Founded in 2011, The Public Domain Review is an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas.
In particular, as our name suggests, the focus is on works which have now fallen into the public domain, that vast commons of out-of-copyright material that everyone is free to enjoy, share, and build upon without restriction. Our aim is to promote and celebrate the public domain in all its abundance and variety, and help our readers explore its rich terrain – like a small exhibition gallery at the entrance to an immense network of archives and storage rooms that lie beyond.
With a focus on the surprising, the strange, and the beautiful, we hope to provide an ever-growing cabinet of curiosities for the digital age, a kind of hyperlinked Wunderkammer – an archive of content which truly celebrates the breadth and diversity of our shared cultural commons and the minds that have made it.
The Main Parts Of The Site
The Collections – The vast majority of the content exists in our curated collections of images, books, audio and film, in which we shine a light on curiosities and wonders from a wide range of online archives. Some highlights include visions of the future from late 19th century France, a dictionary of Victorian slang and a film showing the very talented “hand-farting” farmer of Michigan.
The Essays – Every two weeks we publish a new long-form essay in which leading scholars, writers, archivists, and artists offer insight and reflection upon the oft overlooked histories which surround public domain works – from a history of the smile in portraiture to the case of the woman who claimed to give birth to rabbits. Contributors include Julian Barnes, George Prochnik, Frank Delaney and Richard Hamblyn. (If you’d like to contribute please see our Submissions page).
Conjectures – In this new series, edited by D. Graham Burnett, we offer up a home for experiments with historical form and method. The reader is asked to keep a live eye on these texts, which thread between past and present, between the imagination and the archive, between dreams and data. All may not be quite what it seems.
Curator’s Choice – In this series, now come to an end, each month a curator from a gallery, library, archive, or museum picked out highlights from their openly licensed digital collections. Contributors included The British Library, The Getty, the Rijksmuseum, the US National Library of Medicine, and the UK National Archives.
Every fortnight, accompanying the publication of our latest essay, we send out an email newsletter of all the most interesting content that we’ve recently featured. Visit here to subscribe and get a sneak-preview of what to expect.
The PDR Press
This is our publishing spin-off project. Since 2014 it has published the annual Selected Essays series, which brings you the very best of our longform pieces in the form of lovingly-produced books; and as of early 2016, also New Editions, beautifully designed reprints and reworkings of public domain material. See our ever-growing selection here.
We’d made some things to sell, returning a few select images from their pixel-based existence back into the world of real objects from whence they once came – Prints, T-shirts, Mugs and More. Visit the main shop page to begin exploring.
We are a not-for-profit endeavour and survive on reader’s donations. We need your support to keep the project alive: visit our support page to put a little something in our tip-jar, or give an annual donation and become a Friend of The Public Domain Review.
Through our essays and collections we aim to help promote the outstanding work that numerous projects, organisations and volunteers have been undertaking to digitise and openly publish public domain works on the web. We have also created a guide to finding interesting public domain works to encourage more of our readers to explore these resources for themselves.
Visit our our testimonials page to read some of the nice things people have said about the project, including a feature in The Guardian which hailed us as “a model of digital curation”, and elsewhere as an “Aladdin’s cave of curiosities … the best thing on the web”. You can also read some interviews with our Editor here at Vice Magazine, Now Then Magazine, and PopTech.
As our name suggests all the historical works found on our site are in the public domain, at least somewhere in the world. Care should be taken as laws on re-use and what is in the public domain varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For more info on this, and on re-distributing the text of essays and posts, see the guide to re-using our material.
Open Knowledge International
Although now independent, for the first five years of its existence The Public Domain Review was a project of Open Knowledge International — an organisation dedicated to promoting open data and open content in all their forms – and we worked closely alongside Open GLAM, a fellow OKI initiative, that promotes free and open access to digital cultural heritage held by Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums.
Our Other Homes
The Editor-in-Chief of The Public Domain Review is Adam Green.
You can contact him on: [email protected]
Although mostly the product of the Editor-in-Chief’s many hours of lonely toil, there are a key group of volunteers who are instrumental to the running of the project. See here for more details.