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Author: Jeffrey Barlow
Title: The Painful Transition To Electronic Scholarship
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 2001

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Source: The Painful Transition To Electronic Scholarship
Jeffrey Barlow

vol. 4, no. 2, August 2001
Article Type: Editorial

The Painful Transition To Electronic Scholarship

Jeffrey Barlow

At the JAHC we believe that truly we are in an era that fully deserves a label such as "watershed" or episteme, and find comparisons with the development of the printing press fully applicable. But we are in the early days of this transition and inevitably we pay a price for our involvements. And though we are often taken for uncritical supporters of these changes, nobody knows better than we do the pain sometimes involved.

For many of us, the price is a daily one as we labor mightily within institutions that seem remarkably unconcerned, unsupportive, even stubbornly resistant to the processes that we believe are going to have their inevitable consequences for us all. It is our belief, and in many cases, our deeply-held emotional commitment, that the study or doing of history will be inevitably transformed. But it is clear that the change is in many ways a slow one, and like all institutions, the academic study of history is very much embedded in its own particular history.

This issue discusses important elements of this transition. Dr. Stanley Katz of Princeton, a former President of the American Council of Learned Societies, in his piece "Don't Confuse a Tool with a Goal; Making Information Technology Serve Higher Education, Rather Than the Other Way Around" addresses in particular those who daily make decisions affecting the transition to computer-aided communications and scholarship. This piece was initially presented at the Forum on the Future of Higher Education, Aspen Symposium, Aspen, Colorado, 26 September 2000. Portions of the presentation were reprinted in The Chronicle of Higher Education. It is reprinted with permission of The Forum, and of EDUCAUSE. We are pleased to present it in its entirety to our audience.

Douglas Cremer's article "Education as Commodity: The Ideology of Online Education and Distance Learning" also discusses important elements of the transition, but he speaks primarily to a faculty and student audience. Cremer's submission came to us more or less as an opinion piece, and we invited him to strengthen it by embedding it in the literature of the field. The fully developed piece makes important points about the several points of tension in this transition. We might describe these tensions as those between market forces, and the traditions of academy, which at their best hold that teaching is, in some important part, an art rather than a science. As such it demands creativity and spontaneity, values that are often difficult for the market to value since the profit to be derived from them is usually uncertain.

Two pieces in this issue address another element of the transition: the degree to which the emerging values and institutions are currently successful. Suzanne Graham's "Historians and Electronic Resources: A Second Citation Analysis" argues that there is currently very little evidence that electronic resources are yet an important part of the historian's universe of data. It is clear that most of us rely entirely on traditional published resources. Nor, she believes, is there any clear trend emerging in which this situation will change. The reward structure and the established usages of the profession clearly promote the use of hard-copy materials and look askance at electronic ones.

Marshall Poe, a respected historian of Russia, in his article "Do We Need the UP? A New Model for Scholarly Publishing in History" points up the degree to which it is not only those of us who support the transition to the electronic dissemination of historical works and materials who are paying a price in this transitional period. The university presses, too, are caught in this same transition, and, Poe believes, their very existence is threatened. Poe has practiced what many of us preach in that he chose to deliver his last book, The Russian Elite in the Seventeenth Century: A Quantitative Analysis of the Duma Ranks, 1613-1713, entirely on line. In his article he describes a bold electronic initiative that would have the result, we believe, of returning control over publication to the academy, while giving the UPs an important and economically viable role in the publication process.

I might add as an editorial aside that I am doing something similar with a work of my own which simply had too narrow a potential audience as several Ups informed me. I have found the results gratifying. (See the project at: I have heard from several scholars, including the author of several books in this field, reaffirming the importance of the work. And I hear weekly at least from students and researchers who nave found the work useful—a response totally alien to my experience with the several print works I have authored. Unlike my privateering effort, however, Poe's approach would leave intact the critical element of peer review. It would also have the great strength of virtually guaranteeing that the work would come to the attention of those scholars most likely to themselves be engaged in related research. We think Poe's idea worth supporting and hereby offer our resources at the JAHC to any others who wish to work on this or related initiatives.

As always at the JAHC, we have striven to meet another test of this transitional era, that of attempting to reach a truly global scholarly audience. In this issue we present three pieces on archival practices in Russia: Ludmila V. Emelianova's "An Information Retrieval System Multifunctional Interface: An Instrument and Means to Catalogue Handwritten Stockpiles", Tatiana I. Filimonova's "The "Depository" Information Retrieval System: New Facilities to Research and Present Archival Documents", and Catherine V. Krushelnitskaya's "The Electronic Catalogue: A Specific Contrivance for Teaching Students Methods of Systematic Analysis of Handwritten Sources".

These three scholars succeeded in overcoming geographic and financial obstacles to present papers at the 2001 national conference of the American Association for History and Computing in Indianapolis (We also heard from several Russian scholars who wished to attend but could not afford to do so.). Their papers were very ably presented, but, of course, they also required considerable efforts on the part of our editors to prepare them for a primarily English-speaking scholarly audience. We particularly thank Gary Peatling of the Department of Information and Library Studies, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and the indefatigable Deborah Lines Andersen of the State University of New York at Albany for their editorial advise and assistance.

Deborah Lines Andersen, in her second installment of our new feature "Benchmarks", "Considering Alternate Standards", addresses yet another difficult issue of this transition period. For many scholars, the critical issue in their career, after finding a job, is the tenure review. The question of how "scholarship" is defined and what sorts of work are rewarded at that point becomes crucial. The JAHC has addressed this issue in a number of venues (see: " AAHC Suggested Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Media Activities in Tenure, Review, and Promotion" ). Andersen discusses a number of widely accepted definitions of scholarship and considers their implications for history and computing.

One of the important questions in such definitions, of course, is the place of teaching. Teaching with the Internet can be sufficiently challenging at any level. But in some regards the question of the value of the resources found on the Internet is more critical for those who work at the K-12 level than for those at the college/university level. Colleges and universities usually have access to adequate libraries and their students, however attracted to the Internet they may be, are less dependent upon it for their research than are most K-12 students. In this issue we address a number of issues critical to the K-12 use of the Internet. John K. Lee in his article, " Pre-service Social Studies Teachers' "Reckoning" with Historical Interpretations and Controversy Arising from the use of Digital Historical Resources," discusses his approach to dealing with value issues that arise from using electronic resources of widely varying quality. Mark Newmark, in "Making a Good Site Better", discusses a valuable site for teaching World History while showing how such sites can be improved.

However difficult this transition may be for us as we work out pedagogies, procurement strategies, innovative approaches to scholarly publication or prepare for tenure and promotion, it seems universally accepted that the continued growth and impact of the Internet is a given. But the pain and the confusion entailed in the transition is non the less real and must be dealt with by adapting some of the institutions upon which we depend In order to confront this emerging reality.

Jeffrey Barlow
July, 2001