A Book-Based Discipline?

“History has been and remains a book-based discipline.” This was in the AHA statement regarding the publication of dissertations, and it’s a statement that many in the historical field find to be true. Books and articles seem to be the end goal for many historians, and many times, tenure and promotion depend on these works. Many times in my young career, I have encountered statements of, “oh, this project is great, but it’s not like an article. Can you publish one based off of this?” or “that particular project doesn’t count for much to traditional historians.”  I, as someone who enjoys and probably prefers doing projects over articles and papers, feel that maybe this concept should be overhauled. Why DOESN’T it count as much? Why, if we are using the same values and methodology, should one output be devalued due to its presentation? Dr. Jason M. Kelly explains in his article “Open Access and the Historical Profession” that, “at research institutions, the book is the standard of scholarship.  Many justify this perspective by arguing that the work it takes to prepare a book is very different from other research outputs. “

In particular, one quote stood out the most to me–“Prioritizing the book over other forms of scholarship reinforces a division between those who produce work for other scholars and those who produce work for and with the public when, in fact, both academic historians and public historians should be producing work for and with other scholars and the public.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. History shouldn’t be available only to those who pay for a book or an expensive journal subscription (which JSTOR has kindly decided that individuals can purchase a membership for $200 a year.) History isn’t just for scholars–it’s for everyone.