History Commons Groups

November 11, 2008

Thoughts on the Elevate Festival

Elevate Festival logo

Elevate Festival logo

A few thoughts on the just-concluded Elevate Festival, in Graz, Austria. Remember, all of my observations about the History Commons are from my perspective as a contributor, NOT as any statement of official site policy. No one’s made any decisions about anything yet, and the decisions are not mine to make. We do them as a group.

First and most importantly, Elevate brought together a number of people from around the globe — Austria, Britain, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, Norway, Canada, the US, elsewhere — to discuss the idea of “common-ism” or “commonality” and how we can work to bring about a larger and more overarching “commons” mentality. Some of the people and organizations represented:

The Commoner, represented by author and fellow “bloody peasant” Massimo De Angelis. Massimo helped ground the discussions and keep them from flying off into the ether of overly academic speculation.

The Creative Commons, the organization that makes it possible for us to use excerpts from others’ work, ably represented by Ronaldo Lemos from Brazil. Ronaldo danced all night and dazzled us the next evening with well-reasoned arguments about law and cultural transformation.

The Knowledge Commons, an organization represented by historian and party animal 🙂 Petra Buhr from Germany. She was one of my favorite people among an entire group of talented and personable folks.

On the Commons, an activist organization represented by dapper American author David Bollier. We kept crossing paths throughout our time in Graz, him coming as I was leaving and vice-versa. At some point David and I have to sit down and have a real conversation without all the distractions and scheduling conflicts.

Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid, a one-man organization: author, speaker, producer, guerrilla hip-hop and remix artist, and whirlwind force for change. If I had one thing I would change about my time in Graz, it would be to spend some more time in Paul’s company. He is truly astonishing.

Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer who travels all over the globe discussing his battle against Monsanto and the larger battle against genetically altered food. I spent the best part of an hour with Percy, having dinner and marveling at his energy, wit, and frequent flyer miles.

The Science Commons, represented by the poised and lovely Kaitlin Thaney (who does indeed look older in her photo — gotcha, Kaitlin!). She worked very hard to bring us into the rarefied atmosphere of the scientific work she coordinates without making us all feel like idiots.

Silke Helfrich, a German blogger and activist who moderated several discussions between participants both in the Schlossberg itself and in more informal settings, i.e. over breakfast, over lunch, and while walking down the charming sidewalks of Graz.

Stefan Meretz, a German author and theorist who works with a number of Commons-related projects, and the originator of the appellation “The Gingko Movement.” If this nascent Commons movement ever comes to fruition, Stefan gets the credit for the name. I heard him say it first at the Ginko Restaurant — and apparently the word is spelled “ginko” in German.

There were other researchers, authors, and activists there whom I never got to spend much time with, sadly enough, including Paul Keller, Florian Philapitsch, Henrik Moltke, Anne Schweigler, Heike Schieback, and many others (damn my lack of German — I missed out on some good presentations because I’m illiterate in that language). If you download the festival booklet from Elevate’s site (PDF, in German), you can see all of the participants. Daniel Erlacher of Elevate deserves tremendous credit for helping coordinate and moderate a week-long festival featuring dozens of events, an enormous cast of characters from buttoned-down academics to grungy musicians, multiple venues, and what must have been a daunting logistical challenge pulling everything together. He and his fellow coordinators and guides did a hell of a job making everything work smoothly.

Probably the biggest thing I took away from Elevate that pertains strictly to the History Commons is the need for us to become more international in scope. We are almost provincially American in focus; that is something that MUST change. Hopefully several of the participants in the presentation and workshop I hosted, and the panel discussion in which I took part, will become part of the HC community. At least one person indicated an interest in translating some of the Commons material into German, an idea which I think is long overdue. (Translations into French, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Urdu, you name it, they are all something I think we have to get behind.) Others expressed an interest in what we do, and offered some insightful observations and critiques of the site. The other site coordinators and myself will be discussing some of these ideas and seeing how we can incorporate them into the site. Personally, I would love to add more international content as well as translations into other languages.

While we at the History Commons don’t consider ourselves part of any activist community, nor do we espouse any particular political or social viewpoint, personally I found the idea of a larger “Commons community” fascinating. Much more work and discussion remains to be done about building (or shaping) such a community and whatever role, if any, the History Commons might play in such a community. We do espouse a free and open exchange of information regardless of political, social, cultural, or national affiliations, so that in and of itself is common ground. We have just begun a long and interesting journey. Where it takes us is a matter for speculation and further discussion. I can’t say what will or won’t happen, and of course, I don’t speak for the Commons as a whole.

What else? As I said in my earlier post, my guide in Graz, Eva Knoblach, went way over the scope of her duties in taking care of me. Reine, whose last name I never asked (more fool me), not only drove me and a carload of fellow participants from and to the Vienna airport (a nearly three-hour drive from Graz through some absolutely gorgeous countryside), but graciously conducted me on a flying tour of Vienna during the few hours I had before having to bunk down in the airport hotel for my early-morning departure. My final meal in Austria was at his uncle’s restaurant, ironically an American-themed place named “Sparky’s.” Reine steered me towards a more traditional Austrian dish which Americans would term “pot roast,” with vegetables and a delicious horseradish sauce. I can’t say enough about Eva and Reine. They truly made my stay in Graz a special time.

Other things that stick in my memory: the warm and welcolming hospitality of the staff of Graz’s Hotel Mariahilf, my inadvertent midnight climb of the Schlossberg (I get lost easily), lots of yummy and free vegetarian meals courtesy of the Ginko, fun with an international group of wanderers exploring the streets and farmer’s markets of Graz, strange and intense concerts featuring a variety of techno, hip-hop, trance, and house music, the rather frisky and enthusiastic security personnel at the Munich airport (um, do you know me well enough to run that metal detection wand where you’re running it?), the tremendous efforts by all the German speakers to speak English to accomodate me and the others who were not so multilingual….

Anyway, the History Commons has a lot of discussions and considerations to undertake. You are invited to take part — especially if you’re reading this after taking part in the History Commons presentation, workshop, or discussions in Graz. Join the conversation.

Elevate Festival logo

Elevate Festival logo


  1. That sounds interesting, I had no idea it was happening not far from here. Let me know next time, please.

    Comment by kevinfenton — November 12, 2008 @ 3:57 am | Reply

  2. Dammit, Kevin, I had no idea you weren’t aware of the festival. It would have been tremendous if you had been able to attend.

    Comment by Max — November 13, 2008 @ 11:21 pm | Reply

  3. Never mind, maybe next time.

    Comment by kevinfenton — November 16, 2008 @ 6:44 am | Reply

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