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The New Enlightenment and the Fight to Free Knowledge


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How do we create a universe of truthful and verifiable information, available to everyone?

About the Author

A writer, teacher, and documentary film producer, Peter B. Kaufman works at MIT Open Learning and MIT's Knowledge Futures Group. He previously served as Associate Director of Columbia University's Center for Teaching and Learning, where he produced online courses and led the development of best practices in video production and online learning. He has served as president and executive producer of Intelligent Television; founder of the Audio-Visual Think Tank at Sound & Vision in the Netherlands; co-chair of the JISC Film & Sound Think Tank in the United Kingdom; co-chair of the Copyright Committee of the Association of Moving Image Archivists; a member of the Scholar Advisory Committee of WGBH's American Archive of Public Broadcasting; a member of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure in the Humanities and Social Sciences; and a consultant to the Library of Congress's National Audiovisual Conservation Center, the largest archive of moving images and recorded sound in the world. The author of numerous articles on media and education, he lives in northwest Connecticut and Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Peter B. Kaufman's call for a new Enlightenment couldn't be more timely, or more necessary. His polemic against those who purport to own knowledge shows that knowledge is freedom and can belong to all or to none. The choice is ours. --Edward Snowden Mellifluous, intelligent, erudite--a pleasure to read. --Charles Nesson, William F. Weld Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and founder of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard

Peter Kaufman has provided a powerful argument for the right of all of us to know. In forceful prose, he explains how information has been controlled from the invention of printing to today. But, he argues, thanks to the internet, we can still win the battle to create the full and free access to knowledge necessary for self-governing. This is a book that will spearhead debate in the twenty-first century. --Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of History, Emerita, Columbia University

"Peter Kaufman mounts an impassioned yet prodigiously documented argument for making the public sphere a public good. He surveys a wide swath of the past three centuries, from the Enlightenment's Encyclopedia, through the would-be intellectual seedlings of samizdat underground publications under totalitarianism, to the current maelstrom of data and content left unbridled in the hands of private corporations. From this, he delivers a historically informed account of the striving for information treated not as a commodity but as a public necessity and right. His arguments could hardly be more timely as we enter the third decade of both the major social media platforms and of Wikipedia - the Enlightenment philosophes' fantasy of what public enlightenment could become." --Peter Baldwin, professor of history at UCLA, Global Distinguished Professor of History at NYU, co-founder of the Arcadia Fund, and author, The Copyright Wars: Three Centuries of Trans-Atlantic Battle

Peter Kaufman's erudite tour de force not only explains how the 'information economy' works to shape our world, it shows how battles over who and how information is controlled have been with us since the invention of the printing press. Better still, this wonderfully written, eminently readable book shows both how we are still fighting the same battles today--and how today's battles are different. It lays out clearly why we need to restore control over the information economy and how open knowledge and open learning are keys to that effort. --Larry Kramer, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

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