Scholars sometimes escape the manicured lawns and sculpted lanes of academia and grow into the wild. Some even thrive there, continuing to work in their learned style outside the peer review and reward structures that taught them. Take the case of this treatise On Sage.
This work is a 21st century creation written in 16th century style which references many 16th and 17th century works on the form, functions, and habitat of the herb sage. The dedication section even makes a case for the right of a woman to write such a work according to period-appropriate logic and sources. A pdf version contains a bibliography and notes that indicate the author, Jennifer Heise, has academic training. This piece was not written for an academic audience. It was made for the Society of Creative Anachronism, a group that commonly calls itself a “non-profit educational group”, and that academia would likely refer to as a medieval-themed recreational club for “the public”.
I think this is a work of history art. It could only be made better with the detailed illumination found in historical herbals of the period. It is also an example of digital humanities outside academia. Stephen Ramsay says that you must build something to be a digital humanist. He offers a wide definition of building that includes website design. Heise’s work is included on her website, which offers a great array of her research into herbs, food, eastern Europe, book reviews and even an article about how to do research in a library. By Ramsay’s definition, it looks like she qualifies as a digital humanist.
What can academics make of such work on the scholarly fringe? Pedagogically, On Sage might offer an introduction to reading early modern works and a glimpse into gender issues of the period. For the research historian, it offers a fantastic bibliography of herbal works in English whether original or translated. Some of these primary sources are even also available online, surely in accordance with what John Wilinsky deems humanity’s “basic right to know” in his book The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship.
It may not be a stretch to say most digital humanists are already on the side of open access to academic scholarship. If there is value to the public’s access to scholarship, and primary sources, what then is the value of the result? Not only are academia’s products more freely available to the public via online journals, open archives, and self-publishing, but extra-academic research is more available within the academy through similar paths. This creates a kind of hybrid object that is more than amateur opinion but outside academic controls. Wilinsky discusses how fields such as astronomy and linguistics have incorporated such extra-academic expertise. How can historians partner with this new species of wild scholar?