There has been extensive commentary on the American Historical Association’s statement on 6-year dissertation embargoes and I’ve only read a little of it.
But I really liked Dr. Jason Kelly’s essay Open Access and the Historical Profession, which spurred further thoughts which may or may not have been mentioned in this debate (as well as enlightened me on the copyright perspectives of Leo Tolstoy and Woody Guthrie).
I doubt it is a new issue for the profession, but if one must publish a book to be a historian, and publishers will only publish books that will sell, why is saleability allowed to determine what history is written? Surely there is history worth writing that wouldn’t necessarily sell many books. In this sense, the market as a driver seems analogous to basic vs. applied research in the sciences.
For publishers, distributing knowledge is still a financial decision, and this means that the information contained in them is a commodity.
It doesn’t seem advantageous to a discipline to hide its research, or to limit it to topics with popular appeal.
Second, publishers of history books seem to be unaware of the increasingly prevalent “freemium” model. While this isn’t an exact analogy, because a dissertation isn’t the same as a book, it seems entirely possible that an openly available dissertation would drive book sales, not weaken them.
Finally, the difficulty in publishing a book today might have been ameliorated if the profession had engaged with open access earlier (or at least taken more interest in the serials crisis). It’s now generally accepted that the reason libraries buy fewer books, thereby putting university presses in difficulty, is that serials costs (particularly in the “big deals”) have eaten up an increasing percentage of library budgets. Libraries could afford a lot more history books from university presses if STEM journals transitioned to open access.
…a deeper intervention into the ecology of knowledge production and exchange is necessary.