History 428: Adventures in Digital History

HIST 428: Copyright

This week’s ADH readings center on the issue of copyright and open source materials. For this post, we were instructed to look at both a variety of Wikipedia history entries, as well as consider what sort of copyright we may wish to consider for our own group projects.

The Six Branches of Copyright

Aside from learning about the importance of citing sources in high school, I did not gain an in-depth understanding about the different types of copyright and fair use standards until I took HIST 297 during my sophomore year. 

During this course, I learned that simply citing a source is not sufficient to be able to use a source, and that there are actually different “levels” of use that the individual who owns a resource can assign to their content.  For example, the Creative Commons website explains the six different usage formats that an owner can assign to their content. [1]

Different Copyright Attributions

This past semester, I took DGST 395: Applied Digital Studies with Dr. Whalen. At the end of this course, each student had to decide what sort of copyright parameters they wished to assign to their “big project.” (I chose to create a “big project” on Seacobeck Hall, which actually turned into an exciting database of historic complaints about UMW dining)

For most of our projects, Dr. Whalen encouraged us to assign total attribution to our projects so that others could “distribute, Remix, tweak, and build upon [our] original work, even commercially, as long as they credit [us] for the original creation[s]. I ended up selecting this attribution for my project. While I do not believe that anyone will ever pick up on my work, I don’t believe that there is any harm in making it easier for others to pick up on and improved upon your efforts. (Hot take: if something is important to society, it should be important to society no matter who is working on it, so long as everyone involved is given just credit.)

Wikipedia Discussion Entries

I recently read a tweet in which someone described Wikipedia as a cyberpunk dream – as a database that equalized the sharing of knowledge in a way never before possible. (I can’t find the tweet, maybe I dreamt it myself?)

When looking at the history and discussion tabs of various Wikipedia pages, I noticed that no matter what page I looked at, many changes were made to each page. These revisions often included a note about why a revision was made. These notes varied from “please cite your source” and “damn you, autocorrect” to more large-scale problems or inconsistencies being addressed. [2]

Often times, educators will warn their students of using Wikipedia for fear of citing or learning information that is incorrect. While this is a legitimate fear, many students end up thinking that Wikipedia is problematic due to the supposed desire of the masses to make up and distribute false information. In reality, looking through Wikipedia revisions made me view this issue not in the context of information being purposefully wrong, but rather, in the context of information being incomplete.

Considering Copyright for the Scrapbooks Project

Even before our group began writing our group contract, we understood from Day One that it would be near impossible to digitize and analyze every single artifact from the Rowe family’s extensive collection. Because of this, it makes sense to me to assign the simplest copyright to our project and allow others, if they wish, to add to the analysis or use of the Rowe family scrapbooks.


[1] Creative Commons, “Use and Remix” https://creativecommons.org/use-remix/cc-licenses/  accessed February 19, 2020. 

[2] Wikipedia, “LINC: Revision History” https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=LINC&action=history accessed February 19, 2020

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