Is it a problem with the academy?

I found this week’s reading to be very enlightening in terms of all of the different copyright laws and the way they have changed over the years. The articles, particularly the ones by Lessig, Suber, and Willinsky are convincing in that open access scholarship benefits more and allows libraries to do more with their funding than pay huge subscription fees. I will certainly miss the ease of which I can obtain scholarly articles when I am no longer a graduate student. Additionally, Anderson’s article pointed out something I had never thought of before. The scholars doing the research are funded at (often) public universities, peer reviewed by others on a university payroll and then the university library has to turn around and pay big bucks to access the eventual final product. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Except, I began to think, “what if I ever publish an article?” Ideally, I’d like to publish in a reputable journal that I can cite on a CV and people will know it. I know I’m not alone. Many scholars, whether they be students, professors, or independent researchers want the prestige that comes with getting published by a journal that is peer-reviewed and has the stamp of approval by the academy. It might be my ignorance on the subject, but are there open access history journals that are on the same level as the Journal of American History¬† (JAH) or other such journals? Where would one publish online and still garner the same respect as if you published with JAH? I searched very quickly and noted that the JAH is still very much paid access. The American Historical Association’s news magazine, Perspectives, is available full-text on their website but their American Historical Review is still paid access.

So is the problem fully an economic one? Or does there need to be a shift in the way universities and the history profession view online publishing, especially through an open access platform? If the benefits are not there to publish your original research in an open access platform that is not well-respected, what is the point? (Yes, I know the information gets out and more readers may recognize your work, but for historians who seek career advancement or recognition, this might be a major stumbling block to solving the open access conundrum.)

I’m still feeling conflicted about open access. I can see both sides and am not sure where my loyalties lie, though in preference of a democratic access to information and after reading about the Te Papa museum’s experience, I would err on the side of more open-access availability.


I edited a page about a train wreck that occurred in Orange, VA in 1888. I have previously completed primary source research on the wreck and decided to add information to its pretty short Wikipedia page. I entered two paragraphs of text and cited information with primary source material, just to see what would happen. I wrote the entry on Tuesday and so far I’m still the most recent edit. In hindsight, this was probably a much too narrow topic to see any really editing movement. But I was amazed at how easy it was to create an account and edit a page!

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1 Response to Is it a problem with the academy?

  1. April Loizou says:

    I totally agree about being a graduate student…I love being able to look up articles any time I want to without jumping through a ton of hoops!

    I think in general I have the same thoughts. It’s easy for me to think about how much I (as a student) love getting to read journals because they’re currently free for me to access. But if I put myself in the shoes of a scholar, there seems to be a certain elevation in status with publishing under a scholarly journal. If it’s hard to get to/read in the first place, it must be a valuable resource. At least, that’s where my brain typically goes.

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