Time for FOSOT(NT)T?

Ages ago, Brooke and Tim and I batted around the idea of a Free (as in beer) Open Source Old Testament/New Testament Textbook, and it strikes me — as iBooks Author and Kickstarter and perhaps the new tool from Sourcefabric (any inside details for us, Suw?) — make the whole project more readily plausible, that it might be time to revisit the notion.
 
When I thought of a revival blog-post, I suspected that I might have not sketched out all details two years ago, but as I reread the post, it looks to me as though it’s all there.

  • Agreed terminology/glossary
  • Organised by chapter, with minimal dependence on specific sequence
  • Commissions for individual chapters to make the v. 1.0 textbook (how much would you reckon would motivate scholarly participants?)
  • Open to (non-commissioned) substitute chapters from whomever
  • Serious grant/Kickstarter funding for editor to clean up format, mark-up, copyedit, and so on
  • Output as PDF, ePub, mobi, HTML, ibooks, maybe other formats
  • Free to download, pay for printed copies (and pay for any ibooks version, of course; maybe we can add animations to justify putting it into the Apple iBookstore)
  • CC licensed, Attribution/Non-Commercial
  • Kickstarter/grant rewards including acknowledgement panel identifying the generous support of donor — ‘The Song of Songs, brought to you by Robert Nesbitt’
  • Extensible to include related textbooks — interpretive methods, church history, theology, and so on. At a certain point, the enterprise would roll over to encompass academic publishing in general

Since 2010, Kickstarter has demonstrated its efficacy as a locus for crowdsourcing funding, the tools for ePub authoring are improving, ebooks are more visible as a viable means of publishing, there’s more pressure upon students’ finances, and no one else has done it yet.
 
My top recommendation would be for an interested theological-education foundation (say, Pew or FTE or the Barclay Trust or some other such entity) to support and organise such a thing. In many foundations’ budgets, even a generously-funded project would be a drop in the budgetary bucket. Or we could whip together an editorial team and a budget, and throw it onto Kickstarter. However you slice it, though, the signs of the time are only more auspicious for the FOSOTNTT vision.
 
[Later: I should add that, as I just looked back at my email inbox I realised that what probably triggered this notion was a message from Micah calling my attention to Unglue.it, a different but related sort of endeavour. It looks good within its designated scope (producing CC-licensed digital editions of previously published works), alleviating the problems of curation/selection and of rewarding rights-holders, but I’m intent on a project along the lines I sketch above. Thanks for the pointer, though, Micah!]

10 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Yes, I certainly never lost interest. Instead, I walked (not ungratefully) into a contract that starts with a year of pretty intense overloads. But, 2012-13 looks like a much more manageable year for me, professionally.

    My big initial motivator in bringing it up on by blog was that I’d _really_ love to see an introductory OT textbook that:
    * is written as a more-or-less mainstream Intro, but which
    * is written collaboratively by a genuinely diverse body of contributors.

    This would be something quite different from the 1) mainstream Intro written by one dude, and 2) the “alternative” Intro that’s written from a particular perspective but which is forced to acknowledge that students will still need, for the basic critical issues, the Intro written by that one dude.

    I’ll stay tuned and begin contributing again in my space, though again, I’m largely in fingers-in-ears-and-head-down mode during this academic year. Thanks, Akma!

    Brooke

  2. I love free stuff, and I love biblical studies, but one of the things I wonder about for this sort of project is what sort of purpose(s) it would be intended to serve and what sort of perspectives on interpretation would likely be included. Ideally commentaries attempt to present all major interpretive theories, but many, for perhaps legitimate reasons, rule out certain theories as implausible, outdated, unlikely, or not worth mentioning for some reason. A couple of examples might be the idea of Matthean priority or an early dating of Revelation (random aside–just yesterday I again saw this as “Revelations” in a book by two academics from an outside discipline). This is where questions of purpose and audience seem to come to the fore. Three major groups of readers spring immediately to mind: those from mainstream/liberal church backgrounds, those from evangelical/conservative backgrounds, and those from non- or minimal church backgrounds. Each of these groups would likely respond well (or poorly) to different approaches.

  3. I’m still very interested. I begin to have more time also this year, especially after June.

    Paul’s comment is a difficult one, though the CC nature of the project might allow something that could be added to to make versions usable in a range of settings. But it would also be key that authors tried to avoid too strongly favouring their own conclusions. Or could contentious chapters be presented from the start in a two (or however many) views on… format?

  4. I think this project is a great idea, and the tipping point for actually being able to do it seems now. The tools are available to make it happen. In the list of groups that might fund this type of project, let me also suggest the Luce Foundation. In looking at the projects it has sponsored over the years, this project might be of geat interest for the Foundation. One of the reason I see this project as exciting is that it opens the world to use this resource. My school has an ongoing relationship with MIT (not that MIT), the Mynamar Institute of Theology in Burma. This institution, like many around the world, might appreciate an open source introductory textbook. Plus, the collaborative work of global biblical scholars would add to the overall perspective. What might a truly global introduction to the NT or OT look like? Again this goes to question of audience. This type of resource could break beyond some of the boundaries that are traditionally considered with audiences.

  5. @Paul: our premise already addresses the possibility that teachers might want to swap out one or more chapters anyway, whether for strictly theological concerns, or for strong critical reasons (a conflicting source theory, or pseudonymity perspective, or different dating). That’s OK with us from the start — we want that kind of bespoke options for teachers, readers, users, whomever.
     
    @Tim: I’d think we would want even-handed treatments of the texts for starters, so as to begin with a broad appeal. Once we got the pieces in place for a very conventional Introduction, though, we could encourage the strong-alternative chapters.
     
    @David: The world audience has motivated me strongly from the start. If we could make an Introduction compiled from responsible academic authors available to students from Tierra del Fuego to Murmansk, Singapore to Mombasa — that would be a very great contribution. It would be even better (to my mind) if we could elicit contributions from scholars outside the ambit of dominant-culture academia, but I live in the West and I see a certain value to making the first recension useful to Western classrooms.
     
    If anyone knows of the correct place to direct a query at Luce (or the Bible Societies, for instance), please feel encouraged to put us in contact with one another.
     

  6. Yes — still interesting in pursuing this initiative. I’ll just reiterate here my usual point about the importance of our not conceiving this as beginning from scratch. One of the key points in favour of an online textbooks is that we can utilize stuff that is already out there, embedding already existing video and audio, using resources we have already written and produced. In other words, let’s play to our skills and work with our knowledge of what is out there, drawing it together in new, well-organised structures. Reminder of previous thoughts along these lines, http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/search/label/textbooks

  7. I am certainly eager to follow up on bringing to fruit an FOSOT and FOSNT. I have done some checking into possible funding sources and here are a couple of thoughts. One, traditional funding sources, Wabash, Luce, etc., need to have an entity to which the funds will be directed. They typically give to institutions or groups. It does seem that a recognized group of individuals (an editorial board?) will be needed. Creating a non-profit is simple; however, keeping it going is more difficult. Non-traditional sources of funding might not need a more codified entity. Second, I have just completed a three year Lilly grant, and one of the things I learned is that while our group did good work via email, wikis, Skype, etc, it was crucial that we came together in a physical location. Certainly the funding in this project needs to include times to have face-to-face gatherings. The creativity and focused attention multiplies the results. One of the good aspects of this project is that it does not have to be completed all at the same time. One could publish the introductory chapters as they are finished. I also agree that making the first attempt in a Western edition makes sense. Hopefully, it would provide a model for future editions.

  8. Meetings were vital for the text I co-authored.

    I think audience is really the hardest thing to figure out. Is simply a version of a standard introduction going to fit with present audiences (no matter what knowledge they bring to the text), or should a project like this move in a much more interactive way?

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