¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 As an account of the early years of digital history and digital humanities, this submission works very well. The point is well made—and could be made more often and more sharply—that the democratic aspirations of those working in digital scholarship and digital pedagogy have usually been uneven and problematic. For instance, “democracy as access” is not only a very thin definition of democracy but also suggests a confusion in peoples’ minds that broader access must be more democratic. And democratizing the subject matter of historians and humanists has by no means democratized “history” in the sense of the historical profession. James Kloppenberg is used to make the point that democracy is an ever-receding goal, but the authors do not seem to see that as a problem that demands that we propose solutions. This reader’s view is the opposite, leading to a criticism of the submission, two paragraphs below.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 One strong point of the submission is that it considers ethical issues beyond those inherent in open access itself—democracy in addition to open access. By way of contrast, Martin Paul Eve is quoted and cited throughout the submission. Eve expresses a level of technological sophistication that the authors seem to lack, yet, to my knowledge, he has not asked questions more searching than how publications can be open access. The Open Library of the Humanities, with which he is identified, is an amazing achievement, but he has not addressed the relationship between democracy and open access. A recent article by Eve and Paula Clemente Vega and Caroline Vega, “Lessons from the Open Library of the Humanities,” Liber Quarterly 30:1 (2020): 1–18, covers the challenges of funding open access and describes the labor that has gone into OLH. This article evinces technological and financial savvy far beyond that of the current submission, yet it never enters the ethical territory in which the authors want to work.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 This criticism alluded to above is that the authors bundle together a variety of internet-based resources, then focus at the end of their essay on a very good on-line textbook. Their bundling impulse, which seems to suggest their own democratic pro-access leanings, is correct. These resources do share a family resemblance and do belong together: (1) primary sources published on the internet, (2) on-line editions of a number of works or collections, (3) open access monographs, (4) open access journal articles, and (5) OER textbooks. The problem here is the authors fail to acknowledge that other historians and humanists understand open access very differently when it comes to the various resources in that list. In this, the authors are side-stepping any problems and seem to be evading a major problem in their own academic area. A revision of this essay should address this. It is quite possible, for instance, for historians to welcome OER textbooks yet denounce a requirement for open access journal articles. The authors’ title, “History Can Be Open Source: Democratic Dreams and the Rise of Digital History,” does not fit the submission very well as long as this problem remains unaddressed. I would like to outline one way the problem can be addressed, not to corral the authors into a solution but to suggest the challenge of identifying a solution that this submission requires but actually evades.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The concern with democracy that motivated much early digital history and digital humanities has evolved into an insistence, growing little by little, that publicly-funded scholarly work be for the public good. This evolution brings its own definitional problems, of course, but it has clarified the premise that if one’s work as a scholar is supported by public funds then the results of that work should be accessible to the public as a part of scholars’ and presses’ role in serving the public that pays their bills. This is an axiom of the European Plan S. It has been sharply critiqued by those who believe that editors and copyeditors would lose their source of compensation under Plan S. Without rehearsing the anti-Plan-S argument here, let it suffice to say in response the source of compensation, like indeed often that of the labor of editors and copyeditors is public funds, so that the same pro-open-access arguments that are made about scholars apply equally to editors and copyeditors. Many of those rebuffing open access are themselves paid from public monies.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Money then must be addressed. The authors of the submission note, correctly, that historians are not used to paying publishing fees. The figure they mention ($600–700) seems quite low—though bless their hearts for trying to save historians money. Here I would like to offer a counterargument. Historians and humanists could get used to paying publishing fees as a good investment. A journal article is a plus for tenure and promotion. Many historians and humanists already pay more than $700 of their own money on conference travel each year. Why not redirect that to a publishing fee when needed? Moreover, I want to push this point further. Authors’ publishing is already monetized but the figures are hidden. Some scholars received funding from their institutions or other organizations for travel, research, graduate assistants, and the like; most do not received such funding. If publication required a statement of funding sources—and if authors responded honestly—then we would have a clear picture of the money undergirding historians’ publications. Of course, much of that money, even at private institutions, has public sources. One might think that many poorly compensated historians, who are also those unlikely to publish in high-profile journals, would welcome such a picture as a first step in a process of democratizing the profession.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Eve, Vega, and Edwards argue for a different funding model. Their argument seems convincing—and their model seems to have worked so far—but once again it is purely financial and it never addresses ethics, democracy, or the public good, unless one assumes that those are all subsumed into open access itself.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 We should start taking first steps. The authors write about neoliberalism as though it were a new force in the historical profession, but it has been neoliberal for decades. The rate of gain of the economic value of a publication in a journal like the AHR, just like that of salaries of historians in, say, the top 200 institutions, is higher than that of the compensation of historians at large and than that of per-student expenditures for education in history courses in most institutions. Neoliberalism is already here in the profession, along with a poor distribution of public funds. It seems hard to avoid the conclusion that public funds are being used to promote the private good of a small number of historians and, at best, their students. If we construe the public as all students in history courses, it seems evident that most pay in more than they get out. They and their instructors are outside the benefits of neoliberalism. Once again, critics of Plan S sometimes claim that open access would mean uneven access to publishing opportunities—implying that benefits would be unequally distributed—but we were there long before Plan S was conceived.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 In this review, I am using the word “problem” often enough, yet if we consider the vast number of contingent, adjunct, part-time, unemployed, and underemployed historians and other scholars—all of them in those states while benefits accrue increasingly to the top of the profession—”crisis” is a more appropriate term.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Open access would be a revolution in historical scholarship. By combining a variety of open resources, the authors give too much cover to lukewarm moderates who will praise the American Yawp while impeding open access itself. The COVID19 pandemic has shown us that publicly funded research and scholarship can be made open: much of the relevant work has been made open for researchers to use with public health as their goal. Why not historical journals? I would like the authors to recognize that there is a problem in historical publication and, even if they have no solution to propose, not to design a landscape that allows people to walk around the problems.