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Cornelis Drebbel is one of She-philosopher.​com’s featured “Players.” Learn more here.

Margaret Cavendish is another of She-philosopher.​com’s featured “Players.” Learn more here.

Re. the gift economy of the Internet, as modeled by the “free software” movement:

Richard Stallman’s essay “GNU’s Not Unix! — Free Software, Free Society: Why ‘Open Source’ Misses the Point of Free Software” explains how freedom so conceived is about sharing and cooperation: “free speech, not free beer.”
  (A special thanks to Dave Crossland for pointing me to Stallman’s online essay.)


Thanks to Mick McAllister of a reference to Jonathan Lethem’s essay for the Feb. 2007 issue of Harper’s, “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.” Lethem’s piece is fresh and clever and certain to make you think in new ways about computer-assisted processes of “sublimated collaboration” and accompanying questions of intellectual copyright.
Lethem plays creatively with 17th-century notions of intertextuality (otherwise known to scholars as Bakhtinian dialogics), opening his essay with a quote from John Donne:
  “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated....”
then reframing Donne’s insights for the new information age. (For more on 17th-century intertextuality, see this site’s gallery exhibit, Portraits of Melancholy — II.)


Two recent books expand the argument over value, protection & funding of “creative work” and our intellectual commons:
1. Robert Levine’s Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back (New York: Doubleday, 2011). ISBN-10: 0385533764 and ISBN-13: 978-0385533768.
  Levine here deplores the devaluation of creative work & expertise which he attributes to the Internet-grown cult of “information wants to be free” ideology, and to growing acceptance of digital piracy.
Levine was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times (“The Sunday Conversation: Robert Levine,” 12/18/2011 issue, p. D3), and the interview is available online here.
2. In his book Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), Adrian Johns sees more promise, than does Levine, in cyberpunk culture’s “open-access” movement, especially when associated with the kind of “openness” that has become “a guiding norm of true scientific research.” (509)
  Moreover, Johns grounds “a new economics of creativity” in “the end of intellectual property” as we know it, accompanied by “a reformation of creative rights, responsibilities, and privileges.” (509, 508, 517)
  Noting that “Intellectual property has always been a dynamic compromise between the local and the universal, and between practice and principle” (518), Johns concludes,
  “... it is no coincidence that the problem facing intellectual property coincides with a period of deep unease about the practices that society entrusts with discovering and imparting formal knowledge in general. The foundations and status of the academic disciplines are in question, no less than those of intellectual property. Both the modern disciplinary system and the modern principle of intellectual property are achievements of the era culminating in the late nineteenth century, and the same departure of creative authorship to new projects and identities underlies the anxieties of each. In each case new realms of creative work can be accommodated into the existing system, but doing so involves ad hoc compromises and creates increasingly stark inconsistencies. ... In intellectual property, as in the disciplines at large, a reengagement with history is likely to play a central role in shaping the transformation that such a crisis entails. ... New accounts of the digital and biotech revolutions — along with revisionist interpretations of the Gutenberg revolution — herald another. Rather than adducing a discrete ‘culture’ defined by each given technology, they portray a practical, dynamic, and continuous interlacing of technologies and society. They furnish a kind of understanding that could underpin a revision of the proper relation between creativity and commerce.” (516–7)

Startups such as the Civil Media Company have begun experimenting with a new democratic model of patronage — harnessing digital technologies such as cryptocurrencies that allow for micropayments of less than USD $1, and crowdfunding — to pay for all the “creative work” that goes into building and maintaining our intellectual commons.
  See the interesting PBS NewsHour Weekend feature, “Can Blockchain Help Fill Journalism’s Funding Gaps?” (first aired 9/15/2018).
  SUMMARY: “The New York-based startup Civil launched last year with the goal of using blockchain — the same technology that powers the cryptocurrency Bitcoin — to help to build a network of independent news organizations with a sustainable business model. Civil hopes to create a new economy for journalism, including its very own cryptocurrency, the ‘CVL’ token. Hari Sreenivasan reports from New York.”


Miles O’Brien has filed a fascinating story on “the new art economy,” which uses blockchain technology to establish provenance and ensure that artists get paid: “How Blockchain Technology Could Revolutionize the Art Market” (first aired on the PBS NewsHour, 9/11/2019).
  SUMMARY: “The technology underpinning blockchain is a powerful decentralizing network architecture that could revolutionize many industries. Now, some artists are leveraging blockchain to help guarantee the authenticity of their work — and ensure that they get paid. Miles O’Brien reports on how digital documentation is putting power back into artists’ hands, even when no tangible object exists.”

The more common — and tested — democratic model of patronage is subscription based. And technology critics such as Jaron Lanier have long argued that viewer subscriptions are the only way to ensure independent & trustworthy content and online experiences.
  See, for example, the 5/17/2018 episode in Paul Solman’s “Making Sen$e” series for the PBS NewsHour, “Why We Should Be More Like Cats than Dogs when It Comes to Social Media” in which he interviewed Lanier, who believes that “we have to force the social media business model to change, insisting companies should be paid by users, instead of third-party advertisers, subscription, instead of supposedly free TV.” (n. pag.)
  SUMMARY: “Computer scientist and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier doesn’t mince words when it comes to social media. In his latest book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, [he] says the economic model is based on ‘sneaky manipulation.’ Economics correspondent Paul Solman sits down with Lanier to discuss how the medium is designed to [engage] us and how it could hurt us.”

Margaret and William Cavendish’s patronage of those associated with the 17th-century book trade was not, of course, disinterested. Both husband and wife were published authors, with a vested interest in the advancement of a flourishing print industry. E.g., see the IN BRIEF topic about the publication costs of William’s lavishly printed and illustrated book on the art of manège, La Méthode nouvelle et Invention extraordinaire de Dresser des Chevaux (Antwerp, 1657/8).
  They also patronized various intellectuals, but when it came to institutions of learning, Margaret and William were more conservative, and preferred to support the old & established (such as Trinity College, at Cambridge University) rather than invest in the new. See the second-window aside “On the Royal Society’s letter to Margaret Cavendish”, asking her to donate to a scientific institute planned by leading Royal Society figures (2nd window called by the GALLERY EXHIBIT on the changing visual rhetoric of the Cyclopædia frontispieces).

In contrast to the aristocratic duchess of Newcastle, Mary Griffith (fl. 1637) was an early bourgeois patron of the new technoscience (in material as well as literary/cultural forms).
  She is celebrated for her pioneering use of a pocket-watch (for business and pleasure) in the portrait engraving prefixed to William Austin’s protofeminst essay, Hæc Homo, wherein the Excellency of the Creation of Woman Is Described (1st edn., 1637).
  I have reproduced the portrait depicting Mary Griffith as an horologist (along with Austin’s illustrations of the Vetruvian Woman) here.

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First Published:  February 2012
Revised (substantive):  8 May 2021

Opening quotation markUse Thy Gifts Rightly.Closing quotation mark


This motto was inscribed, along with Drebbel’s monogram, on his many instruments and inventions, ranging from: a perpetual-motion machine “representing the motion of the Heavens about the fixed earth,” air conditioning, an incubator, the thermometer, “an instrument to sink ships,” the first microscope, and several different types of camera; to the first sea-worthy submarine, which in 1620 traveled down the Thames from Westminster to Greenwich under the surface of the water, with an 8-person crew and 12 passengers kept alive by Drebbel’s mysterious on-board manufacture of breathable air, 150 years before the “discovery” of oxygen in the early 1770s.

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Some final comments on the evolving genres of scholarly publication, since I continue to be contacted by those searching for a list of my print publications.

The short answer is: there aren’t any (other than my doctoral dissertation, published by University Microfilms International, as is required for a PhD).

I have chosen not to follow the traditional publication route (printed monographs and articles in peer-reviewed journals, written for an ever-shrinking audience of like-minded scholars), and because I don’t have an academic career, I’m able to get away with this. Nonetheless, I’m still governed by the institutional dictum of “publish or perish,” which takes on yet a new cluster of meanings in the dynamic world of online publication, where scholarship must compete with all the edutainment out there, and yet still survive prolonged immersion in what a mainstream-media reporter once called “the acid bath of peer review.”

When I launched — a Web-based research project specializing in the history of science, technology & culture during the early-modern period (sometimes known as the “long” 17th century, because it extends several decades into both the 16th and 18th centuries) — it was in hopes of opening new dialogues between past & present, between academic and non-academic audiences. This remains a work in progress, but thus far, I’m quite pleased with the results. I am doing the best scholarship I have ever done, and find that the quality of peer review within the online community is unsurpassed.

Over the years ( officially launched in March–April 2004), I have built a website rich with content, including archival data, images, maps, and digital transcriptions of period writings by women and men, plus scholarly monographs and interpretations not available anywhere else. I have eclectic research interests (everything from feminist science studies to the history of printing and other trades, including masonry, agriculture, medicine and pharmacy; from studies in rhetoric and symbolism, to the history of taxonomies, information design, and the evolution of the modern flow chart). And I am committed to making the highest quality scholarship on such matters available not just to teachers and students, but also to modern professionals — across the arts & sciences — and to anyone else with an interest and stake in the historical research. Your donation will support me, and all those who use the resources of, in this independent inquiry into our past & present.

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Facsimile of a 19th-century head-piece (shows 3 boys passing through hoops).

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facsimile of late-17th-century printer's decorative tail-piece

^  Tail-piece from the Latin edition of Margaret Cavendish’s biography of her husband, William, the duke of Newcastle, entitled De Vita et Rebus Gestis Nobilissimi Illustrissimique Principis Guilielmi Ducis Novo-Castrensis (London, 1668). Both Margaret and William were patrons of the arts & sciences.

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