Historians fight against the sea

Our very own Konrad is featured in an Inside Higher Ed article on the digital embargoing of dissertations. For those of you who are not aware of it, the American Historical Association has called for history dissertations to be embargoed, meaning not circulated for….a while….for…..some reason. Well, the official reasons are that presses will not publish something that is already available digitally. That strikes me as colossally stupid on the part of the presses and the AHA. If your dissertation is available on-line and nobody reads it, then how does that hurt the market (libraries) for the book you eventually revise it into? If people are downloading it insistently that would of course be a problem. Who would want to publish a book when the first draft was being read eagerly by countless fans? Scholars really don’t understand the marketplace like presses do.

Why am I writing about this? Well, partly to say that Konrad Lawson is right, that no matter how the discipline goes forward trying to pretend that the internet never happened is probably not a good idea.  More importantly, I will be using Tonio Andrade’s Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011. in my classes this Spring. Why is this relevant? Well, Tonio (who I have never met) teaches at Emory, which is really not a bad school, and has a book coming out from Princeton University Press. This despite the fact that he already published his dissertation on-line as an e-book.

Andrade’s books are on the same topic, but not at all the same book. The e-book is far more technical and academic, while the printed version is far more popular. The Dutch loss of Taiwan is a Ripping Yarn that fits in well with the theme of China’s rivalry with the West. Will this become the model of the future? I doubt it, given that not everyone is Tonio Andrade, and not all topics lend themselves to popularization. Still, it would be nice if there were some sort of national organization of historians pushing things in this direction. When you get down to it, the profession is us, and the presses are us, and tenure at D-1 schools is us. Where do we want to go?

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