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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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An email I received today about one of my open-access articles:

Dear Sir,

My name is ____. I’m a regular 22 year old in the UK, university-educated and owner of a soon-to-be coffee shop. Please forgive this email if it does not make sense, especially considering I am well into a bottle of whisky at 5am.

I am a huge fan of the novel Cloud Atlas. I am no literary scholar, but I admired the Russian doll-esque format of the narrative, and in particular David Mitchell’s ability to write across genre and period to such a fluent extent.

I stumbled across your article, based on the difference between the US and UK edits of the narrative of Sonmi’s testimony, purely by chance (see Google: “cloud atlas astonishingly different”). I read through your article and… it was quite something. To have to deconstruct the whole narrative purely because I live in a different country, well, that surprised me in truth. It makes me wonder about other books; are others seen differently through international lens, even in the same language?

I don’t expect this is an email you would receive often. I just wanted you to know that you opened my eyes a little this morning.

Good luck with your future academic work,

So don’t tell me that nobody is interested or that there is no point in making niche esoteric humanities research open access or that everybody who needs access already has it or that the general public won’t understand your work or that because we charge for teaching we should charge for research. This is just one anecdote, for sure. But it’s one that I am sure would be repeated again and again if more of our work were accessible.

And let me also say that receiving an email like this feels good. Scholars can work for a lifetime in the dark, so to speak, only communicating with other scholars in their research and doubting whether it was worth it. It’s also a weirdly safe environment when you are communicating with likeminded peers, with little risk of exposure, where the stakes are not terribly high. Teaching is another matter. We all know what it feels like when students really get it; a sense of satisfaction. You can get that from research too, though. But it’s going to be easier if chance encounters like the above are possible, and not restricted to “$40 for a single article or a subscription for $100”. We can’t make teaching open to all in the UK thanks to our government’s policies. But we can make our research open and that, I think, is worthwhile. “I just wanted you to know that you opened my eyes a little this morning.”