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.