Should historical scholarship be free?
I think it was about five years ago when I learned about “Google News Archive”. With an advanced Google search, my students were able to do original research like never before possible. And then the next school year, it was gone. And then there was the time that I assigned a research project as a final exam. I encouraged my students to use the Hartford Courant because they had access through iconn.org (researchitct.org)… except that they chose topics after 1922. On the other hand, I was thrilled when doing some local history research to learn that my hometown library had recently digitized the town’s newspaper to 1975, and made it searchable! And I’ve spent hours on the free version of Ancestry and on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints census records. Despite enjoying access to some materials and being frustrated by the lack of access to others, I have never questioned the status quo before this week.
Rosenzweig suggested that public funding of almost all scholarship should mean public access to that scholarship; Cohen and Rosenzweig wrote about the “teacher exception” to copyright laws, in which instructors, not the institutions, own their work. We discussed “fair use” for educational purposes in class. I’ve never thought twice about using copyrighted materials for class. All of my lesson plans are posted online (self-archived?) and I would be flattered if I knew other teachers found and used them. Teachers are better when they share with each other. I’m a town employee… I don’t really think that I should have exclusive rights to the work that the town pays me to do. If I ever moved to a new district, I would leave my materials for my replacement but I would use my materials in the new district, too. My actions suggest that I’m (subconsciously) in favor of open scholarship. But… how would historians make any money if they didn’t own their work? Although Rosenzweig offered six approaches to increasing access to scholarly work, I can’t help but think that it would require an uphill battle of a revolution.
Discuss how the Web impacts the way you do historical research. How does it change the way you think about sources? Are there qualitative differences between using digital archives and more traditional analog sources? Why or why not?
Computer technology and change are two things that make me nervous. It follows that just the first page of Turkel, Kee, and Roberts in Weller and Erickson’s title gave me heart palpitations. I definitely need a little push to try something new on a computer. I suppose it’s a good thing that I am (might be?) considered a digital native.
I remember typing my first school paper in 5th grade, but well into high school, word processing essays and researching on the web was still optional. So, computers became widely used just as I was starting to do some serious academic work, and I struggled with lost files and broken printers at the worst times. It wasn’t possible to Google a tutorial or even ask someone for help, so I figured out solutions to these problems myself. I caught on quickly and in college I didn’t even need to go to the library for research until my senior year because I used databases from my dorm room. Having grown up with this technology, I guess I am a digital native, but I didn’t want anything to change because I had already mastered technology circa 2001.
I started my teaching career in 2006. The principal gave me the textbooks at the start of the year and that’s it. Then I learned from my Social Studies colleagues about thematic curricula and how to really teach, and I quit the textbooks in my second year. No textbook means the teacher does a lot of research to find primary documents, and that is only possible with the Web. I don’t need to budget for any materials that those education magazines try to sell; I only need the Web. Where I once thought my “source” was a textbook, I now think my sources are primary and available on the Internet. Sometimes I use digital sources from a historical society or other organization from which I receive professional development, but they are not sources I found myself in an archive. However, I think that when I use digital sources, I am not as connected to them as I am when I use non-digital sources. I always tell my students about the time I looked in a H.B. Stowe folder at the Sterling Library. As I held and read a letter to her brother, it hit me: first, that she was an activist, not a random woman who happened to write the most influential book in U.S. History; and second, that when women do amazing things in history, they are often taken as accidents. I don’t think I would have gotten those same revelations if that letter was in digital form, largely because I could have passed it by so easily.
When I started the MA in Public History, it had been almost a decade since taking my last history class. Luckily, the professor taught how to do primary document research using databases, Hathitrust, etc., and how to cite with Zotero. Now I can’t see myself – or anyone – doing history without such tools. And I learned how to do real historical research – the method that Turkel, Kee, and Roberts identified on page 61. To be honest, I don’t think they gave much of an alternative to that order of things, but they gave some great tips for incorporating Digital History. So far, I do #1 (make everything digital) because almost everything I ever researched is digital. I’m terrible at #2 (keep everything in the cloud), but I do save copies of files periodically in case of disaster. Thanks to Zotero, I do #3 (manage citations in a database) with pleasure. Then I’m terrible at #4-7.
“Reflections on 10,000 Digital Notecards” made me nervous because it told me that my method of using Word to take notes, then copy and paste those notes into an outline, then write drafts of papers is ineffective. Which means that how I’m teaching students to do research is ineffective. Secondly, it made me realize that I have never tackled a project so large as to need a better organizational method. Sigh. However, now I am at least inspired to find a program to organize my research. Or, since I am at the end of my Master’s program, to organize my lesson plans. And I definitely want to find a good program to teach students to use to organize research. It has to prompt students to save electronic copies of research, take notes on those sources, and cite them in-text or in footnotes; then it has to provide a platform for moving that research into an outline and be compatible with Word and/or Google docs. Evernote seems to save the research but doesn’t meet the other requirements. Anyone have any ideas?
How does the medium of the World Wide Web change the practice of doing history? Is Digital History qualitatively different from History? Explain.
This week’s assigned readings by Cohen & Rosenzweig, Weller, and Turkel brought up some basic concerns regarding digital history. As quickly as the Internet became part of the fabric of life, professional and amateur historians both embraced its advantages and rejected it for its limitations. Although the authors of this week’s readings acknowledge that some aspects of digital history are not different from traditional history, they urge us to maximize the potential of the World Wide Web to preserve records, reach larger audiences, and in general, “allow us to do our work as historians better” (Cohen & Rosenzweig). Cohen & Rosenzweig’s purpose of digital history – to “allow us to do our work as historians better” – implies that digital history is both similar to and different from traditional history. The same type of work is being done, but with different tools or media.
This week’s authors identify some of the same issues in digital history as have always existed in traditional history. For example, Weller acknowledges that preservation has always been a challenge that has resulted in an incomplete historical record. One difference in the digital age is the problem of too many sources and no sustainable way of preserving them when the popular format changes (p. 4). Weller points out that context is lost in digital collections (p. 7); I would argue that context is lost in a printed collection as well. Cohen & Rosenzweig discuss the problems of inaccuracy and inaccessibility, which existed before the digital age and continue to exist. When mainly professional historians produced history, it was, perhaps, more controllable in the sense that only wealthier scholars wrote history that other scholars read. Today, many amateurs contribute to the History Web, but the problems of inaccuracy and inaccessibility remain in varying degrees.
All of the readings urge the use of new media to change the practice of doing history. Weller urges preservation, while Cohen & Rosenzweig and Turkel encourage creation of open, useful, and responsible sites on the History Web. Digital history can bring scholars together to discuss and share resources; it can be interactive in ways that are impossible with just publishing monographs; it allows museums and educational institutions to reach new audiences. As a teacher, I can see that the Internet has made possible ways of teaching and learning that were impossible before the digital age. Perhaps one of the most drastic changes has been in education. Once upon a time, teachers lectured on textbook reading and students memorized “facts”. Now, the best teachers utilize the Web to get students to use primary documents and do history like little historians. Teachers and students use the World Wide Web, but it is to replicate the intellectual process that historians have been following since well before the Internet. Therefore, the World Wide Web changed the practice of doing history, but digital history is not qualitatively different from history.