Increasing Commercialization of Knowledge

I teach AP Research. An incredible class that forces high school students to do a lot of interesting work, particularly write a “lit review”. This may be the single most difficult thing I have ever tried to teach students. Seriously. It hits every challenge – writing, reading, nuanced arguments, time, research, and more. One of the biggest barriers we run up against is simple: access to existing scholarship. I am so lucky that my employer pays for a JSTOR subscription. Absent that, I’m not totally sure what we would do to find anything usable.

Recently I joined the American Historical Association. I feel like an impostor (no PhD), but I really wanted access to recent issues of the American Historical Review and The History Teacher and JSTOR has about a four year lag on recent AHR scholarship. Amazingly, the very first issue I received of Perspectives on History (the “newsmagazine of the American Historical Association”) included “Locked Out: Research Access a Challenge for the Discipline”. The article details a range of historians and their struggles to gain access to basic information necessary to  do their work; particularly high school teachers, public historians, historians at lesser known institutions, and those who are just trying to work independently. Key passage:

“The problem has grown as the nature of information has changed, from a democratic public resource during the hey-day of the public library movement of the early 20th century to the increasing commercialization of knowledge by the new millennium. As Bernard Reilly of the Center for Research Libraries put it, “Now most of the world’s knowledge is hosted not by libraries, but by corporations like Elsevier, JSTOR, ProQuest, the New York Times, and Bloomberg. That created an enormous shift in the way knowledge is accessed that puts universities in a fairly strong position to serve well their faculty and employees, but not serve well the rest of the citizenry.” The result is a scholarly landscape defined by new forms of inequality, opening up access in some ways but closing it off in others. For those excluded, these changes are creating ” a real moment of crisis,” as Reilly put it.”

The expense of all of it makes me miss Aaron Swartz even more.

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