Entry #6: The Age of Jstor and the Push for Free Scholarship

In the last twenty years the internet has helped to spread knowledge. And as that knowledge has spread the people who use the information, have begun to demand that the works online be available to all for free.

I find myself thinking about the idea of free information from two view points: The historian, who hopes to be published, and the Graduate Student, too poor to afford the access to todays scholarship after I complete my program. The Uni’s library is the the only resource I have to complete research and once my student tenure is over, I lose that access.

I read Roy Rosenzweigs’ article published in Perspectives on History, titled Should Historical Scholarship Be Free?, and the article made me think that no one has a clear idea as to whether or not the work of the Historian should be free. The two sides of the argument are that the historian aims for their work to be published but if the information was to be available to the public at no cost, how would the works be published. It costs money to publish the articles and books that historians work so hard to complete, and publishers rely on the profits to pay for the costs. Yet, the benefits of public scholarship is the chance for the expansion of the scholarship. People feed off of the information that they are fed. If we make more scholarship available to the public, one major benefit comes to my mind: more research. The thirst of knowledge, especially those who have extreme interest in the topics they are reading, tells the mind to continue the search for better findings.

Looking into the idea of free scholarship it can be determined that making the work of professional historians available to the public is not a plausible idea. For one, most of our work is on topics specified for people holding similar backgrounds to our own. At most points the public holds no interests in the topics that we may find relevant.

There would only be a few fields of study that would benefit from open access to scholarship and that is the sciences. People who are out of the academic realm that hold jobs pertaining to an ever-changing practical field. History is a field of interpretation, and scholars who would find the information useful in articles typically have access through their place of employment.

There goes to say that when looking into the case of Aaron Schwartz and his desire to make all information available for free, it was his belief that there should be open access, but I do not agree. It may be my field of study that shapes that opinion, but that is my opinion. A historians career is determined by who published the work, and how it was published. If the article was put forth in a journal like the American Historical Review a historian would be looked on more favorably for the work they release than if they were to publish in a journal that requires them to pay for the paper to go to print.

I will say that I do not believe that access to scholarship will ever be free, or at least it will not be for a while, because it would disrupt the field of study. It will change the scope of the scholarship and how it is understood by the public. Change does not go over well in the History field and giving free access to something like Jstor would cause chaos.

Entry #5: Digital Archives: A benefit or a Nuisance?

With the utilization of modern technology a person would assume that digitizing records and archives would be beneficial to the historian. But is that digitalization hindering or helping the field of study?

Historians have been adapting to the digital age since the internet had proved to be a benefit for everyday life. The adaptations that they made proved to be beneficial to historians of limited resources. By putting archives online, Historians, both amateur and professional, are able to access information to foster their research in a way that  proved difficult prior to the internet.

Yet, as we see the archives as a positive entity for the furthering of research but does do the databases take away from the history. Does removing us from handing the letter or newspaper take away from understanding and interpreting the history?

As a student of history I had not been given the chance to visit an archive to complete research until I reached graduate school. That was due to the material that I focused my studies on. I relied heavily on online archives that proved to be limited at many points. Having dealt with nineteenth century Germany for a majority of my studies, I found that online archives were my only option.

Even though my only option was an online archive, I look back on my research after having had the discussions of whether or not the lack of handling the documents takes away from the research, and wonder if I had held the journals in my hands if they would have held more significance.

Browsing online archives such as the Internet Archive allow for expansive amounts of material that do not hinder the research but allow it to expand. Yes, we do have a slight disconnect with the historical aspect of many of our sources but I believe that, that separation can prove beneficial. The separation that the online archive creates can prove beneficial because the simplistic aspects of the document, such as the feel of the paper, might have held no importance to the original people involved in the creation of the item.

Online archives are a treasure trove that help the field of history more than it hurts the humanity. People are able to access information to help relieve their thirst for knowledge and intellect, and gain a better understanding of the past without losing interest because of the complexity that was involve in researching prior to the digital age.

The creation of the digital archives have proven over time to be a benefit to the historian.

Entry #4: Wikipedia: Friend or Foe?

Throughout my time as an undergrad student I had been told by numerous professors to never use wikipedia. There was the assumption that Wikipedia would never be a trusted site for information. However, there have been times that I found the site to be useful. One being the cited sources. Wikipedia has always been my first stop for research.

Many times the sources sited on a Wikipedia page are great for starting research. The foot notes give some understanding of pivotal information and a good place to start researching a subject. With reading some of the text it is understandable to see that the text is great for a basic explanation of information.

It is a typical encyclopedia-esque explanation of a topic that gives a basic understanding of a topic. It is true that the text can be misleading at times but that can be attributed to one of the side effects of an open source website. There are numerous different people that are responsible for the content on a single Wikipedia page which leads to not so reliable information. But, it is the very open source style that leads wikipedia to being more reliable than other encyclopedia sites, like Britannica. There are more people editing and adding to the wikipedia site evolving the information to be accurate. There is the occasional vandal to a page but it is nothing that can’t be easily eradicated. Editors are patrolling the pages and keeping a close eye on what is posted and how accurate the information is, making the site more reliable than I had previously thought.

I visited the wikipedia site and took to looking at three webpages holding some sort of relationship. The pages I visited were, Counterculture, Beat Generation, and Counterculture of the 1960s. These sites served as a basic insight into a topic that I knew a bit about but hadn’t focused on in a few years and would serve for a refresher for some upcoming research.

As I looked at the pages, all three held similar components, they gave a quick understanding before breaking the information into sub-headings. The counterculture page served more as an umbrella for the other two pages that I had visited for this post. Even referring to the other two pages for further detail on those two focuses of the counterculture.

On the Counterculture talk page, the discussion is going strong people are trying to improve the site but it is proving difficult for the follow through for some of their ideas. At one point someone argues that the specific movements discussed in the article went into too much detail and there were too few movements discussed. Those were accurately played, as there have been numerous different social movements in the history of the world but the page only discusses five.

The article on the Beat Generation served as a sign of what the Counterculture page should structure itself as. It was broken down into sub-sections giving enough information without the text being too overpowering for the visitor to read. The talk section of the Beat Generation was more heated, with two people being in an argument over editing out Hatnotes. At one point a wiki-cop intervened. This is a downfall for constructive editing, the ability of the individual to work with another person to put forth information is extremely difficult due to our independent nature as human beings with our own unique thought process.

The Counterculture of the 1960s page was an amazing page. The topic of the 1960s counterculture has been popular among the people because of its occurrence only being fifty years ago. People who lived through the events of the 1960s are still alive and find it reminiscent to think back on the events. The Page is one of the lengthiest pages I have seen on Wikipedia six sections holding sub-sections holding sub-sections. The information is in abundance but it is portrayed in a manor that is easy to read and understand while visual cues are placed in the margins allowing for some primary source material to be available. It is also extremely surprising to not that there is a lack of talking going on between editors of the page. There are very few discussion threads that are being addressed in the active sense but the archive is similarly bleak. yet the talk page of the Counterculture of the 1960s page allows for an example of how to properly use the discussion threads: Constructive conversation driven by the desire to improve the articles content.

My recent experiences with Wikipedia has giving me the ability to put some added trust into the website. I may not take every word on a page with a grain of salt, I will interpret the sources and verify that the are correct. In other words I will continue to use the site like I had previously but with an understanding that the site holds some merit on the web as holding valuable basic information for the public. It may not be a hundred percent correct but it is important to understand that no site can be.