Introduction to ODU Writes a Book Site

Introduction to ODU Writes a Book Site

“ODU Writes a Book” was an experiment inspired by flash mob experiments in writing embraced within the digital humanities as means to A) bring communities together to engage in synergistic collective knowledge sharing practices, B) demonstrate how new technologies challenge popular imaginings of what constitutes “authorship” and “writing” in a digital era, and C) integrate the process and product of writing into a holistic experience shared communally that might in turn spawn new investments in writing and reading as lived, shared practices.

“ODU Writes a Book” took place on DATES, during which members of the ODU community came together to collectively author and edit a book on the subjects of physical and virtual spaces. The book was authored using Google Docs. Over the course of 24 hours, there were 284 registrants and 650 entries totaling over 400 MB of space.

We admit that the title of this project, “ODU Writes a Book,” is somewhat misleading, on several levels.  If we were to break down and diagram the title as every middle school student learns to do in English class, we would soon realize that the entire sentence is false.

First, the subject, ODU, doesn’t exist as a singular creative entity.  Instead, what was utilized were many people, many viewpoints, many approaches, and many voices, singing a chorus of text at a maddening pace over a short burst of creativity.  This is indeed a far cry from the image of the solitary authorial genius working in silence in his or her room of one’s own, creating something from nothing.  Moreover, the 281 of participants, consisting of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni clearly represents both a multifaceted and irreducible vision of “ODU” as far more than just an umbrella category, but rather, a site where multiple, overlapping and sometimes competing authorial voices come together to collectively constitute an institutional snapshot or self-portrait. Which brings up…

Second, the verb, in simple present tense, “writes,” doesn’t accurately capture the spectrum of input.  For alongside text, we had submissions consisting of images, memes, video, and even audio—acts of inscription that is hardly the reminiscent of our fictitious author putting pen to paper or clacking away at a keyboard.

Third, the object, “book”—the product of our little experiment, doesn’t exist.  If there is a book, it is only in our imaginations, for the 24 hour period during which a wide range of actors worked alongside, parallel, and perhaps against each other, is what we consider to be the most interesting aspect of this project.  There is, of course, a tangible, physical object consisting of page numbers and text that you will eventually be able to thumb through, raise over your head, and place upon your bookshelf or coffee table, but that is just one of many forms of output.

Instead, we have conducted this experiment to challenge the very notions of “the book,” to ask ourselves what form could this collaborative exercise be best processed and consumed—and it may turn out that the book falls short.  We are then faced with a set of haunting questions that we hope you will ponder with us: Who “owns” this book?  What is the nature of writing?  Does the form have to remain fixed after 24 hours?  Can it live on?  Can it evolve?

What we are presenting for you here is just the raw materials created by the experiment. We have grander ambitions, including a printed edition of select materials and an interactive web platform that will allow readers to search and rearrange content in innovative ways. Stay tuned.

David Roh / Avi Santo / Dylan Wittkower

The Project


“ODU Writes a Book” will be a pop-up community of ODU students, faculty, and staff working as collaborative flash-mob authors of a multimodal, digital text that explores how virtual and physical places relate to the creation of knowledge. The working title of the book is “You are (w)here: How knowledge is related to virtual and physical place.” The method intentionally mirrors the topic: the text will be created collaboratively both in the physical space of the ODU Learning Commons and through online virtual spaces.

By holding this event in a communal University space and inviting participants from every part of the University community—not just students and instructors—we seek to break down the illusion that knowledge is created by isolated experts and simply transferred to students, and to showcase and explore how knowledge emerges from creative dialogue and networks of common interests. This will provide a unique opportunity to produce innovative work—a pastiche of research-based, creative, and speculative work—on the topic of the relation of physical and virtual places to knowledge creation and acquisition. To support these aims, process and content must remain underdetermined, but we will float some sample topics, will provide an online space for participants to propose additional topics and form groups of common interest during the lead-up to the event, and will have designated volunteer facilitators “on call” to help with conceptual, technical, and organizational issues.

The event will transform the communal University space of the Learning Commons into a fishbowl of collaborative, creative activity allowing librarians and other scholars to contribute to and investigate the conceptual and practical processes of horizontal collaboration across University community members in a digital humanities context. We hope that you see ways that this project could play a role in your teaching or research goals.