Comments on: Pixel-ated? History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Tue, 02 Sep 2014 23:18:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: My publisher is going digital « Knitting Clio Thu, 16 Apr 2009 19:15:42 +0000 [...] not as alarmed by this as some (after all, I teach digital history), but am concerned about what will happen to the paper copies [...]

By: Larry Cebula Fri, 10 Apr 2009 00:44:50 +0000 I started skimming the comments at some point, but did any of you make mention of the economics of the situation?

This is inevitable and is to be welcomed. The critical element in peer-reviewed scholarship is not the printed product, but the peer review. Which is (nearly) free, and fully transferable to the digital format.

Journals have already made the leap–I will be the average article in the JAH gets far more digital readers via the commercial databases than subscribers who actually crack open the dusty old thing. Within five years most of all of our history journals will cease publication in the dead-tree format.

Digital books are a harder sell, but the advantages are even greater. Digital books will be superior in searchability, illustration, connectivity with their sources (imagine a footnote taking you straight to the primary document at the Library of Congress), and environmental impact. The Kindle has beaten the readability problem of digital text, though it has problems of its own.

By: Indyanna Tue, 24 Mar 2009 22:05:13 +0000 Here’s a case to make for keeping “real” books.

“Historian A” [me] walks into an open-stack university research library to do some, uh, research. All of the books ze found in the e-catalogue the night before are taken out, but in the folio shelves below where they should be is an arcane atlas related to the same topic. It goes straight to my carrel, opened to pp. 242-243, a sort of virtual Google Earth only from 1732. Then I’m off to find a book that the library decided to catalogue as social science (HC223.XYZ), even though anybody knows it’s really a piece of colonial southern history. It is soon wedged (open) in the tiny corner of the carrel surface not covered by the atlas. On the way back to carrel I notice that, after a long interruption, the Charles Warren Center resumed publishing _Perspectives in American History_. Curious, I look, and by total coincidence find an article by the scholar who torched HC223.XYZ in the William and Mary Quarterly, but then had second thoughts, did some more research, and instead adopted and extended its argument. Then I search out two more books footnoted in the last piece. All three lie open, precariously balanced on the top shelf of the carrel, from which I’ve evicted the charged books by somebody who hasn’t been there for three semesters. With all of this stuff lying in front of my eyes I can see patterns that I never would have even noticed if I had page-viewed the same exact things in sequential order on my laptop the night before. By the time the poor bricks-and-mortar library closes at ten that night, I’ve commandeered the table in the nearby study alcove, and have a half acre-foot of open book surface, mapping out my next hard-hitting article or at least submission.

Before academic librarians signed on to the mantras of “remote storage,” “compact shelving,” “virtual library,” and the wildly-popular-with-the-bursar “you can’t solve information literacy problems with bricks and mortar,” or “you can’t throw physical infrastructure development dollars at ignorance,” you could actually do this sort of thing. I think both infobyte zealots and academic librarians often have very little notion about the differential anthropologies and ecologies by which different disciplines actually USE the stuff they hold.

When they invent scholarly analogues to the famous Bloomberg terminals (only with twelve or fifteen simultaneous screens rather than the mere three you would need to corner the market on Brazillian wheat) they can talk to me about getting beyond paper books.

By: PhDinHistory Tue, 24 Mar 2009 19:50:04 +0000 Don’t despair. Genealogists have long loved their microfilm. And know they have developed technology for converting microfilm into digital documents. I for one am grateful for the records that were saved by microfilm and will now be made available to millions via the Internet.

By: Historiann Tue, 24 Mar 2009 18:10:37 +0000 Adam–I appreciate your viewpoint, but I would say that that child of tomorrow that you describe as “frustrated beyond consolation” might instead console herself by toddling over to a dictionary–hard copy or on-line, I don’t care–and learning a new word on her own steam, which might inspire curiosity about the history of language and ideas. I get the ease and pleasure of having it all at your fingertips when you want it, how you want it–but learning problem-solving skills by dealing with the “old media” might just be good for you. (Didn’t your parents ever tell you that the stuff that was really valuable in life didn’t come easily?)

I’ve never met anyone in my lifetime who really loved their microfilm or microfiche, although most of us recognize that it did permit people away from archival or hard-copy sources access to information they otherwise wouldn’t have had. What a tragedy it would have been for American scholarship if our libraries had all been carried off in a fit of Microfilm Triumphalism!

By: Adam Crymble Tue, 24 Mar 2009 17:46:20 +0000 Historiann,

Aren’t microfilms and microfiche just ways of creating higher density repositories? Weren’t 5-1/2′ floppy disks an upgrade on that density? Are DVDs and the internet not an upgrade on that still?

When an innovation is replaced by something new that doesn’t mean it failed. All inventions are standing on the shoulders of giants, as they say.

Even traditional books have innovated. I’m sure as a historian you have come across books without tables of contents, indexes, appendices, footnotes. Or the dreaded 87 word chapter title. Thank goodness someone took it upon themselves to innovate beyond those.

One day soon I imagine someone perhaps not yet born will be frustrated beyond consolation when they come across a word or term in a book they want more information on. No matter how hard they try they will not be able to find a link anywhere between the book covers that will explain it to them. “How utterly inefficient” they will say.

By: Historiann Tue, 24 Mar 2009 17:12:04 +0000 Adam–don’t get ahead of yourself. You sound like you’re engaging in more than a little e-book triumphalism. Remember these proclamations?

“Now that microfilm and microfiche are here, we don’t need books any more!”

“5-1/2 inch floppy discs are the medium to take us into the new century!”

“Blogs are new media, making newspapers irrelevant!”

What do you think your little e-book reader will look like 25 years from now? Will you be able to transfer all of those books you bought for a 2009 Kindle to your 2015 or 2024 or 2034 reader? We’ll see.

By the way, my book is on Google books, so it looks like I’m in the “infinite archive” already. (And that archive is only “infinite” so long as the juice holds out, whereas books are readable so long as there is daylight.) There is no such thing as an irreplaceable technology, but books have an excellent track record compared to other ways of storing information (stone tablets, microfilm/fiche, 5-1/2 inch discs, 3-1/2 inch discs, etc.) They’ve stood the test of time in ways that other media and technologies haven’t. Thank goodness universities didn’t go all-microfiche back in the 1940s.

By: Adam Crymble Tue, 24 Mar 2009 16:57:51 +0000 While I can appreciate that some people do not enjoy reading off monitors for long periods of time, many of us are not phased by this at all.

Several groups of people are currently dedicating their careers towards finding better ways to provide digital content in formats that are easier to ingest and easier on the eyes.

Many free programs allow you to “write” notes in the margins of digital books. No matter how close you live to the library or local bookstore, downloading or viewing a book online will always be faster and use less gas (or air-miles in the case of archival materials held on another continent).

And like it or not, this is the current trend. You can embrace it and get in on the ground floor, ensuring your hard work is displayed prominently in the infinite archive, or resist and be forgotten when the last copy of your book turns to dust. Embrace.

By: susurro Tue, 24 Mar 2009 15:24:11 +0000 yes. you’re right. I’ve actually forgotten about the journal collections at our uni partially b/c they are phasing them out. it’s gone the way of microfiche. and yet, for those journals that ended before the digital age, what does that mean for research? Our Women’s center currently houses one of the largest archives on campus of non-digital journals and they have no real check out system; the same goes for the ethnic studies journals (housed by ES) at a colleague’s institution . . .

seems like this is a larger thought for me probably rapidly becoming O/T . . . I’m off to ponder.

By: Historiann Tue, 24 Mar 2009 15:13:34 +0000 Susurro–good point about e-journals versus e-books. I think e-journal articles don’t have the same stigma, because most of us access journal articles on line now instead of in hard copy. (Maybe I’m extrapolating my experience, but I haven’t been down to the moveable shelves in the library basement to get a journal article in a bound volume on a shelf for 4-5 years now.) But, at least among historians and I would assume most lit people, books are still read as material objects, and books are vitally important.