Lessig, David Bolier, and Eben Moglen among many others.

To me, this is the most important piece of my Division III. The historical project will attempt to approach collaborative creation and control in the past. The technological analysis will be playing with creation and control today. This final piece will be my discussion of where to go from here. I want to argue that by creating and controlling collaboratively, we are able to achieve more. I want to argue against some popular conceptions of authorship and theories of creation.

In addition to my committee members, I will be working with others involved in related field to research and write the essay and refine my thesis. Since most of the work for this sub-project will take place during Spring semester, the topic will begin to take more concrete form in revisions of my Division III contract.

Mako Hill
Last modified: Sun Oct 13 16:16:06 EDT 2002