Interesting Study Issued: “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians”

textbook-thumb-200x282-80797Ithaka S+R has issued a report funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities that will be of interest to historians and other social science scholars entitled, “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians.” It deals with standards and practices of historians in the area of content discovery, information management, scholarly analysis, collaboration, library use, the writing process, professional interactions, and publication. The pdf is available here:

Some of the findings are fascinating, others are mundane. Here is a set of comments from the report which I found of interest:

  • “The digitization of primary sources and finding aids has shifted many aspects of the archival research process for historians. Relatively few interviewees worked only with tangible primary sources.”
  • “The widespread use of digital cameras and other scanning equipment to capture source materials is perhaps the single most significant shift in research practices among historians, and one with as-yet largely unrecognized implications for the work of historical research and its support.”
  • “The ‘open’ web is often the primary search tool for locating archival collections that are held by independent organizations or government offices. Learning the networks of organizations related to a topic is a central part of the discovery process, and the open web has become a ubiquitous, enabling tool for historians.”
  • “The full-text search capabilities that Google Books presents historians appear to have had a profound effect on their research practice.”
  • “No one approach emerged as a standard for organizing research notes, physically or digitally, and it was clear that this is another part of the highly personalized research process for historians. Early on in a project, interviewees reported using a number of different, mostly folder-based, approaches to organizing content, where topic or author were the dominant criteria.”
  • “Note taking took many forms for interviewees. Some continue to take notes by hand, some in Word or Excel documents, and a few reported taking notes in a database or other software tool.”
  • “Citation management, the work to track the sources that comprise one’s bibliography, is a laborious but vital process for historians, one that ensures integrity of the research output. Citation management practices varied dramatically for interviewees, and are often dependent on the scope of the project….Many researchers choose to manage citations “by hand” because of the complex nature of their primary sources, which are not sufficiently well-addressed by many of the available citation management tools. Overall, there was very low adoption and application of citation management software among interviewees.”
  • “Blogging has emerged as a significant form for scholarly communication among some historians, and is seen as one mode of engagement with digital scholarship. PhD students and younger scholars reported more active use of blogs as part of their scholarly communication strategy. Interviewees who blog do not view this format as a substitute for other formal publications, but approached it as a supplement and enhancement to their scholarship.”
  • “Many interviewees discussed the motivation and benefits of digital scholarship initiatives in terms of “engaging the public” and making history more accessible to the public. Public history has a long legacy, but it has been viewed in different lights by different departments. At this point, however, it is impossible to ignore the role of public history in the adoption of digital methods in the discipline. Public history, and at the very least a commitment to making historical scholarship accessible to a public audience (as opposed to a scholarly audience), came forth as a clear motivator for most interviewees who are engaged in digital scholarship. In some cases, where scholars are using public information as a source for their scholarship, including crowd sourcing or the use of publicly-generated sources, scholars feel a commitment to share the output of their work with public in an open, accessible way.”
  • “The promotion tenure process for history faculty is often raised as an area of concern in discussions about digital scholarship. Current tenure standards and requirements remain heavily focused on the monograph and articles published in peer review, scholarly journals, and the interviews suggested that this status quo is still in place. As expected, some history scholars are exploring new methods of digital scholarship and scholarly communication, and are struggling to understand how the academic world will evaluate and accept (or not accept) their scholarship.”

I would recommend the report to anyone with an interest in this aspect of historical scholarship.

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4 Responses to Interesting Study Issued: “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians”

  1. Thanks for this link–Great clarification for all of us who love History, who write History & who are working valiantly to keep up with History (i.e. anything more than ten minutes old ;))


  2. Pingback: Digital databases and digital research tools | Connie's Digital History

  3. Pingback: Digital databases and digital research tools | Digital History

  4. Pingback: Organizing Archival Research – Digitizing History

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