Web Spaces of Hope: David Harvey shares his Capital

If you follow this blog with any regularity then a) you’re a masochist and b) you know every so often I start talking about the City University of New York. I can’t help it, I was a wayward English Ph.D. student at the CUNY Graduate School, and before I got sucked into the vortex of the instructional web, I always thought I would be a CUNY lifer.

“But why?” you ask, “Especially given your posts about CUNY rail against their management of centralized IT, lack of any real online policy for openness, and a system-wide loyalty to canned learning management systems.” Well, I guess my answers would be the following: because I taught there for seven years (at the very moment when open admissions was ending); I have a deep and unbridled respect for the student body; I got my start in instructional technology thanks to CUNY’s Honors College; not to mention I had some unbelievable intellectual and extracurricular experiences with colleagues, professors, and good friends in the graduate program that really shaped so many of my terrible ideas. But more than all of that, I am first and foremost nostalgic, and the history of CUNY always fascinated me because it seemed so radical, important, and humane all at once:

CUNY has historically served a diverse student body, especially those excluded from or unable to afford private universities. CUNY offered a high quality, tuition-free education to the poor, the working class and the immigrants of New York City until 1975, when the City’s fiscal crisis forced the imposition of tuition. Many Jewish academics and intellectuals studied and taught at CUNY in the post-World War I era when Ivy League universities, such as Yale University, discriminated against Jews.[2] The City College of New York has had a reputation of being “the Harvard of the proletariat.”[3]

Over its history, CUNY and its colleges, especially CCNY, have been involved in various political movements. It was known as a hotbed of socialistic support in the earlier 20th century.[4] CUNY also lent some support to various conferences, such as the Socialist Scholars Conference.[5]

With over 450,000 degree seeking students, CUNY is the biggest public urban university system in the U.S., and the third biggest system in the country (behind California and New York’s State systems). But it isn’t the size, it is this idea of CUNY as “the Harvard for the proletariat” that has fascinated me. Imagine that, a solid, affordable education that serves the poor, working class, and immigrant populations, and frames a core educational mission of social responsibility in the greatest city in the world.

Enter David Harvey’s open experiment sharing his semester long reading of Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1 with the world. Here is the link to the site which was setup with freely available tools, and will be broadcasting fifteen videos (all hosted on Google Video) to the world for the next two or three months, at the rate of one lecture a week (note that there are already three videos posted thus far).

I was extremely excited to hear about this project from the coordinator Chris Caruso, who has spearheaded this incarnation of returning CUNY to its rich history of open and social minded education. It is particularly wonderful for me because while at the CUNY Graduate Center I really wanted to attend professor Harvey’s acclaimed course on Marx’s Capital, a text he has been teaching for 40 years now, but never got the opportunity. Well, I no longer have any excuse, and this is just the beginning of my discussion of this amazing free and open resource. Over the next couple of months I’ll start reading Capital, Volume 1 together with the video recordings of the class (all of which are from the Fall 2007). And, I’ll be using this blog as a space to grapple, reflect, and discuss the text alongside Professor Harvey’s reading of it.

One of the things I immediately thought of when I saw the site was how can it trace the discussions of the lectures that will take place over time in a distributed manner throughout the internets. If I want to refer back to the original blog with my ideas and reactions to a particular lecture, how can that site capture these discussion? A forum? Opening up comments? Allowing trackbacks and pings? I think allowing comments and trackbacks would be one way to suggests who is reading along and interacting with the lectures, I also thought something like Simple Forums might provide a way for folks to interact around the lectures who may not want to blog it regularly, or set up a separate space. In fact, tracing the discussion around these open resources is in many ways as important as the impetus to share them, and I’ll be thinking about this over the coming months as I endeavor on this project. Should be fun!

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8 Responses to Web Spaces of Hope: David Harvey shares his Capital

  1. Matt says:

    Thanks so much for highlighting this project, Jim. I think you’re right to frame this open-access educational venture within CUNY’s historical mission. As we’ve often discussed, if there is any institution that should be at the forefront of open online education, it’s CUNY. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to learn about this.

    Having said that, I agree with you that to really take advantage of the opportunities that Web 2.0 technologies afford, some sort of commenting or response system really should be opened up. Let me point you to one possible model: a friend of mine who is a big Thomas Pyncheon fan set up a group website when _Against the Day_ was published a few years ago. Every week, the group would cover a span of pages from the book. One person would be responsible for writing a sort of intro to that section, and then others would use the comment section for discussion. Here is the link: The Chumps of Choice — http://chumpsofchoice.blogspot.com/

    Perhaps Chris Caruso — or you, or I — could set up a companion discussion website for Prof. Harvey’s _Capital_ lectures. WordPress.com seems like the logical choice to me . . . . what do you think?

  2. Sue F. says:

    This is great news – thanks for sharing it. I’ve already pulled my copy of Capital, v.1 down off the shelf and will be soon catching up on DH’s wonderful lectures. Looking forward to future conversation…

  3. Andy Best says:

    Hey Jim

    I just did another post tracked to the Glass Bees and Edupunk. Have a look and tell me what you think – that goes for all Edupunk debaters.

  4. Reverend says:

    @Matt
    I actually was thinking about what you did for your class in the CUNY Online course for this project. More specifically, get the readingcapital.org domain, and set up a blog, forum, and wiki. Given people ways to share their blog RSS and feed their posts into a kind of aggregated space easily so that the discussion can have kind of loose home to trace the distributed ideas. I am planning on setting this up to see just how easy we can make a supplementary site to capture what people might have to say online along the way.

    The reason why I would build it is because I am all about overkill 🙂 But besides that, because it would allow for so aggregation possibilities using spam plugins that we couldn’t do with WordPress.com or blogger. Also, it would be a fun test for one of these open resources. What do you think?

    @Sue
    Very exciting! I was hoping some people would read along, and having you is a special treat because unlike me you might actually know what you’re talking about 🙂 I very much look forward to it. And as I stated above, I’m gonna try a create a space to capture some of the distributed conversation. Kind of as a test to see how we might be able to trace such conversations, and focus our work within a reading community.

    @Andy
    Excellent, I will be reading and commenting soon. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. Kate says:

    I too was really excited to see David Harvey’s lectures being shared in this way! Bring on the open source education.

    If someone wanted to plug in a forum (and I agree a Wiki would be good in addition) to the Capital lectures site, I would recommend bbpress.

    BBPress, WordPress’s shyer, quieter, less well-dressed little brother, is not a bad piece of open source forum software, not bad at all:
    http://bbpress.org

    It integrates completely with WordPress for logins and database sharing, and works well.

    Since the WP folks are soon planning on rolling out a discussion forum platform to parallel wordpress.com, it’s likely the open source bbpress software will benefit from the new TalkPress (in the way that the WP software end of things benefitted from the success of wordpress.com).

    Not much info on TalkPress yet, but what’s here:
    http://blogs.chron.com/techblog/archives/2008/01/the_importance_of_being_matt.html

  6. Reverend says:

    Hey Kate,

    That is great info about TalkPress, thanks for that, it’s the first I’ve heard of it. I am actually using bbPress for the Reading Capital site for three reasons:

    1) I like the way you can skin it
    2) I love how it builds rss in
    3) It integrates with WPMu seamlessly

    And if TalkPress gives back as much as WordPress.com, I am sure it will be the forum dujour. That said, I found forums to be more an more about sharing technical details as of late. We set up a forum for UMW Blogs and it was quite the ghost town. Granted we didn’t push it, but I am wondering what is the best use for forums, and we might approach them for such a project like this –any ideas ? 😉

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