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?





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