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Why the Medieval Fragments Project Nolonger Exists: and when crowdsourcing doesn’t work. | Cataloging Medieval Manuscripts

I regret to inform you that the Medieval Fragments Project (formerly known as the Ransom Fragments Project) has been officially terminated. In February of 2015, after four years of successful and dedicated labor in which I completed 6 major projects within the allotted time and budgetary constraints, The current director of the Harry Ransom Center chose not to renew my contract as an archivist with the Harry Ransom Center. During those four years of contract employment I took the personal initiative to direct the Medieval Fragments Project on a volunteer basis. My efforts included hundreds of hours of searching, transcribing, translating, writing, editing, coding, coordinating, and collaborating, not to mention traveling across the country to present my findings to the archives, rare book, and manuscript community and promoting the project via social media networks. I conducted this work while diligently and successfully completing my paid duties as assigned in my contracts (my paid duties included arranging and describing 20th-century literary collections).

To be thrown out into the cold by the very institution which praised and allegedly supported my efforts as a scholar and an archivist and to realize that the road to gainful employment at another institution would take months of fruitless labor, unemployment, and isolation was not only professionally humiliating but also financially and emotionally traumatic for me, my spouse, and my 3-year- old daughter. Based upon six years of post-graduate education, my experience with the Ransom Center, and my seven-year quest to find permanent employment in the cultural heritage industry I have concluded that universities do not operate by a merit based system, but rather by a form of elitist inbreeding wherein only a handful of privileged individuals are hand-picked through political intrigue and spoon fed to glory by a handful of privileged individuals who were hand-picked through political intrigue and spoon fed to glory.

Consequently, on April 13th I chose to abandon the cultural heritage profession (as it abandoned me) and am now working as a salaried, permanent employee of the Health and Human Services Commission of Texas. Because I can no longer maintain any curatorial control over the fate of the fragments and because I cannot afford to expend any more time and effort managing the Fragments Project, I made the painful decision to permanently deactivate the Flickr account containing the images and associated metadata. I extend my sincerest apologies for all of you who took time to assist in the identification of those medieval fragments. I would argue that the Harry Ransom Center owes all of you an apology as well. Lest anyone accuse me of selfish destruction, I am letting the public know here and now that all essential information regarding the project and the identified fragments can be found in a written report and catalog. Copies of this report and catalog are available at the Harry Ransom Center. I recommend contacting Olivia Primanis, head book conservator at the HRC, if you wish to conduct further research. A description of the project along with a catalog of the fragments will be published in the journal Manuscripta in 2016.

Advocates of crowdsourcing should learn the following things from my experience:

It is my sincerest desire that my readers will take a moment in their busy lives to carefully and compassionately reexamine what it means to be a scholar and a keeper of our cultural heritage. I hope that this reexamination will shed light upon the inequalities and exploitative practices that are deeply imbedded in the life, actions, and philosophy of the academic and cultural heritage community.

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