Historians and Digital Scholarship

How difficult is it for historians to publish work in digital form?

This was the question posed by Rachel Ensign in her Chronicle article today. While an American survey of 4000 historians found most wanted to include interactive maps or databases in their work the publishers of journal were far less enthusiastic.

According to Ensign the system of peer review and printed journals has not embraced digital-born work and instead much of this work makes it way into blogs or Wikipedia. In my experience a lot of the work appearing in this form also appears with poor footnoting and references, often not helped by the technical limitations of the software used to create this work. About 20 percent of scholars in the survey, conducted by Robert Townsend, assistant director of research and publications at the American Historical Association, said they had published work in a native digital form.

One of the projects mentioned in the article by Doug Seefeldt, pointed to new digital scholarship which works in ways paper cannot. I had a quick look at one of these the Stanford University’s Spatial History Project, where interactive maps, searchable primary sources, video, and audio are given the same importance as the text, and thought the ‘Colorado Railroad Accidents 1894 -1895′ project was an interesting example of how this kind of scholarship could work.

I would be interested to know what others thought about this – and what success they have had developing, and publishing, digital-born content.

One Response to “Historians and Digital Scholarship”

  1. Jen Griffiths Says:

    I am very interested in this too. I have just submitted an abstract to the first PHA national conference next year discussing why professional historians need to be online, let alone publishing in new ways. There seems to be quite a bit of fear surrounding copyright issues here in WA especially in regards to e-books.

    I haven’t had the opportunity to publish in these ways, although when thinking about doing my PhD it seems far less interesting without being able to include these aspects (with equal importance).

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