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Virtual curation platform creates new model for intellectual exchange

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Logos for four colloquies
Colloquies is an alternative to the scattering of intellectual work into discrete venues that seldom communicate with one another. For each Colloquy, a curator gathers a variety of intellectual work in order to foster conversations that should be taking place in the humanities.
The Stanford website Arcade is a unique, open-access website where readers and writers interested in literature and the humanities can discover and respond to new research.
 
Now in its 6th year, Arcade has launched a new feature called Colloquies. The custom designed platform brings interaction between contributors and readers to the next level by fostering dialogue between users. Colloquy curators post intellectual work on a topic of their choosing. Materials can include journal articles, book chapters, and video or audio recordings. Readers may respond by submitting their own contributions. They can also remix the Colloquies into customized clusters for an invited readership such as a class or a reading group. 
 
The director of Arcade, Professor of English and Comparative Literature Roland Greene, says Colloquies was created because “the ways that scholars and intellectuals communicated with each other and the public needed a rethinking.”
 
Curated rather than aggregated, Colloquies offer exclusive content—"essays from well-known scholars that simply don’t exist anywhere else,” explained Greene—and brings book chapters from university presses and other commercial content into the open-access environment. The platform also accommodates videos of lectures and conference proceedings, content that is typically not shared or posted on hard-to-find websites.
 
After an initial Colloquy has been assembled, it remains open to submissions from the public for at least six months, and it is the job of the curator to publish new submissions. Greene noted that real time curation “keeps the conversations moderated, and of high quality.”
 
Since going live this past spring, Colloquies has published six topics including “21st Century Marxisms," "The Nature of Literary Being" (on the existence of fictional characters), and “Locating Contemporary Asian American Poetry.”
 
Greene, whose own research spans from early modern literature to modern and contemporary poetics, noted that with the dialogic functionality of Colloquies, Arcade is able to more readily “erase the lines between contributors and readers.” 
 
The platform, says Greene, is a “natural evolution of Arcade” that “allows someone to get up to speed on an emerging topic by getting a sense of how people are talking about it in different venues at the same time.” 
 
Unpredictable dialogue
 
Colloquies have already attracted both the public and scholars from across the globe.
 
Professor of English Ato Quayson of the University of Toronto is currently working with Arcade on developing a new Colloquy on "Postcolonial Spatialities." 
 
A veteran blogger for Arcade, Quayson notes that just as books can germinate in blog posts, those books in turn can become the basis for Colloquies, extending the conversation even further. “Some of the postings were path-breaking and formed the genesis of larger projects for many of the bloggers. My own book Oxford Street, Accra: City Life and the Itineraries of Globalization started life as three inter-linked blog posts on Stanford’s Arcade.”
 
Colloquies received a substantial grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2013 for its creation, and the foundation played a significant role in the site’s conceptualization.
 
“In our conversations with the program officers at Mellon, what emerged gradually was the idea of opening it [the platform] to the public in an almost unprecedented way, so that every Colloquy would host an organic conversation with unpredictable additions based on who is reading it and decides to write a response,” Greene said. 
 
One of the many benefits of this virtual platform is curators can easily make changes and additions to a Colloquy. Additions such as blog posts can be published as quickly as the day after submission, after being reviewed by the curator. 
 
Alexandra Slessarev, who received her B.A in English from Stanford, oversaw the development of the new feature. She described Colloquies as “an organizing principle on Arcade,” and a “way for us to throw the doors open and invite more people from a whole variety of outlets to participate.”
 
Continuing the conversation
 
The topics of some of the current open Colloquies were chosen to highlight recent seminars and lectures in the humanities. This was the case with the Colloquy "Poetry after Language," curated by Professors Marijeta Bozovic of Yale and Walt Hunter of Clemson. 
 
The original nucleus of papers originated in a seminar at the annual meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association, but the Colloquy has doubled in size since its publication, keeping the conference conversation alive and available to readers who didn’t attend the conference.
 
Nicole Gounalis, a Stanford Ph.D. candidate in Italian and Managing Editor of Colloquies, highlighted the benefits of transitioning event topics into Colloquies. “Conferences, and seminars are a traditional way for scholars to talk through works in progress, so we are envisioning Colloquies as a way to speed up that practice and give it a virtual platform,” she said. 
 
Greene added that the flexibility and responsiveness of the platform “provides a way to respond to a lecture, conference or seminar after it has taken place and after more thought was given to the topic.”
 
Colloquies and Arcade were both created with the idea that they could someday become templates for other institutions. “Everything we're developing could in a few years become available to people working in other fields who want to be able to achieve the same sort of online dialogue,” said Slessarev.
 
This is already happening in a developing partnership between the Arcade team and several institutions in the public humanities such as the Chicago Humanities Festival. 
 
“One of the challenges they face is keeping the audience connected after the event is over,” said Greene.  Eventually, he added, such a public humanities community could have their own version of Colloquies, a “place where their members discuss the year's topic and keep connected. We are talking with several such institutions about how to develop something useful to them on their themes for the coming years.”