Response to Impediments to Digital History (forum post)

See Taylor’s forum post

There are some models for open-access peer-reviewed work (that I mentioned in a forum post last week), which, if they became the “standard practice” for humanities publishing, would address some of the issues you bring up. In the sciences, Plos One seems to have achieved the tricky balance of maintaining open access to intellectual property and its status as a forum for sound, “legitimate,” research.

But, as Taylor points out, it’s not just about access, it’s about money. What are viable funding models for open-access publishing? PubMed is a publicly-funded (NIH) clearing house for research in the health sciences. But it’s highly unlikely that public funding would sustain open-access publication in the humanities. 1) public money is scarce (even for the sciences these days; 2) public money isn’t necessarily managed or spent well, and spending decisions are often highly idiosyncratic, depending on who’s making them (exemplified by the Library of Congress controversy); 3) unlike scientific research, the humanities doesn’t have the promise (at least in theory) of a “final product” that can be marketed for profit. Its only product, other than scholarship and scholarly engagement, is experiential: this requires interactive public engagement, which requires that the public is interested, which requires that public is aware of its existence. Which is the only outcome that is justifying public (or much of private) funding in the humanities these days. Put another way, how does a Kickstarter campaign to digitize an archive of crumbling, century-old Haitian newspapers with immense value to Francophone historians compete with a campaign to support an independent documentary feature film?

Possibly the LoC could connect with, or help to establish partnerships, with organizations similar to PLOS One. There are existing open-access humanities and multidisciplinary networks that were established in Europe, like the Directory of Open Access Journals, which is a non-profit that survives through corporate sponsorship and membership fees. Matt mentioned the UK’s Open Library of Humanities . It is also an independent non-profit, and presumably has both government and private sponsors.

It’s not really a “crowdsourced” publication model like those I mentioned above, but the Smithsonian/Folkways project is an interesting example. (The Smithsonian acquired Folkways Records after Moses Asch died so that this material would be preserved.) It operates as commercial-private venture, and receives no public funding. It’s not really a forum for hard-core academic scholarship, but it has a wealth of artifacts and information on ethnomusicology and music history. A good deal of its offerings are fee-based, but it also offers free access to playlists, podcasts, and teaching tools, some free downloads, and lots of information on American and world folk music. Its collection and archive are open to researchers; if these alone were made freely accessible off-site, they would be an invaluable public resource. In certain ways, it looks like a large-scale model of that used by the American Social History Project at the GC.