Although Howard Staunton was a leading 19th-century chess player, his name is probably best known today for the “Staunton” pattern chess set. Nathaniel Cooke designed the pattern and Staunton endorsed it. Staunton chess sets are standard chess tournament equipment. Staunton was also a prolific writer.
Staunton was a Shakespeare scholar and a chess writer. He wrote newspaper columns about chess and edited a chess magazine. Staunton’s books were popular, with his Chess Player’s Handbook going through 20 editions. One of those editions became part of the Blue Book of Chess, which is in the public domain.
What is the “public domain”?
According to a webpage written by Attorney Rich Stim:
“The term ‘public domain’ refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it.”
Public domain works can be copied, distributed, and adapted.
In four weeks, from June 10 to July 1, 2023, five students attending The University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) and I modernized Chapter One of Howard Staunton’s Blue Book of Chess into a website with gender-inclusive language and algebraic notation.
Here is the “Learn from Staunton” website that the UT Dallas students created: https://utdchess-test.my.canva.site/learn-from-staunton. Check out the “About Us & Resources” section for a link to Chessable’s Language Guidelines, which were instrumental to this project.
The students and I were in a Short-term Working Group (SWG). I learned about SWGs from Dr. Salena Brody, Assistant Director of the UT Dallas Center for Teaching and Learning. During the academic year, fall and spring semesters, I teach online courses about chess in education for UT Dallas.
Instead of teaching online in the summer of 2023, I created a SWG to modernize Howard Staunton’s Blue Book of Chess. Five students signed up for my SWG. I volunteered alongside them each Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon. They worked with each other in between our SWG in-person meetings to complete the project.
Dr. Alexey Root (left) and the five students from the SWG
Public Domain Chess Books
There are many excellent chess books that are in the public domain. Yet few people read them today because they use descriptive notation. For example, Staunton’s text has “1. P. to K’s 4th.” rather than the familiar algebraic notation “1. e4.” Public domain chess books are sometimes updated with algebraic notation and sold. For example, Ishi Press sells many adapted public-domain chess books.
Research from the Chessable science team found that gendered language may distract or annoy. Staunton wrote, “He should, in the first place, accustom himself to the setting up the men in order of battle.” The SWG students updated that phrase to, “They should, in the first place, accustom themselves to the setting up the forces in order of battle.”
Modernizing notation and language can be accomplished in a short time, as shown by the UT Dallas SWG project. If you are inspired to tackle a similar project, perhaps in your own SWG, please contact me (Dr. Alexey Root, [email protected]).
Are you a university student or faculty member who is already researching chess or who would like to begin researching a chess topic? The Chessable Research Awards are for you! Designed to inspire new chess research or aid ongoing chess research, applications for the Spring 2024 cycle of the Chessable Research Awards are open from August 1 to October 1, 2023. Apply at this link: https://www.chessable.com/research_awards
For more information about the Chessable science team and its initiatives, including the Chessable Research Awards, visit https://www.chessable.com/science and click on the green banner “View Our Active Scientific Research.”