This article is a report commissioned by JSTOR in 2006 which illuminates the “resources and processes” employed by historians. The report’s research was obtained from interviews with senior and junior faculty and graduate students from a range of schools.
Overarching themes of the report are laid out in this section. First, the interviews revealed that books–historical monographs–continue to be the “preeminent form of scholarly communications in history” and faculty are hard-pressed to obtain a tenured position without publishing at least one. Second, interviewees related that they felt history was comparatively slow to transferring the field over to digital. And third, the report emphasizes historians’ dedication to understanding the historiography of a particular topic, which in turn creates a more extensive and “wider-ranging” research process compared to other disciplines (Griffiths, Dawson, & Rascoff, 3).
Introduction and Methodology
- Develop a general understanding of the tools and processes historians use in their research
- Understand the role that journals and other types of resources play in the field of history (4)
Study Participant Backgrounds
- 8 people from Ivy League Institutions
- 9 people from non-Ivy League Institutions
- 1 person from Cambridge
- 4 Librarians
- 3 History Museum Staff Members
- Mostly Scholars of American/European History
Overview of Resources Used in History: Past, Present, and Future
As stated above, monographs were still considered the most important mode of publishing research for historians in 2006. The report observed no signs of this trend shifting in the near future, though there are arguments against the continued prioritization of the monograph. These arguments include: teaching should be emphasized over research; monographs are less accessible online as opposed to journal articles; and monograph publishing has become increasingly difficult following the decline of university presses and below-average book sales.
Since 1975, the number of history journals in existence by 2006 had “more than doubled” (6). These journals contain articles and book reviews. The former, although considered less useful to scholars’ careers, were thought to be more accessible for researchers and thus, more frequently in use. The latter, book reviews, also serve a particular purpose within journals: writing them is a “prestigious” opportunity, and also provide a bite-sized summary of books that scholars use to stay up to date on their field (7).
Peer review is another topic of focus in this section. Expectedly, this study found that interviewees and historians generally find this process to be one of great importance in their field. The peer review subsection breaks down some of the intricacies of the process and the importance of the practice to historians’ careers.
Conference Proceedings and Multi-Author Volumes
The report states that interviewees saw multi-author volumes as a relatively new format. They vary in size and quality and typically were not available online.
Abstracting services were reported as an incredibly important tool of research by interviewees. America: History and Life, Historical Abstracts, and the History of Science were a few of the services noted by study participants.
The stark lack of digitized primary source material is noted in this subsection. Interestingly, when this study was conducted, scholars reported having not used digitized source material because “doing so would not be perceived as real research” (9).
All historians interviewed in this study reported having used “some component” of H-Net, whether to engage in dialogue with other historians or to ask general questions (10).
Transition from Print to Electronic
According to this subsection, by 2006 the sciences and social sciences were well beyond history in their adoption of digital resources. Historians at the time were not clamoring to integrate historical work into the digital space; thus, at the time there were few journals which were entirely available online.
The report cited the lack of electronic scholarship largely as an issue of academia’s recognition of its value. “Very few books are available electronically,” they write, “and many scholars are still skeptical about the quality of e-books, which are thought to be books that were not good enough to be published in print” (11). While electronic journals and other digital history resources were beginning to pop up around this time, there were still significant concerns surrounding revenues and respectability.
How Historians Do Research
In a conclusion of sorts, the report states that historians at the time were far less likely to use digital resources than scholars within other disciplines. Moreover, there was not much of a desire to break down institutional paywalls in the interest of open access journals/other scholarly materials. The African Studies Association’s panel on open access, as well as public historians generally, are noted as having been ahead of the curve in terms of dialogue about accessibility.
- Considering that this report was written in 2006, in what ways has the field changed in its relationship toward the Internet?
- Are there any particular ways you think the field hasn’t changed since this report was published?