I’m about a third of the way into Lewis Hyde’s latest book, Common as Air, which looks examines the idea of a “cultural commons” in America. In an early chapter, Hyde gives a thumbnail sketch of the idea of a commons as they once existed in England before the enclosures of the 18th and 19th centuries. Before most of the commons were lost to land grabs by private owners, there were a rich set of traditions and practices governing the use of the commons. One of the more interesting annual traditions was known as “beating the bounds,” which occurred around the Christian celebration of the Ascension. During the celebration, villages would march around the commons, looking for fences, hedges, and other illegal encumbrances and enclosures that had been secretly erected there; when they found such affronts to their shared space, they smashed and destroyed them.
I found myself unable to resist romanticizing the image of everyday people marching about, removing the barriers to places that were held in common. As a mark of my solidarity with efforts to promote open access to scholarly and creative commons and as an indicator of my interest in removing the technological wickets and tangles that keep our silos of licensed resources from working more in concert with one another, I am renaming this blog from “Stephen Francoeur’s Stuff” (a massively unimaginative name) to “Beating the Bounds.”