Mission Statement for the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales:
This is, we hope, a radically innovative enterprise and a new way of making a scholarly resource. The goal of the OA Companion is to put together a high-quality companion volume supporting first-time readers of the Canterbury Tales, and to provide it in an open-access downloadable format that’s free to all. When completed, the OA Companion will be made available online under a creative commons license. The OA Companion is intended for a global audience of English readers from a wide variety of institutions (or extra-institutional locations), and it features editorial principles and set chapter formats that blend scholarly precision with pedagogical adaptability. It’s a project that aims to go forward in a new way, directly from scholars to the public. We are not working through a traditional press or university structure. The OA Companion project is improvisatory and exploratory. To bring something like this to fruition, the current team needs as much labor, expertise, and goodwill as the medievalist community is able to spare: we seek volunteers willing to share their skills and time as crowdsource reviewers, proof-readers, web designers, and advocates for the project.
1) The Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales supports readers encountering The Canterbury Tales for the first time. The intended audience includes solitary readers as well as readers in a class or reading group. The OA Companion is addressed to readers in a wide variety of geographical and institutional contexts. While the OA Companion is intended for an audience with little familiarity with medieval British literature or literary theory, it assumes its readers are interested in academic inquiry, deep reading, creative adaptation, historical exploration, and active scholarly engagement. Instructors, students, and other readers can easily use and share the OA Companion at no cost.
2) The OA Companion project takes the concept of open access broadly, thoroughly, and seriously as a central goal:
The OA Companion is free of charge.
The OA Companion is written with a global audience (reading in English) in mind.
The OA Companion assumes little or no prior knowledge in theory, medieval history, or literary history.
The OA Companion is intended for students at a wide variety of institutions as well as those reading outside of formal academic contexts.
The OA Companion is made available in an accessible format compatible with the widest variety of devices, screen sizes, readers, software, hardware, and printing/reproduction resources possible.
The OA Companion is created with the goal of opening access to the Tales themselves, creating original and dynamic connections between past and present.
3) The OA Companion connects the most important and exciting current scholarship (in theoretical approaches, historical work, interpretation, manuscript studies, and other specializations) with a new generation of students and readers.
4) The OA Companion provokes cross-temporal, comparative, and emerging interpretations of the tales, encouraging new analyses that show how medieval texts like The Canterbury Tales can speak urgently to the interests, concerns, desires, nightmares, fears, and fantasies of our shared world.
5) The OA Companion further energizes the study of premodern literature by making a high-quality companion volume available to a wide audience at no cost.
6) On a larger scale, The OA Companion project explores how working outside of traditional publishing frameworks can open up different ways of reaching an audience and shaping a book, methods governed by the needs of the field and readers – not the needs of the market.
What the OA Companion Will Look Like
Certain logistical aspects of this project will change as it is being produced. The project will develop in response to the input of all involved and the circumstances and opportunities that arise during its creation. No matter what the precise details of these underlying structures and the process of distribution, however, the end result of the project will match the following core principles:
The project is expressly non-commercial. Its goal is to provide the broadest access possible to high-quality, thought-provoking, and useful accompanying material for reading, teaching, and group or individual study of the Canterbury Tales.
The main goal of the project is to produce a virtual “volume” of interrelated and loosely-connected chapters that inform, interest, teach, and provoke. Some chapters will be essay chapters that discuss one tale in relation to one topic, while other chapters will be reference chapters that introduce readers to broad contexts. This volume will exist virtually as a collection of distributable texts (the essay and reference chapters), which can be downloaded, read, printed, and distributed in a variety of methods depending on the needs of users. The volume will be modular, allowing users to download it in part, in whole, or in user-arranged segments to fit different needs, interests, and pedagogies. The volume will be made available on one central, curated website.
The core of the OA Companion’s virtual volume is a series of approximately 26 essay chapters and a smaller number (5-7, depending) of reference chapters:
Each 3,000 word essay chapter will examine a broad topical focus in relation to one major “text” within the Tales. The essay chapters will have as their titles a key word or phrase that relates to broadly shared interests or concerns (for example, “Language Politics and Translation: The Second Nun’s Tale“). The essay chapters are designed to be read modularly, in any sequence. Each chapter has a set, three-part format (tools, texts, transformation). The editorial collective will loosely coordinate the short chapters and their topics to avoid unproductive overlap, although the precise contours of each chapter will be left up to the writer.
Each 3,000-4,000 word reference chapter will provide broad contextual information for first-time readers.
All core materials (essay chapters and reference chapters) will be designed for online or offline reading. Materials will be easily downloadable. All essay and reference chapters may contain unobtrusive hyperlinks (available to add depth but not necessary for comprehension of the main text), so that chapters can be circulated in copies/print or read offline.
The publication format will allow for modular arrangement. Material will be able to be read or downloaded in one continuous volume, individually, or in user-designed groupings.
The following principles guide the creation of material for the OA Companion.
1. Accessibility: Companion chapters should be written to be as accessible as possible to as broad an audience of English readers as possible. To that end, companion chapters will:
Assume minimal prior knowledge of theory, literary criticism, medieval history, medieval literature, popular culture, or Chaucer studies. When possible, terms should be contextualized, explained, and introduced with care.
Be written in a style that emphasizes clarity and reader engagement.
Clearly and intentionally imagine an audience with a wide and intersecting variety of cis/trans, class, cultural, disability/ability, ethnic, gender, linguistic, national, racial, religious, and sexual identities.
2. Critical canonicity: Companion chapters should consider the issue of authorial canonicity in a critical way.
3. Allow Readers An Active Role: Companion chapters should aim to provide the audience with resources for understanding (such as historical contextualizations, theoretical concepts, and sample interpretations), while provoking an open-ended engagement. To express this point humorously: any student trying to plagiarize from these chapters should still need to do a lot of thinking and writing to have a coherent paper or argument.
4. Outward Focused: Companion chapters should imagine the connections that can be made between the advanced study of medieval literature and other pursuits. While containing depth, they should not aim to transform readers into career Chaucerians. Companion chapters should enable readers to make active comparisons between the age of Chaucer and our own. Such comparisons, however, should be made indirectly and with considerable nuance, avoiding heavy-handed moralizations or pre-packaged interpretations. Companion chapters should suggest relations to contemporary issues and problems without “leading the witness” (first, to encourage independent thinking among a diverse audience; second, because specific references will become dated very quickly; third, because the goal is the emergence of unexpected new knowledges and not the replication of dogma). Companion chapters should aim to help foster and sustain an engaged, searching, and questioning relationship between readers, the text, and the world.
5. Wear Scholarship Lightly: Companion chapters should acknowledge critical history and the achievements of previous scholars, but should not aim to provide a history of the field. Companion chapters should avoid summaries of previous critical opinion. Chapters should take care to use the best insights from scholarship but to create an experience in which readers feel the possibilities rather than the professional obligations of the push and pull of scholarly research.