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Author: Suzanne R. Graham
Title: Historians and Electronic Resources: A Citation Analysis
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
November 2000

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Source: Historians and Electronic Resources: A Citation Analysis
Suzanne R. Graham

vol. 3, no. 3, November 2000
Article Type: Work in Progress
PDF: Download full PDF [28kb ]

Historians and Electronic Resources: A Citation Analysis

Suzanne R. Graham

Through in-house digitization programs and subscriptions to electronic journals, academic libraries provide historians with access to a wealth of primary and secondary resources online. To determine the impact that this investment in electronic materials has made on History publications, two citation analyses were conducted. The study focused on feature-length articles in two prominent historical journals and the published articles of History faculty at five U.S. universities with strong electronic text centers or notable digitization projects. The initial findings indicate that electronic resources are not incorporated into reference lists of juried research articles significantly.

.01. Introduction

Despite the shortcomings of the Internet–real and imagined–both primary and secondary historical data continue to go online at an impressive rate. In an effort to increase visibility and access to rare and fragile documents, librarians and archivists at many of America's major research institutions have digitized portions of their primary source holdings and made them available to an audience beyond the library's physical walls. The Making of America Project at Cornell University and the University of Michigan, Rutgers University's online access to Eagleton public opinion polls, the University of Virginia's digital collection of Thomas Jefferson's correspondence and manuscripts, and the University of Southern Mississippi's online Civil Rights oral histories provide a small sample of digital archives available to serious researchers. [1] Bolstered by the reputations of their parent libraries, these digitization and electronic text centers are more authoritative sources of information than independent sites without clear provenance.

Academic libraries also have increased their subscriptions to electronic versions of journals, and the J-STOR electronic archive provides access to back issues of prominent journals. With the promise of easier searching and delivery to a computer anywhere, electronic journals give historians access to secondary resources that is dictated neither by library hours nor in-house circulation restrictions. The potential for such sources in support of popular history and teaching has been addressed in research, but their role in scholarly historical research has been less so. Electronic resources, broadly defined in this study as information accessed via a computer, may be useful as bibliographic guides to potential sources but, as of yet, they infrequently appear as cited references in their own right.

.02. Problem

As research libraries invest considerable resources into the creation and maintenance of digital collections and in the acquisition of databases, an evaluation of the level of usage should be conducted to keep collections focused on the needs of their users, including History faculty, who conduct and publish research. Therefore, in an effort to ascertain the level of acceptance and usage of electronic media, whether primary or secondary, by historians engaged in scholarly research, this study will consider the impact that these materials have made on published articles in the field. The results should show historians how their colleagues use electronic resources, benefit libraries currently engaged in digitization projects, and also help those facilities considering the merits of an online collection investment.

.03. Methodology

This study hopes to maintain broad applicability and legitimacy by examining the publications of History faculty across the United States regardless of concentration within the field. A citation analysis of recently published articles is a useful barometer of historians' confidence in electronic resources. This project conducted two distinct but related bibliometric studies of the references cited by professional historians in juried and non-juried published articles. The first evaluation focuses on the citations of the featured articles selected published in the American Historical Review (AHR) and the Journal of American History (JAH) between January 1997 and September 2000. The inclusive dates were selected to coincide with the growth of the Internet, the development of electronic journals in the field, and the proliferation of electronic text centers.

Both journals are prominent juried publications. AHR provides a broad cross-section of the work of historians through its diffusion of historical focus. Unlike many journals, its articles represent the research habits of a wide range of concentrations within History. AHR is also of interest because of its encouragement of online collegial exchange via electronic conferences. Richard Darnton's interactive article published in February 2000 is an interesting attempt to engage historians in an online roundtable discussion. While reaching a global audience, the article received few responses. AHR has continued to support this format, however, and a second article, by Charles S. Maier, appeared in the June issue. [2]

JAH offers a sample of the publication habits of historians in a more narrowly defined area with a relatively large volume of electronic resources to support its research (as compared to non-U.S. concentrations). The inclusion of a second juried journal should increase the credibility of the study and make the findings applicable beyond the influence of one editorial board. The sample includes feature articles and roundtable submissions of at least twenty pages.

The footnotes of articles in these publications were reviewed and the number of electronic resources, defined for this study as any item accessed through a computer, were counted and compared to the number of total citations. In the computations, each distinct item counts only once regardless of how many times it appears in the footnotes.

The second part of this study examines the publications of full-time History faculty at institutions with major electronic text centers. Footnotes of research articles published by professors at University of California-Berkeley, Cornell, Rutgers, Virginia, and Yale between January 1997 and July 2000 were analyzed. The writings of these professors are targeted in the expectation that faculty at these institutions are more likely to have visited, or at least be aware of, their institutions' electronic text centers, and therefore, are more likely to be familiar with the power and utility of electronic access to documents.

The list of historians was obtained from the faculty Web pages posted by the individual departments. [3] This roster was cross-referenced with the records in America: History & Life and Historical Abstracts databases. These utilities are useful tools for bibliographic research because of their breadth. According to its literature, America: History & Life provides bibliographic information on publications "in all key English language historical journals [covering U.S. and Canadian histories]." It indexes articles, not only in History, but also liberally among other humanities and social sciences. This inclusiveness allows for interdisciplinary research and minimizes confusion over the classification of the field into one of these larger disciplines. Historical Abstracts is a similarly well-suited and reputable counterpart compiling over 2000 journals which focus on World History from the 1500s to the present. [4] The resulting article sample consisted of published items of at least ten pages in American publications in any field of study.

.04. Results and Data Analysis

Nineteen issues of AHR, containing fifty-two feature articles were reviewed. In this pool only two articles made reference to electronic resources, and both articles overwhelmingly cited traditional print resources. Julia Thomas of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, cites a photographic gallery online in her article entitled "Photography, National Identity, and the 'Cataract of Times'" in the December 1998 issue of AHR. [5] The article contains nearly ninety citations to unique items, only one of which was electronic (roughly 1.1%). Paul Freedman at Yale University and Gabrielle M. Spiegal of Johns Hopkins University cite two electronic documents five times among a pool of 140 unique items. Therefore their percentage of electronic citation is slightly higher than Thomas' but still below 1.5%. [6] In 1998, as noted, AHR features two articles that cite electronic resources among a yearly total of fifteen articles; however, no citations appear in 1999 or 2000.

JAH yielded similar results. Fifteen issues with seventy-seven articles were considered. [7] In June 1997, Michael O'Malley and Roy Rosenzweig wrote an evaluation of History resources on the World Wide Web. The reference list for this article is overwhelmingly electronic, roughly 79%. [8] The O'Malley and Rosenzweig study will not be included in the general analysis because it explores a methodological, not a historical question, and its aggressive use of electronic resources is anomalous.

In the following issue, September 1997, Richard Allen Rath included three Web sites, two electronic journal articles and an online faculty lounge, in his investigation of W.E.B. Dubois, about 2.7% of total citations. [9] No other e-citations appear that year. In 1999, three articles contain three references to online items. Jesus Velasco (September) and Kenneth Cmiel (December) refer to organizational home pages in their articles. [10] Also in September 1999, David Gutierrez cites Migration Dialog, an online journal. [11] As in the early findings, electronic references in JAH articles average less than 2% of the article's total citations.

The second bibliographic study yielded similar results. Despite the inclusion of an impressive list of digital archives included in the University of Virginia History department home page, professors at the target institutions with well-established electronic text centers showed no great eagerness to cite electronic resources. [12] Of the forty—two full-time professors who had written full-length articles indexed in Historical Abstracts and America: History & Life since 1997, only three faculty at Yale University included e-references: Carolyn M. Moehling, David Brion Davis, and Paul Freedman. Moehling published an economic history on child labor using census information available online. Her study has the highest percentage of electronic in her footnotes (1 of 18 items cited in her footnotes), but she did not include any e-resources in her formal reference list. [13] David Davis includes two citations to electronic references in his citations. He cites an online essay on slavery and prejudice sponsored by the University of Florida and an email correspondence. [14] Paul Freedman's reference to conference papers online was addressed in the AHR section of the study.

.05. Conclusion

Although librarians and archivists continue to provide electronic access to scholarly online journals, primary sources, and rare secondary materials, these efforts do not play a significant role in the cited research of the History community. Neither JAH nor AHR have developed any standard form for electronic citations, and the two citation analyses in this study found only eight historians, in a pool of over 192, who cited electronic resources in U.S. publications between 1997 and 2000.

Future research should sample from a wider pool of historians. By researching the faculty publications at other academic institutions, the findings will gain greater applicability. A subsequent study will allow historians to speak for themselves. A survey of published faculty at various academic institutions across the United States will address four areas of inquiry: faculty comfort with and biases against information gleaned electronically, the level of confidence in the future of digitized resources, familiarity of faculty with electronic collections in their area of focus, and present use of electronic resources in preliminary stages of research.

The vocal support of people, like Darnton, who are editors of major publications and presidents of professional societies, bodes well for the future of electronic publishing in History. Presently, historians are familiarizing themselves with the applicability of Internet technology. As more juried journals are introduced exclusively online, such as the Journal of the Association for History and Computing, electronic alternatives may become more useful and more important. The time frame of this study is too brief and current use of electronic resources by historians too tentative to argue there is an emerging trend in the acceptance of electronic resources.

.06. Notes

1. View these projects at,,,

2. Robert Darnton, "An Early Information Society: News and the Media and Eighteenth Century Paris," American Historical Review 105, no. 1 (February 2000): 1-35. Available at [accessed 4/12/00]. See also the latest forum essay by Charles S. Maier with online discussion. Available at [accessed 10/27/00].

3. Departmental pages are found at,;;; and [accessed 10/20/00].

4. See [accessed 10/15/00].

5. Julia Thomas, "Photography, National Identity, and the Cataract of Times," AHR 104, no. 5 (December 1999): 1475-1501. See [accessed 4/20/00].

6. Paul Freedman and Gabrielle M. Spiegal, "Medievalism's Old and New," AHR 103, no. 3 (June 1998): 699. See [accessed 4/20/00].

7. In December 1999 issue all fifteen articles were reviewed.

8. O'Malley and Rosenzweig. "Brave New World or Blind Alley? American History on the World Wide Web," JAH 84, no. 1 (June 1997): 132-155.

9. Richard Allen Rath. "Echo and Narcissus: The Afrocentric Pragmatism of W.E.B. DuBois." JAH 84, no. 2 (September 1997): 462, 481, 495. See;; and [accessed 10/26/00].

10. Jesus Velasco. "Reading Mexico, Understanding the United States: American Transnational Intellectuals in the 1920s and 1990s." JAH 86, no. 2 (September 1999): 667. See [accessed 10/27/00]. And Kenneth Cmiel. "The Emergence of Human Rights Politics in the United States." JAH 86, no. 3 (December 1999): 1231. See [accessed 10/27/00].

11. David G. Gutierrez. "Migration, Emergent Ethnicity, and the 'Third Space:' the Shifting Politics of Nationalism in Greater Mexico." JAH 86, no. 2 (September1999): 514. See [accessed 10/27/00].

12. Available at [accessed 10/27/00].

13. Carolyn M. Moehling. "State Child Labor Laws and the Decline of Child Labor." Explorations in Economic History 36, no. 1 (January 1999): 82. See [accessed 10/24/00].

14. David Brion Davis. "The Culmination of Racial Polarities and Prejudice." Journal of the Early Republic 19, no. 4(Winter 1999): 759, 760. See [accessed 10/24/00].

Suzanne R. Graham

The University of Southern Mississippi