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.

Blog #3: Social Tagging and Shared Authority

As I sit here, snowed in, in New England, I began to explore the citizen archive project on the National Archives website. The project can be greatly justified in its purpose and be extremely helpful to the public. I took part in a few of the tagging tasks dealing with World War Two posters. At first I had been unsure of the task set forth in front of me. I had some apprehension of participating in the project. My mind kept thinking, “What if I don’t know what to tag?,””What if I over tag?”.

Instead of starting of tagging I decided to see what had been done. I looked at the posters and noticed that the tags already added were vague and direct, which was good for simplicity but not for someone who is participates in specified researching. Historians rely on the web for a lot of their research and a database like the World War Two posters is an extremely important resource, the tags would be more helpful if they were more specific. Most of the tags that had already been placed on the posters had been simple like: Solider, World War II, propaganda, etc.

Yet, these tasks put forth by the National Archives are a great way to bring in the public. The different tasks of tagging and transcribing documents allows for public involvement that would not be possible without the internet. The missions that the Citizen Archive asks the site visitor to participate in are simple in practice and in thought. Anyone can participate in the Citizen Archive as long as they have a simple understanding of how to work the program and have some historical context to place on the analyzed texts.

The archive experiment offers an amazing spotlight into the question of shared authority. The indirect conversation that is established through the act of tagging and correcting transcriptions allows for an interaction between the historian and the public, but it is a limited conversation. The fact that the conversation is there and the interaction between the historian and the public dealing in a digital and archive fashion is an excellent occurrence. Many people do not have the opportunity to visit or access an archive but a site like the Citizen Archive Project allows for that chance.

Entry #2: The Evolution of History in the Digital Age

The digital world has brought about a lot of change in the field of History. History has always been seen as an academic field holding no real worth to the working class, but with the help of the advancements in technology interest has grown.

History is no longer being portrayed as just memorized dates and events. People are looking into the past through different avenues and technological advancement allows for that. Open source and open access sites are great for the field because they allow for mass consumption of information from all audiences and not just those that own a subscription to Jstor.

The digital age allows for easier research to be completed; with the creation of the simple google search researchers are able to look and find necessary information or searches in a matter of moments. Prior to the technology upgrade, hours would be spent in front of a book rereading text trying to find the evidence to support the research.

Researchers are not the only ones who benefit from digital history movement, Museums do too. When we think of museums almost instantly people get an overwhelming sense of boredom. The stigma that a static museum exhibit is the only form of exhibit is disappearing. Museums are creating interactive exhibits, some that even have online companions, helping to feed the desire for entertainment in many individuals, while also educating them in the process. (x)

So when we talk about these changes to the field of historical research it is important to talk about the quality of work. There have been arguments made that history published on the web holds less value than published in a book or journal. I see the argument to be incorrect. Just because something was published online does not downgrade the quality of work completed by an individual.

Yes there is an increase in the quantity of research online but there is no evidence to claim that the quality of work is worse than an article published in a journal. It is simple to come across false historical data on the internet. Yet, we are trained to weed out the bad and find the good. There is an abundance of good history online and it is available to almost every history buff in the world.

Entry #1: Blogging and the Historian.

Blogging has been a part of the internet craze from the beginning, or so it seems. With the coming of the Web 2.0 in the early 2000s blogging has begun to be prominent in daily life. Yet, just because blogs are a part of an active life on the web, does that mean that the Historian should use that tool?

Yes. It is my genuine belief that the Historian should use a blog to release their research to the public. By posting to a site like WordPress there is a better chance for a Historians research to be seen. Dan Cohen wrote an entry titled, Professors, Start Your Blogs, and in that entry he advocates for the blogging Historian.

Cohen made a list stating the benefits of blogging in the historical field. For one, posting to a site similar to WordPress, or something similar, allows for a graduate student to expose their research to the public. This can be beneficial when it comes to searching for a job or for feedback on completed research. I had attended the American Historical Associations Annual (AHA) Meeting in January of 2015, one session focused on Blogging and the Future of Scholarship. During that session, the speakers made sure to note that blogging can turn historians from beginners into scholars.

Having explained why blogging is beneficial to the grad student, it is important to know that others in the field can see the benefits of posting updates to a site. By posting to a blog, the scribe decides the topic and how to write about that topic. He does not have the strict rules of writing like an academic journal or book. The writer chooses the language. This does not mean that posting from blogs is better than being formally published in an academic journal or a book, but rather that a blog allows for exposure.

The Language choice is not the only choice that the writer makes. He also chooses his audience. He does not make an outright choice in who will be reading the article, but by choosing the topic addressed in his or her blog he is addressing a certain group of people. If I were to post a blog about anti-Semitism in Germany during the 1860s and how nationalism attributed to the increase in anti-semetic attitudes in the country, that blog would be geared to a specific person, someone who lives history, namely an academic. Yet, if I were to post to a blog about the home front during the Second World War, and keep the posts in a  simplistic attitude, the blog would have a wider audience because of the topics popularity in the public sphere.

Posting about any topic in the blog-o-sphere leads to an open dialogue among historians and the public. The commenting feature of a blog allows for the ability for individuals to talk about topics and argue for or against the findings in a post. The more academic posts can be eye opening to the amateur historian. This new form of shared authority allows for an open discussion on topics of interest to peoples.

Updating to a blog seems like a big commitment, which it can be, but as long as it is well planned out the commitment is not difficult. Posts are easy to write and they take very little time to complete. The creator of the blog manages the commitment. The frequency of posts depends on the person creating the posts. The blogger can choose to post once a week or once a month, but it is important to keep up to date with the blog in order to maintain its validity.

Overall, the benefits of blogging outweigh many of the downfalls. For one there is chance for an individual to jumpstart their career. There is the chance to create a dialogue between historians and the public, and there are personal benefits of not having the stress of publishing in a journal or writing a book.