A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books
Elizebeth Eisenstein in her study entitled The Printing Press as an Agent of Change argued that it was the availability of knowledge across class lines that paved the way for the great changes that we now associate with the Industrial Revolution and the Scientific Revolution. The printed book was empowering because it broke the monopoly of the clerical and the warrior groups to literacy and in the eighteenth century we see the sons and grandsons of artisans and peasants emerge as scientists and inventors. Just think of James Watt and George Stephenson. Unfortunately in the poorer parts of the world which became the site aggressive colonisation, the advent of the Internet in the first decade of the 20th century was in many ways the beginning of the print or knowledge revolution which Europe witnessed in the eighteenth century. It is this historic change that is being undermined and subverted by the hopelessly criminal act of the US Congress in forcing knowledge sharing sites like Gigapedia to shut down. Non White researchers and students who do not have access to world class libraries like New York Public Library, Harvard University Library or the Library of Congress were avid and dedicated users of Gigapedia and up to date knowledge was available at the click of a mouse. The forced shut down of sites like Gigapedia is a direct assault on the right of every human being to education and cultural improvement, rights enshrined in the UNESCO charter and several international conventions and treaties.
The Gigapedia was not a piracy site. It was only a file sharing site that was not doing business when it allowed students and teachers from the non white parts of the world to read and store books and journals. It did not make its vast collection of books into a monopoly. On the contrary, it allowed access in a truly democratic manner to all without any restriction. Even Microsoft which funded the Gutenberg Collection is slowly making access more and more difficult and everyday the number of books available for free download is actually decreasing. Gigapedia, like Wikipedia has supporters all over the world and we must educate,organise and agitate over the efforts to curtail our right to knowledge. The corporate interests of USA and Europe are making efforts to curtail our freedoms and the assault on Julian Assange and the Wikileaks is just one of the more egregious of such attempts. Gigapedia was not in the business of exposing corporate secrets or scandals. It only provided a platform for interested scholars and researchers to interact. The Book Reviews on the site were more impressive than those found in NYRB or the Times Literary Supplement. We were getting access to the best minds this globe had to offer and we all stand impoverished as a few smug white men in burlap suits sitting in the US Congress decide that our quest from knowledge can be equated to the corporate greed for profits. Like the battle against Slavery, this battle too has to be won and I know that our side will win. Welcome to the fight as Lazlo says in Casablanca.
I teach in an Indian University and my area of teaching includes Global History and Historiography. Every semester I used to burn CDs with all the important books downloaded in the pdf format and gave the cds to the students. In our University nearly 60% of the stdent population owns a Laptop or desk top computer and there are nearly 800 to 1000n systems on Campus including an all night reading room with Computers which run on the Linux Operating System. Gigapedia was heaven to us as we could now make are students globally competitive. That dream lies cruelly shattered due to the mistaken priorities of the US political class. And both the Democrats and Republicans are united on this one issue.
I appeal to all those engaged in Teaching, Research and connected with the industry of education to take up the cause of saving knowledge sharing sites like Gigapedia or library.nu.