Should Historical Scholarship Be Free?

It seems like an often accepted concept that if people have more resources available, they will automatically produce positive results with the resources (looking at you, public school districts), but why are people so surprised when this idea often does not work? With historical sources, it may not be as costly as funding across multiple school districts, but it still holds similar merits. What one does with the resources available is as important as having them to begin with. There must be focus in research;  questions that must be answered before entering any databases. Some of them being…

Am I looking to form a balanced picture from a certain period or investigating through a specific lens?

Am I knowledgeable of the biases and issues of the era that I am investigating that I must address whether through more purposeful digital resource or analog research?

Am I looking to confirm past ideas or challenge existing ideas?

Making access to databases free (in a perfect world) will encourage more extensive research, broaden perspectives and ideas, add different perspectives to many historical periods and concepts. It can also encourage better research practices in primary and secondary schools, which can improve research practices for students before entering a university.

However, simply making information available to the public does not guarantee positive growth. The internet can often be seen as an echo chamber and the wide array of resources available may allow biases and prejudices to be justified if some resources are found and presented with no context or purpose besides reinforcing a position. Conflict with university funding may also become an issue if many subscription services become available, some others may charge higher premiums for access. Ownership and copyright issues could also emerge from availability of more free resources.

Copyright issues and ownership of work has been a rapidly changing subject in the digital age. There may be times that we are violating these laws without even knowing , though it is not for malicious purpose for monetary gain. Rosenzweig points this out, “…most historians worry more about someone stealing their work for credit rather than for money”. Intellectual property is regarded on the level of physical property, which emphasizes paid subscriptions to databases, which as discussed before, could rapidly deteriorate with a push for free access. It may be an issue of readdressing Fair Use laws, or even copyright laws and how information is being monetized. With the quickly evolving state of technology and the internet, it presents new issues and questions. Can a person develop their own virtual reality tour of a museum? Does use of a 3-D printed artifact violate copyright laws? Is popular culture media in the past 20 years inaccessible due to the litigious nature of some people?




Researching and Writing in the Digital Age

Within the digital age, the question for finding resources is not if the source exists or is attainable, it is finding what is valuable among millions of available resources. According to a study from the University of California at Berkeley, 5 exabytes (10^18 bytes of data is created online a year, and considering one megabyte is the size of a traditional book, it seems like there is an almost infinite supply of information available at our fingertips. But just like a mechanic, the tools do not make a person skilled, it is how they utilize them. Unfortunately, there is still some disconnect between available resources and practices to using them (Weller, 64).

Considering the source of the information will always be a focal point for both digital and analog sources. There has always been author bias, whether it is intended or not, so researchers must balance perspectives from similar time periods through multiple sources. Utilizing sources beyond written ones also gives perspective to patterns, movement, trends, and location. Rosenzweig discusses that implementation of 3-D mapping in the digital age adds an even deeper perspective and interactivity to research (Rosenzweig, 24).

Interactivity is a large contribution that the digital age provides when researching history. Rosenzweig states that “Some kinds of visualizations such as time series are inherently historical because they show change over time”(21). Researchers can easily compare information from multiple time periods and eras to investigate change in the digital age. Also, digitization allows for easy categorization, organization, key word searches/omitted terms, and easily transferable information.

There are still merits to analog sources as well. With students gravitating more and more to digital research, they may neglect to even venture into a library (Weller, 65). While massive amounts of information is being digitized, we cannot assume that everything we need is easily found online. Many digital sources, especially secondary sources, still rely on using analog primary sources which still places value in visiting libraries, museums, and historical societies.

History Changing in the Digital Age (Week 2)

It is commonplace for many institutions to embrace shifting trends into technology and the digital age, the study and pursuit of history is no different. But the distinguishing factor is that there needs to be purpose behind the move to utilizing technology; it must provide solutions rather than just using the technology for technology’s sake. As Turkel states about conducting online research without a clear purpose, “The longer you work on something, the more behind you will get”. When we seek out sources, we must act less like a sponge just absorbing everything that we are able to find, but rather like a sieve, sorting through what could seem like an endless amount of material.

Just like a mechanic or carpenter, historians in the digital age cannot begin their work without possessing the proper tools and skills (which is difficult when your “toolbox” often gives you 1.5 million results) and a clear purpose to work towards. As suggested by Cohen and Rosenzweig “Popular history preference clearly takes precedence over professional concerns” so it is up to historians and researchers to hone their skills and targets to sort through the vast amount of information that is provided with a quick Google search. The digitization of most historical sources is also not provided by one universal organization, which drives those conducting the research to draw the connections between the information they discover, which helps them sort through pertinent data and conflicting issues. Researchers must also compete against many search engines’ focus on monetization, which favors simple summary results over valuable primary resources.

When practiced correctly, the research of history in the digital age opens up multiple avenues that were previously very difficult to pursue. Local history can be connected to its national or global impact, or how different groups responded or impacted different periods of history. It provides different perspectives and lenses of the same events which open discussion and ideas. It also makes researching history more feasible and accessible for those who are not professional historians.


Welcome to my HIST 511 page! My name is Andrew, I am a social studies teacher at Hartford Juvenile Detention Center and am currently halfway through my pursuit of a M.S. in Education Leadership at Central. A little bit about myself: I am a diehard Patriots fan, a huge Simpsons nerd, and I love to play guitar and build computers from scratch. I am hoping that this class will help me move away from traditional textbooks and readings in the classroom and bring my lessons into a digital realm where technology is at the forefront, something that would be hugely beneficial for the students that I teach and others in a non-traditional setting.

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