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Essay of the Day: Historical Reflections on Patronage, Autonomy, and Transaction

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
17th December 2012

* Article: The intellectual and institutional properties of learning: Historical reflections on patronage, autonomy, and transaction. By John Willinsky and Johanne Provençal. New Media Society published 5 December 2012

Here is the summary of what looks like an important and interesting paper:

This paper attempts to cast a little historical light on current debate among scholars and publishers that appears to be over whether the academic journal is an endlessly exploitable commercial property or a public good to which all have right. It identifies key patterns in the patronage of medieval monasticism that helped to establish learning as an economically distinct form of labor, and is part of a larger historical project on the intellectual and institutional properties of learning in the West. Through the beneficence shown toward monasteries by the nobility and others, learned nuns and monks were able to operate with a degree of autonomy and trust in their scholarly work. The resulting manuscripts were directed toward the learning of others and, as such, were copied and circulated widely within the admittedly narrow confines of the monastic community. These scholarly labors became part of what attracted the continuing gifts of benefactors, who were prepared to direct a portion of their wealth to this expression of piety and discipline. This paper reflects, then, on institutional conditions that proved vital to the advancement of learning in the centuries leading up to the emergence of the university system in the Late Middle Ages. As such, it forms a point of historical reflection for the academic community today, as it reconsiders the principles by which research and scholarship should circulate within the new possibilities posed by the digital era. “


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