Having grown up in Hong Kong, thinking about colonialism and imperialism quickly gives me a headache. At the root of this is an unbridgeable sense of cognitive dissonance: on the one hand these two forces created an amazing city which I love as my home, and on the other I know that using force against others for your own gain is morally reprehensible.
Certain British historians have tried in the past to get around this by claiming that the British Empire was less brutish and more beneficial than other contemporary empires, but this seems to be skirting the issues to reduce collective guilt.
With this personal context in mind, I am immediately interested in any historical images of Hong Kong, especially older ones which might offer insight into what life was like under imperial rule. And so it was that the following image really caught my eye:
Viewing only the top half of the image it seems like some kindly old gentlemen on a rural day out, posing for a photo. Look then at the bottom half and witness beheaded humans lying in the dirt. Should we feel for the “pirates” who have been executed? Did they deserve their fate through wrong deeds, or did they simply upset the wrong imperialists? What are passers-by thinking: are they relieved that justice has been dealt, abhorred by the brutishness of these gwai lo (foreign devils), or fatalistically indifferent?
Of course, we will never really know the answers to these questions, but they are worth discussing all the same. I duly filed the image away for later use, shared it on Twitter and moved on. Much to my surprise, a couple of teachers (@vanweringh and @PaulGrace9) who are now in my PLN saw the image and started sharing and researching ideas on it.
Reading these articles is revealing. It seems like the pirates were genuinely dastardly, but they make up only 6 of the 15 beheadings. Also of interest is that some of the beheadings were carried out by a 15-year old boy. How times have changed.
Our collaboration finished up with suggestions to use HistoryPin and the image below to further explore this area. As was mentioned in our discussions, the topics of piracy and imperialism are so interesting to study as they are still relevant today.
I was recently looking through my archives to find a piece on Creative Commons (CC) to share with an acquaintance, and was surprised when I could not find one. Why had I not written something about one of the things I feel most passionate about? I don’t know the answer to that question, so instead of answering it, I will render it moot with this post.
I recently wrote of copyright that it is like a battle between content creators and content users, with each trying to find the best deal for themselves. The battle itself is umpired by the law, and all of these forces must constantly contend with changing technology in trying to find a balance. I believe that most current copyright laws are too strongly in favour of the creator: copyright terms are too long, fair use is not expansive enough and remix for personal use is not permitted. A common reaction to this problem is to simply work outside of the law and pirate copyrighted works. I can understand why people take this road, as it is perceived to be the only way to fight back against an unfair system. However, as a content creator myself, I cannot bring myself to simply steal the work of others.
The best solution to this problem is, as far as I can see, the one mapped out by Creative Commons, which was created by famed copyright lawyer Lawrence Lessig. The premise behind Creative Commons is to provide a simple way for content creators to control the use of their work. This is done through a simple licensing system, which uses 3 simple options to represent what can and cannot be done with a piece of work. Behind these options, which are represented by icons, sits a license which translates them into a legalese document. This means that instead of fighting against copyright law, the system works from within it. By applying a CC license to their work, creators are opting out of strictly prohibitive copyright, and empowering their audience to redistribute and reuse their work.
Whilst this might sound rather dry and abstract, it is in fact incredibly powerful and creative. Consider this example: say I am making a movie, and need some music for the soundtrack. Traditionally my options are to either break the law (pirate someone’s work) or work within it (pay a creator for their work). Usually, if I pay for someone’s work I am not even free to change it to meet my needs. With Creative Commons, however, I can use an online service, such as Jamendo to locate music whose creators have applied a CC license to it: depending on the options selected in the license, I may well be able to freely include that music into my work and make even make money from it. The effect of all of this is to reduce the barriers to the production of high quality, creative work, allowing the return to a culture that is created by individuals and not just large corporations. To me this is huge, as it allows us to express ourselves freely and thus forge a our own culture. In all of this, technology makes such creation easy, but Creative Commons provides the raw materials that make it free and legal.
As an educator, you might wonder why you should care about any of this. The reasons are simple. From a philosophical point of view, education is built on knowledge, which is created through sharing. Ergo, anything that promotes sharing is good for education. From a practical point of view, Creative Commons gives you access to literally millions of creative works, which you and your students can build on, legally, to create incredibly rich learning experiences. And finally, you can use Creative Commons to encourage your students to engage with the world around them by contributing their own creativity. A lot of people do not feel that their creations are worth sharing, but the truth is that you never know how other people might use your work to express themselves. Once you realise the true worth of your work within such an open system, the urge to share and connect is hard to resist.
Hopefully this post has given you an insight into what Creative Commons is all about, and perhaps even why it is something you might want to try. I am currently working on a follow-up which will contain far more practical detail on how you can use Creative Commons to enrich your teaching practice. In the meantime, the two following videos might help to shed more light on the beauty of CC: