These questions are intended to give you an overview of the proposed changes to NHPRC grants programs. We want to hear from you by March 31, 2014, and the Commission must approve them before they are final.
Frequently Asked Questions
What changes are being considered for the NHPRC grants program?
The National Historical Publications and Records Commission has developed draft grant announcements in six categories:
- Access to Historical Records – projects to support preserving and processing primary source materials.
- Literacy & Engagement with Historical Records — projects to explore ways to improve digital literacy and encourage citizen engagement with historical records.
- Online Publishing of Historical Records – projects to publish historical records online, including, compiling, digitizing, transcribing, and annotating documentary source materials.
- Publishing Historical Records Online: Transition Support – projects to assist print-only documentary editions and documentary editions available only through paid subscriptions to complete their projects and/or provide free online access.
- State Board Programming Grants – projects by state historical records advisory boards to enhance access to historical records, increase citizen engagement with records, and provide learning and development opportunities for students, citizens and professional archivists.
- State Government Electronic Records — projects to accession, describe, preserve, and provide access to state government electronic records of enduring value.
If approved by the Commission, when do these changes take effect?
The changes begin in the next grants cycle, affecting project beginning in 2015. Deadlines are to be determined and will vary among programs. We have not changed our policy on draft applications; those may be submitted two months before the final deadlines, giving staff enough time to review and share suggestions with you. Please check our Grant Announcement page in mid-April.
Why are you proposing these these changes?
The NHPRC has long been focused on supporting public access to the nation’s most significant historical records, and toward that end, we began funding documentary editions of those records in the 1960s. In the mid-1970s, our mission expanded to include funding projects at the state level and records preservation and access.
Over the past two years, the NHPRC staff has been reviewing the grants programs and Commission priorities with external advisors, representatives of professional associations, the Commissioners, leadership at the National Archives, and the Archivist of the United States. We have conducted a review of research and literature of the various archives and editing fields. Complementing new initiatives at the National Archives that emphasize access and use of the records of government, we will publish a new report The Digital Citizen and the American Record, which has three overarching Calls to Action:
- Accelerate digital literacy and citizen engagement.
- Create a National Partnership for Digital Government with state and local government archives.
- Expand online publishing of historical records.
With these goals in mind, we redesigned the new programs for our upcoming grant cycles.
Where do I go to find more information?
We’ve created a section on our blog Annotation (http://blogs.archives.gov/nhprc/ ) which includes an overview of each proposed program, a PDF of the Draft Grant Announcement, and information on how to participate in webinar discussions over the next two weeks. We welcome your comments and encourage you to share your ideas.
I have received NHPRC grants for an ongoing historical documentary edition. What do these proposed changes mean to my project?
Ongoing documentary edition projects have two options. If you are already publishing an online edition that provides free access to the public, you should apply under the Online Publishing of Historical Records category.
If you are an ongoing documentary edition that has received NHPRC grants but you do not provide free online access to your edition, you should apply under the Publishing Historical Records Online: Transition Support category. Our hope is that grant funds will assist you in online publication of your work. However, there are a small number of projects that cannot publish online editions or provide free access. We will provide funds for print-only projects as long as their completion date is no later than FY 2018.
What do you mean by “free online access?”
People should be able to view your entire online collection for free, without having to pay fees or subscriptions. Ideally, the entire collection should be fully searchable as well. However, we consider a PDF of individual print volumes available for free on the web as meeting the requirement. If you have some other method of providing free online access, please let us know.
We want to digitize already-processed collections and put them online. Where do we go?
The NHPRC considers digitizing collections for online access as a preliminary form of publishing. We no longer support a stand-alone Digitization grant program, and you should apply under the Online Publishing of Historical Records program. We have increased the number and budget of the new program to accommodate new digital projects.
We need to process archival collections and may want to put these materials online. Where do we go?
For archival processing of historical records, read the grant announcement entitled Access to Historical Records. If as part of the project plans, you also want to digitize records, you may include that activity in the proposal.
We have an electronic records processing and access project, and in the past, NHPRC has offered grants in Electronic Records. Where do we go?
If your institution is a state archives and you are interested in preserving and making available your permanent records, or in expanding your capacity to do so, you should apply in the State Government Electronic Records category. The aim of this category is to build capacity in the states for access to government electronic records. The program also encourages collaboration, so if your state archives wants to work with other types of archives to develop this capacity, the NHPRC will welcome those applications.
If your project is to process and provide access to your institution’s electronic records or those collections deposited in your repository, you should apply under the Access to Historical Records category.
What else is eligible under the proposed Access to Historical Records category?
Traditional archives processing projects that may include a digitization component as a part of your processing activities, electronic records processing, preservation digitization or reformatting of unstable audio and visual records.
What is new about the State Board Programming Grants category?
As before, only state boards, or their fiscal agents, are eligible to apply. Our intent is to promote projects at the boards that emphasize public access to historical records within the state. We are encouraging state boards to take innovative and creative approaches to meet this goal.
What kinds of projects are you looking for under the proposed Literacy and Engagement with Historical Records category?
Our initial emphasis is in three areas: educational partnerships to teach digital archiving skills; innovative tools and applications, include mobile apps; and new or ongoing efforts to use crowdsourcing to provide greater access to online historical records.
26 thoughts on “[updated] OVERVIEW OF PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE NHPRC GRANTS PROGRAM”
The NHPRC has been telling us for years that we need to figure out digital publication of historical editions. So it should not be a real surprise that they are now going to mandate it going forward. They have also been telling us for years that they want our digital publications to be available for free, despite the fact that our print publications have never been free to purchase, though they are free to use after being purchased by libraries.
Broadest Possible Access
I agree with the NHPRC that digital publication is the way forward for editions. Print editions were the best means to making documents widely accessible and understandable in the 20th century, but they are not the best way to do things now. That is hard for some of us to accept, as we understand the high levels of scholarship that go into these editions, and their unique role in preserving and popularizing America’s historical past. Many editions are aimed at a scholarly audience, and while they are used by students in college and high school and by the general public, they are not reaching as many people as they might do. As editors we need to seize the opportunity of digital publication to bring these documents to the broadest possible audience–and a free, digital edition is the way to do it.
Digitizing historical documents is not the same as creating an edition of digitized documents, and editors have to work to adapt the practices developed for limited print publication to the new media. An editor’s expertise in selecting documents for inclusion or for focused attention, transcribing documents accurately, and providing context for the documents remains essential for broad access. That should be our base goal going forward, but we can also take advantage of the tools of digital humanists as we redevelop editions for a networked, collaborative world.
Costs of publishing free digital editions:
If NHPRC mandates free online publication, it needs to provide editors with a publishing platform through the National Archives or Library of Congress–some federally funded and guaranteed site that is maintained by the government. Digital publications are unlike print publications. The costs of making them available do not end when the edition is published, servers need to be maintained, digital editions may need to be migrated to newer software platforms in order to remain operational, and backups need to be made and preserved. We cannot expect universities, presses, historical societies, and other institutions to take on these long-term responsibilities without the resources to do so. Editors who publish their editions on project websites will have to make some arrangement to keep these editions viable after the projects have been completed, a cost that they will not be compensated for going forward. Completed editing projects will close, their editors will retire at some point, and they need to be able to walk away from their publications and move on. It is not feasible to expect that editors, universities, businesses and other organizations to dedicate resources in perpetuity to a finished edition. In order for free digital publication to be a fair requirement, the NHPRC has to offer server space at the very least for editors to mount their works. More realistically, it needs to dedicate its own resources to the care and preservation of the completed digital editions it funds.
If the NHPRC’s transition grant program will allow editors to budget funds to compensate their publishers to gain the right to put freely accessible PDF versions of their editions online at some point (maybe allowing presses to publish in book form for a few years before the free version becomes accessible), there may be a way out for existing long-term editions. PDF publication, as we see through the wide use of Google Books, is far better than no online access, but going forward editors can do so much more.
Competition between Digital Editions and Digital Archives
The NHPRC plans to include creating an imaged digital archive in the Publishing Online Documents grant program, so that these projects will compete directly with more traditional documentary editions. Some editors fear that the NHPRC will be more likely to support quicker “preliminary forms of publication” rather than the longer-term work involved in making these documents truly accessible for the public. As long as the NHPRC retains its commitment to quality digital publications, with the ease of access seen as a primary measure of quality, digital publication, either in image or transcribed form should not be a threat. Making an image-based digital edition broadly usable is not the same as scanning an archival collection and mounting it without any real searchability. Working on more user-friendly image editions may also open up new partnerships between editors and archives.
One drawback of archives-based digital publication of collections is that the digital publications will likely be incomplete. Editors usually create thematic research collections, that draw documents from many archival collections and other sources, in an effort to create a comprehensive collection of all known documents on a person or subject. The Sanger Papers offer a good example–our comprehensive microfilm contains over 95,000 documents with the majority coming from two large collections at the Library of Congress (45,000 docs) and one at the Sophia Smith Collection (35,000 docs). But there were dozens of other Smith collections with Sanger items (5,000), and we located almost 11,000 documents scattered in other archives and private collections–among them some of the most candid and significant documents in the collection. Archival digitization will publish one collection, perhaps in its entirety, but the value that editors add by locating and gathering all related documents can’t be overstated. It is the only way to produce a true thematic collection on a topic of historical importance.
Selected editions will still have an important place, even when complete digital image editions are available. Scholars and advanced students want and need access to the complete collection for deep research on the main topic, or to investigate specific or related events or issues. But students and the general public can best gain a rich understanding of a topic or person by reading the most significant texts and having curated access to other texts (when the editor points to related digitized documents in a footnote, for example). Transcription is still a critical access tool, especially for documents that are handwritten or use archaic language.
What we gain from digital publication
The best benefit of digital publication is the broad audience that we want for our work. For all the effort that we put into print editions, a disappointingly small number are printed, most available in university research libraries that are not accessible to the general public. We have no easy way to know how often they are being used. We can track citations and book sales, but we don’t know about the vast majority of users. And if we don’t know who they are and what they are doing with the volumes, we aren’t able to tailor our work to their needs. We only see the scholarly use for the most part. With digital publication, more people can access the editions and we can learn from their usage.
The constraints of print publication will be eased as we move towards digital editions as our main products. Artificial constraints on the size of an edition and the length of annotation driven by the realities of publishing physical books, will be eased. We can edit as many or as few documents as we feel are historically significant, rather than having to eliminate some to fit into an arbitrary page limit, or abandon a project because it is too small for a book length edition. Likewise, with the creation of indexes as metadata rather than pages in a book, we can explore deeper and more varied subject indexing, and can investigate using maps and timelines and other digital tools to offer different access points to a document. We can employ tools like topic modeling to permit computer-aided analysis that can help users define a research question.
We may be able to do away with the notion of the “volume” as a primary product of an editing project. Digital publication enables us to start thinking about different units of publication. An editing project could release all its transcriptions once they are proofread as an initial publication or it could publish each year’s documents and annotation as they are completed. Updates can be made immediately, without waiting for second press runs. We can slice and dice a set of documents in any way that makes sense, and release more frequent publications that would enable the public to have quicker access to results of the project’s work. Even if completing all the work involved might take a long time, by publishing it as a more fluid process we will allow quicker access.
A Challenge that Can Re-energize Editing
Moving to digital publication offers editors an opportunity to redesign the scholarly edition for a new audience and media. We need to challenge our traditional practices by adopting the values of the digital humanities community–open access, more collaboration, and engaging with our audiences. That may mean shaking things up, rethinking what kinds of annotation we really need to include in our texts (when our users can get rich and generally accurate online encyclopedia entries on many of the topics, individuals and events mentioned within them). We may need to revisit our transcription guidelines for easier and more accurate text searching, and may rethink how we transcribe documents when a high-quality image of the original document is available to our readers with a click.
The expertise that editors build on their topics of study informs all the work that we do–from selecting documents, to accurately transcribing them, introducing and explaining them, and linking them to a larger body of primary and secondary sources. Print publication limits our ability to bring these documents to the public and limits the way that the public uses them. We need to embrace digital publication, and push ourselves to create editions for this new century that retain all that is good from the previous one.
Sometimes applying generalities to particular cases can help to clarify an issue. At the risk of appearing self-centered, let me do that by explaining how the new NHPRC guidelines would affect the project I head and know best, The Papers of Andrew Jackson.
Let it first be said that ours is not a deadbeat project or a technological dinosaur. We’ve published three volumes since 2007, each one over 800 pages long and each one covering a full presidential year. NHPRC has seemed to be very pleased with our recent progress, as has NEH, which just raised our grant to its highest level ever. Our NEH contact calls the Jackson Papers “a model project.”
We love the idea of online presentation. The more people that can get to our work, the better. For that reason, fully five years ago we signed a contract to have all our volumes, past and future, incorporated into the University of Virginia Press’s Rotunda digital stable. If all goes well, our finished volumes may start appearing on Rotunda as soon as a year from now. (They would have been up by now, had Rotunda’s work schedule not been diverted by the NHPRC itself for “Founders Online.”) It will then be possible to instantly locate a person, subject, or event in our edition and all the other Rotunda editions through a single search. Because Rotunda is a major and well-established operation, by joining it we will also have acquired as much assurance as can be had in a changing world that our work will remain digitally accessible to future generations.
We could not have done better for ourselves or our public than to sign up with Rotunda. But the advanced design and coding that make Rotunda user-friendly also cost money. Rotunda recoups that cost through a subscription fee. Although Rotunda editions are as free to a user at a subscribing institution as a book is to the borrower at a library, this does not meet the NHPRC’s stringent standard for eligibility under the proposed “Online Publishing of Historical Records” category. The draft language is absolute: “The Commission will not consider proposals that charge for access.” Nor will our project be eligible under the “Publishing Historical Records Online: Transition Support” category, which likewise requires projects to “provide free online access” or “be finished” within three years.
Under the proposed guidelines, the Jackson project will therefore be absolutely and categorically excluded from NHPRC funding. To regain eligibility, we would have to withdraw from Rotunda, with all of its added features and interconnectivity, and instead arrange to dump our material onto a makeshift standalone website, with no promise of permanence. Does this make any sense?
Ostensibly, under the new rules, the work that goes into crafting a documentary edition may continue to be funded (as long as its results are posted free online). Grants will be awarded “for all stages of publishing historical records online, including compiling, digitizing, transcribing, and annotating documentary source materials.” Still there is a pronounced tilt in emphasis toward “digitizing”—that is, toward the medium of disseminating the edition rather than the work of creating it. A further downgrading of editorial work is this: “Applicants are encouraged to consider using crowd-sourcing methods for preliminary document transcription activities.” Anyone who has ever wrestled with Andrew Jackson’s handwriting—to say nothing of Martin Van Buren’s or John C. Calhoun’s—will have a good laugh at that one.
Indeed, the assumption that appears to run through the new guidelines is that the edition is already somehow there—that the “records” or “collections” composing it are all lined up and need only to be copied over, digitized, and mounted, through a process requiring more mechanical than historical expertise. This might be true, or partially true, for a single sequential document like a diary. But for a “papers” edition like ours, drawing on a made archive, it is grotesquely false. The first task of the historical editor is simply to identify what a document is. You can’t present anything, online or otherwise, until you know what it is and where it belongs. Our documents come from hundreds of different places. Many carry no identifiers—dates, signatures, notations—telling what they are, who wrote them, when, or why. In raw form, they’re useless. One wouldn’t know where to put them in an edition or even if they belonged in it or not.
Here are five concrete cases of the scholarly work that goes into a historical edition, all drawn from the two most recent volumes of The Papers of Andrew Jackson. I’m sure other editors could multiply these examples without limit.
1. In January 1830, Jackson called in three Cabinet members to chew them out for ostracizing Secretary of War John Eaton and his wife Margaret. This was a central moment in the famous “Eaton affair,” which according to Jackson’s best biographer determined the course of American political history for the next thirty years. One Cabinet officer, Secretary of the Navy John Branch, sent Jackson a carefully considered reply. We know it was carefully considered because he rewrote it three times, each tamer than the last. The first, overtly hostile version, is in Branch’s papers at the University of North Carolina, where we found it. It’s loose and unidentified in that collection, because it’s addressed simply “Dr. Sir” and has no date or signature. You have to already know about the later versions to realize what it is. And the real eye-opener is that it’s not in Branch’s handwriting. It’s in the handwriting of Jackson’s nephew, private secretary, and personal protégé Andrew Jackson Donelson. Historians have long known that Jackson and Donelson disagreed over the Eaton affair. They never suspected, before this, that Donelson was drafting angry ripostes to Jackson for his adversaries to use.
2. In 1830 Jackson got a letter written in French from someone signing himself “Renodau.” Not reading French, Jackson turned it over “for the young Ladies to translate.” It wound up in Edward Livingston’s papers, now at Princeton. Turns out it’s a letter, written on the author’s recent return from Haiti, warning of a plot being hatched by the government there to foment a massive slave revolt in Louisiana. By inspecting ships’ passenger manifests and then comparing handwriting, we determined that “Renodau” was William S. Phiquepal D’Arusmont, a prominent Pestalozzian educator who was also the partner and soon-to-be husband of the renowned reformer Frances Wright. He had been in Haiti to deliver freed slaves from Wright’s famed emancipationist colony at Nashoba, Tennessee. We printed the letter with translation and an identification of the author.
3. In Jackson’s papers in the Library of Congress is a four-page scrawled document in Jackson’s handwriting. It’s a very dense and confusing narration of events in which he was involved over a period of years, written in third person. It’s got no date or anything else to explain when it was written or why. In consequence, it’s dumped in with hundreds of pages of other loose manuscripts at the back end of the Library’s collection. Because of that, and also because it’s almost completely unreadable at first sight, no historian has ever made use of it. We figured out what it is: a draft of an editorial in the Washington Globe newspaper, giving Jackson’s version of the origins of the famous “Seminole War” controversy that estranged him from his vice-president John C. Calhoun. We were able to date its composition precisely within forty-eight hours. We also thus discovered something no one had ever suspected before: that Jackson, while president, was ghost-writing editorials for the press.
4. On May 26, 1870 (note the date), the Vicksburg Daily Herald printed a purported letter from Jackson written on November 13, 1831. It’s a very juicy letter, explaining Jackson’s plans to “give the death blow to nullification.” No one had suspected its existence until Tom Coens of our staff found it in an online newspaper database. (To do this required using some very ingenious filtering techniques: if you simply search something like “Andrew Jackson,” you’ll be inundated with stuff you don’t want. Tom has explained these techniques at the Association for Documentary Editing, and other editors are now using them.) But two questions arose even after we found the letter: is it genuine (no manuscript survives), and who was it written to? Our knowledge of Jackson’s phraseology and of his correspondents enabled us to satisfy ourselves of its authenticity and to determine its recipient, a man named Charles Jones Love. It’s in our 1831 volume.
5. Also in our 1831 volume is a letter from Jackson to his niece Mary Eastin, relating in rather lurid detail the history of the Eaton affair and Seminole controversy, lamenting his estrangement from his own family over them, and warning “that a House divided against itself cannot stand.” It’s a deeply revealing letter, and historians will be quoting it until the end of time. They never would have seen it except for us. It’s owned by a private party, and we were allowed to print it only after a delicate and protracted negotiation (the supplier was willing, but co-owning relatives at first were not). There are, in our volumes, dozens of letters acquired this way. And here’s something worth noting: many of the owners (including this one) CONTACTED US, after seeing press coverage of the publication of one of our volumes. This is one of the hidden benefits of volume publication: if worked right, it gets headlines. On the release of our 1830 volume we landed an AP feature that appeared all over the U.S., in the International Herald Tribune, and in Taiwan. From that publicity we got offers of documents like the Eastin letter and a $10,000 check from China. If we had simply unveiled a website, no one would have noticed.
None of these five items was just sitting there waiting to be transcribed and digitized. Each had to be first discovered or identified, through work that required considerable knowledge and expertise. And then there’s indexing. One might surmise that a digital search function can supersede an index. It can’t, even for personal names. A simple digital search will call up “Van Buren” every time that name is spelled correctly, but it won’t call it up all the times it is abbreviated or spelled wrong—and Jackson was notoriously careless with spelling. Nor will it call up and aggregate together all the myriad references to Jackson’s classical and literary allusions, Biblical quotations, charitable contributions, editorial drafts, epigraphs and sayings, health, religion, slave dealings—every one of which is a subcategory in our index. It won’t call up Jackson’s repeated musings on his plans to resign the presidency (another indexed category), since he never uses the word “resign” in any of them. And it sure won’t point you to Rachel Jackson when he talks about “the dear companion of my bosom.” An effective index can only be compiled by experts capable of recognizing references to persons, subjects, and events whose names are never mentioned.
This is the kind of scholarship that goes into every page of a documentary edition. The new NHPRC guidelines admittedly do not preclude such scholarship. They simply do not acknowledge its existence or importance. They evince no interest in funding it. There is a kind of unearthing of genuinely new historical knowledge that documentary editions, and only documentary editions, can provide. But it is not the work of a day, or even of three years. It cannot match crowd-sourcing or digital coding for speed or cheapness or for sheer quantity of output; and therefore, even if its results are furnished “free,” it probably cannot hope to compete successfully for NHPRC dollars under the new rules. The purported intent of the new guidelines is to put documentary editions online. The likely effect will be to put them to an end.
Professor of History
Editor/Director, The Papers of Andrew Jackson
University of Tennessee
The Council of State Archivists (CoSA) commends the National Historical Publications and Records Commission staff, the Commission itself, and the National Archives and Records Administration management for its efforts to re-envision the NHPRC grant program. NHPRC has proposed a fresh look at the needs of the archival and publishing fields in-line with what we believe are objectives outlined in the NHPRC Report to the President and current trends in these related communities. We support the importance of access to the nation’s historical records as a focal point of the NHPRC grant program, and the newly developed guidelines appear to address the need for enhanced access to historical records. CoSA believes the proposed changes will allow for broader dissemination of existing grant funds and a wider acknowledgement of the significance NHPRC provides in making historical content available to the citizens of the United States and globally through online access.
The redirection of the grants program focuses on several critical priorities of concern to the Council of State Archivists, including the management and preservation of archival electronic records, state board programming grants, access to historical records, and digital literacy initiatives. Because we believe all of these are critical and essential areas, we are concerned about the limited number of grants possible in each category. There is limited capacity to make substantive progress in any and all of these areas because of the modest amount of funding available overall and for each category. CoSA has worked diligently with our colleagues in the states and territories, SAA and NAGARA to address the funding issues for NHPRC and for archival records nationally over the past five years. We will continue to do so, and encourage the NHPRC Commissioners and the National Archives to actively work with us to identify options for making a real and lasting increase to the current minimal funding so that NHPRC can in fact have the desired impact on the American Historical Record.
CoSA has worked to quickly meet the deadline to provide feedback to NHPRC for the proposed NHPRC grant changes. CoSA would encourage NHPRC to work with our organization to finalize the details of the grant guidelines to assure the best possible outcome for the funds expended in support of these historical records projects. Below, please find CoSA’s specific and general comments for each of the grant categories.
CoSA suggests changes to the guidelines in two specific categories:
State Electronic Records Grants
CoSA proposes that these grants:
• Have a term of one to three years, rather than the two years suggested. Electronic records programs are complex and may require significant time to prepare and implement projects to meet states’ needs.
• That the grants be for up to $200,000, but not be limited to three awards. In addition to full-scale projects, smaller pilot projects would allow states and territories to develop capacity with smaller components, while still providing replicable outcomes that benefit the entire community. Pilot projects should cover one or more aspects of electronic records accessioning, description, preservation, and access, but not necessarily all aspects.
• Include funding for document management systems that manage born-digital records with a variety of retention periods, and not be restricted to systems managing only archival electronic records. We suggest that the grants fund document management systems that support the management of electronic records that will move from management to permanent preservation of archival electronic records, even if the system also contains some records of limited retention periods. A critical piece of capacity building within state and territorial archives involves managing archival electronic records throughout the entire lifecycle, and that system of management may include records of less than permanent retention. The types of software and systems that would be funded by the grant need to be specifically defined within the budget categories of the grant announcement.
• That a requirement of the grant be that the products produced by the completed project be made available to CoSA’s Program for Electronic Records Training, Tools, and Standards (PERTTS) portal (developed with the support of NHPRC grant funding). This ensures that grant products are easily accessible to and benefit multiple state and territorial archives and local governments above and beyond typical dissemination of project results through conference presentations and journal articles.
• Should permit CoSA to apply as an applicant for this grant to coordinate multi-state collaborative efforts furthering the purposes of the grant category.
State Board Programming Grants
CoSA would suggest the following changes to the proposed guidelines for this category:
• We encourage NHPRC to eliminate the stated cap of 20 states or territories qualifying for this category, and propose that all applications meeting the standards and priorities established by NHPRC receive some level of funding. Specifically, CoSA is very concerned that the inability to fund administrative cost assistance (no state has requested full cost reimbursement) may force some states to halt all SHRAB activities or cause the board to become dormant which CoSA strongly believes to not be in the interest of the state nor NARA.
• NHPRC’s draft grant announcements change the way in which NHPRC has supported State Boards and State Coordinators since the inception of the records program. Not allowing funding for state board administrative costs or board meetings may decimate the boards in some states and not allow for a central coordinating body for historical records concerns in each state. If NHPRC funding priorities require these reductions, rather than limit administrative activities to support the State Historic Records Advisory Board and archival organizations, we propose a percentage cap on administrative expenses, clearly defined, as a share of each individual state grant awarded. The states have significant variances between allowable expenses and legal status for on-line meetings, out-of-state and in-state travel, dues payments, etc. We propose that not more than 25% of a state board programming grant should be used for administrative purposes. CoSA would also encourage NHPRC to establish procedures and authority to allow for the flexibility to fairly account for the different conditions faced by the various SHRABs across the country and
• their capacity to sustain certain administrative functions with limited funding, including, when necessary, the ability to provide additional administrative funding.
• If NHPRC can commit the resources to assure the SHRABs continue, CoSA encourages NHPRC to strengthen the SHRABs role by incorporating grant reviews for NHPRC grants including Access to Historical Records, Literacy and Engagement with Historical Records, and Online Publishing of Historical Records; and exclude transitional publishing grants, Electronic Records and State Board grants.
• Traditionally, NHPRC has supported, through CoSA dues, the role of the state coordinator and NHPRC’s decades long role of supporting meetings of the coordinators. CoSA suggests that the NHPRC continue to provide funding for states and territories to pay dues to CoSA. This will allow state coordinators, who may have travel restrictions using funding that is appropriated to/through the state, even if it is federal funding, to attend the annual meeting using CoSA dues.
The Council of State Archivists provides the following general comments on the changes to each of the grants program.
The Council of State Archivists supports NHPRC for requiring free and widespread access to future documentary editions, and the broadening of the Online Publishing of Historical Records category to include compiling, digitizing, transcribing, and annotating documentary source material.
The Access to Historical Records grants serve as a building block for the archival community and allow a broader understanding of the types of collections that have been hidden away in collections across the country. The capacity of these grants to allow for preservation and reformatting of media as well as standard processing continues an important trend by NHPRC of being responsive to the archival community and safeguarding the public’s rights to access information.
The State Electronic Records Grant program will provide a much-needed boost to the efforts among states to preserve the electronic records of state government. These records have been and remain at risk in nearly all states and territories. The additional resources provided by this grant category should allow the states and territories and their partners (including local governments) to develop the systems, infrastructure, and tools necessary to provide access to the petabytes of data created by state and territorial governments. CoSA’s State Electronic Records Initiative (SERI) is making strides in providing resources, tools, and continuing education to state and territorial archives to build and enhance their ability to preserve and make available electronic state records. A key part of this work, the Program for Electronic Records Training, Tools, and Standards (PERTTS) portal, is currently being funded by NHPRC. The assessments, manuals, specifications, and other documentation created by grant recipients will provide additional resources to our members through the portal. Grants that produce replicable and scalable performance objectives serve the entire community. We hope these grants will be
designed to build capacity in all states through projects that pilot the accessioning, description, preservation or access to state government electronic records of enduring value, as well as those that grow the capacity in states with established electronic records programs. Please see our suggested changes above.
The State Board Programming Grant program’s continuation will allow the states and territories to continue their work with the State Historical Records Advisory Boards to provide educational workshops, re-grant programs, and collaborations. CoSA looks forward to working with NHPRC to identify innovative and successful State Programming projects that can be replicated across broad audiences. We encourage NHPRC to assure the states and territories that a commitment remains to sustain functional SHRABs. CoSA believes the role played by the SHRABs to develop statewide Historical Records strategic plans remains an important and relevant program, and encourages NHPRC to continue to encourage and support those efforts. Please see our suggested changes above.
CoSA is supportive of the creation of a new grant category called Literacy and Engagement with Historical Records. CoSA believes this effort will allow for a deeper understanding of digital archiving, and hopes to see it develop new innovative tools and applications, as well as attract more volunteers to aid in the creation of meta-data and indexes for historical records through crowd sourcing. We hope NHPRC will require these tools be made available free, on-line, through NHPRC’s or a partner’s website for easy access and use.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide our input. The Council of State Archivists and our members look forward to working with the NHPRC staff and Commissioner’s to finalize the criteria and implement a successful new grant program for America’s historical records.
I applaud the direction the latest NHPRC grants are taking. In a world that has already moved toward digital access, the days of spending 5, 10, 20, or 30 years on a single documentary project seems woefully anachronistic. More to the point, the audiences for such projects have always been rather limited, i.e. other academics or scholarly researchers. By bringing documentary projects to fruition in a digital format, the potential users increase by several orders of magnitude—and that’s a good thing.
There also seems to be some worry over the “free access” clause. The grant requirements do not stipulate that the hosting of such projects is free, merely the access to them. Those working on documentary projects at a university have plenty of resources (i.e. server space) to make their work available when the project is finished. As for independent scholars who may not have such luxuries in IT infrastructure, I’d recommend (in line with Cathy’s suggestion) the creation of a new site such as DigitalCitizen.gov where such projects can be hosted as resources (along with other such endeavors). Since digital citizenry is the new(ish) push for the Archivist and NARA, it only makes sense to have a central clearinghouse of resources aimed to support this mission. Of course, anyone who wants to make their documentary projects (or other primary sources) freely accessible would be welcome to do so on the site as well.
I see the guidelines as having made an effort to phase in (or out) current projects as well. The Publishing Historical Records Online: Transition Support grants are for those who would like to make their work available online but need to move in that direction. For those who do not want to (or cannot) make their work freely available, they have four years to complete their projects. In the digital age (and many other industries), that’s a lifetime to produce a deliverable.
I see this as a chance to embrace the present and future of public history, broader access, and civic engagement.
It appears that a stealthy coup has captured the NHPRC. Books seem to have lost their status at the Commission. Some thirty years ago I suggested to a very conservative California congressman, who opposed funding for the NHPRC because it was not in the first Reagan budget, that documentary editions were worth supporting. After Charlene Bickford and John Simon showed him these editions he agreed. But Congressman Dannemeyer wanted cuts. I suggested that the archives projects should really be supported by states and localities. (I should point out that Charlene and John supported continued funding for archives projects.) He agreed to support a reduced NHPRC budget for the continuation of the editions program. This priority now seems to have been reversed, and the NHPRC has become the NHRC. This being the case, would it not be reasonable to leave the Commission to the archivists and to invest our efforts in the NEH, which still seems to value scholarly editions in the form of books? Might we not also advocate that the tiny amount of money currently going to support editions at the Commission be transferred to the NEH?
Documentary History of the
Ratification of the Constitution
I am very concerned with what appears to me to be the elimination of the SHRABS from the review process. I encourage NHPRC to tap that local knowledge and diversity of backgrounds to improve applications for grants.
I’d like to address the recent suggestion that documentary editions, including the careful work that goes into them and the time it requires to do that work, are “woefully anachronistic” now that we’re “in the digital age.” I hope we can all agree that having information available online is much better than not, that some forms of online presentation are more useful and likely more durable than others, and that it would be very nice to have the very best (and therefore usually costliest) mode of online presentation made available free, if only someone could be got to pay for it.
But beyond that, the notion that “bringing documentary projects to fruition in a digital format” will, by itself, cause the number of serious users to “increase by several orders of magnitude” is at very best an untested proposition. Is there concrete reason to think so? To take a case, I can attest from experience that a great many people are curious about Andrew Jackson. I have met thousands of them myself. They want to know the usual things: whether he really said this or did that, and whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. They are quite willing to go hear a speaker, watch a documentary film, or perhaps even read a biography. But they do not want their curiosity turned into a research project. They do not want to take precious time from their busy lives to rummage through an archival website. With very rare exceptions, they do not want to spend the days and even weeks that it would take searching through Jackson’s correspondence to try to piece out, for instance, how he felt about black people, or Indians, or Henry Clay, or abolitionists, or the Bank of the United States, or his wife. Generally they want someone who is well-informed, who has done that spadework himself or herself, to tell them.
In other words, they want what you and I want when we have a question: a good answer, not an exhortation to go find it out for yourself. Whether in print or online, finding it out for yourself is hard work. This is why even a Jackson buff is more likely to buy five biographies than one volume (at less cost) of The Papers of Andrew Jackson. Most people want access to the fruits of expertise, but not to become experts themselves. This is entirely natural. There’s nothing wrong with it, and digitization is not likely to change it—indeed, rather the reverse. Demands on our time are growing, not shrinking.
So while we would love to learn that thousands, or even dozens, of “digital citizens” are eagerly awaiting opportunity to root deeply into the Jackson Papers the moment they’re put online, there is strong reason to suspect it is not so. And on the other hand, while it is true that the direct audience for documentary editions has been “rather limited,” their indirect audience has been vast. In preparing our project’s most recent NHPRC application, we ran a hasty search through an online database for footnote citations to the eight volumes of The Papers of Andrew Jackson that had been published so far. Limiting ourselves narrowly to works that have appeared in the last seven years, we quickly found 38 books (including two Pulitzer winners), articles in 21 journals, and 14 doctoral dissertations. With a little work we could have found many more. Altogether, the number of publications that have drawn on our volumes reaches easily into the hundreds, perhaps thousands. Their readers reach into the millions.
The true audience for our edition, then, is not just “other academics or scholarly researchers.” It is everyone who reads or is influenced by their work. That includes, for instance, textbook writers. Most have probably not consulted our edition themselves, but they have relied on others who did. Probably more Americans have read just one book, Jon Meacham’s American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, than would visit a Jackson Papers website in a year. But Meacham has said that he could not have written his book without our edition in front of him, and a glance at his footnotes proves it true.
As for the demand for instant digital gratification, it remains the case that you generally get what you pay for and that Rome was not built in a day. The Papers of Andrew Jackson is superseding an older series, John Spencer Bassett’s Correspondence of Andrew Jackson. Though Bassett is now more than three-quarters of a century old, historians have still been using it because there was nothing better. We expect our edition—no matter what its medium of presentation—to last that long, and longer. Most likely, if recent experience is any guide, it will long outlive today’s methods of digital access. While we produce as fast as we can with the resources available, our primary aim is to do work that will stand the test of time rather to “produce a deliverable” regardless of its quality. Even in the digital age, four years is hardly “a lifetime” to produce an edition that will stand for generations.
None of this is an argument against putting editions online. It is an argument against the naïve idea that merely providing digital access to masses of unedited materials can somehow replace or substitute for the work of crafting a documentary edition.
Underlying some of the proposed changes seems to be the assumption that there is a very large audience for historical documents outside the scholarly community. We all hope that this is the case, but it would be helpful—both for seeking resources and for planning the digitization of documents—to demonstrate that it is so. It would also be helpful to know who the audience is and what form of documents they prefer.
Most digital editions (I hope all) have the tools to track the number of users. With slightly sophisticated statistical methods, it is often possible to determine roughly who those users are. For example, an increase in usage at the end of school semesters or during National History Day competitions, does tell you something. If editions added either a registration feature or a “Will you tell us something about yourself to help us improve our page” feature, much more information would become available.
We also know little about the forms of documents people want to see on line. We believe that transcribed, annotated editions are the most useful. That doesn’t mean they’re the most used. And the need for transcription and annotation varies from one set of documents to the next. Compare, for example, the barely legible and poorly spelled Abigail Adams letters, full of obscure personal references, to John Quincy Adams’s extremely legible diary referring largely to public events. For the latter—all of which is on line in high-resolution images—it might make more sense to make the images searchable with XML tagging than to transcribe them.
We also know that bad documents drive out good. People use the outdated editions provided by the Library of Congress because they pop up quickly and don’t cost anything. What, if anything, can we do about that?
And which bells and whistles do people actually use? Is it worth linking to secondary sources? Do people use the timelines, chronologies, genealogies, maps, and other features we labor over? We hope so, but it would be reassuring to have some evidence.
Finally, I don’t think it’s the job of the NHPRC or the editing community to increase digital literacy. It’s our job to increase historical literacy. People have much less difficulty navigating the Web than understanding what they’re reading. I’d like to see us work on that.
In short, we need to know more about the present use of digital editions before planning the future.
I am completely opposed to the notion that funding should be contingent on free access. Assuming that people will not pay for what we produce sends a message that we don’t think it’s valuable. Most of what is available free on the Web is, in fact, of very little value. If we want to be lumped together with the self-published poets, unattributed photos, and amateur musicians, then we should give our editions away. But if we believe that what we produce has value, we should charge for it. The fact that it has been paid for in part by federal money is irrelevant: most pharmaceuticals have been supported by government funds at one point or another, but no one gives those away. Libraries have always paid for print editions; they should pay for digital editions. It has long been my belief that the solution to the funding of editions, as well as to the “crisis” in monograph publishing is to fund libraries properly.
I’d like to add some anecdotal evidence concerning public perception of the value of the editorial work that goes into documentary editions. Since I’m the recipient of contact email address for both Founders Online (founders.archives.gov) and the Rotunda Founding Era collection, I see feedback from both (relatively) scholarly and general-public audiences. Based on the last few months, some observations:
* The two audiences are fairly indistinguishable. That is, the folks who are using Founders Online seriously enough to take the time to write tend to be well informed users of the documents, often involved in detailed genealogical or historical research on a specific topic. Good corrections or clarifications have come from both sources.
* Everyone is paying attention to accuracy, of both transcriptions and annotation. Proposed corrections, usually valid, come in on a regular basis. I forward them to editors at the relevant projects for adjudication. The people who submit feedback are quite appreciative of the attention and resulting updates. (But doing this adds to all of our workloads–at the moment, for example, editors at both the Franklin and Washington papers are wrestling with some knotty issues in name forms/identifications for Iroquois chiefs during the 1750s in response to a reader who noticed inconsistencies in the annotations to documents in widely separated editions.)
There’s not a huge amount of email coming in to either public or paywalled sites–a couple/three emails a week, maybe–but the ones that do come in suggest that readers of the digital editions are reading them closely and carefully.
While I agree with nearly all the comments, with some exceptions, there is one issue that I have not seen mentioned, unless I missed it. The George C. Marshall Papers has a long standing publication contract with the Johns Hopkins U. Press. Recently with the concerted effort of NHPRC, and NEH I might add, the push is to place volumes as soon as published on-line and free. In all fairness, the Press deserves to have some time to sell the initial print run before a digital searchable version is available for free to anyone who chooses to use it. The Press has the right to recoup their costs for publication. Presses certainly know their markets for documentary editions and base their initial press run on that market. Usually those sales are rather rapid and once the initial run is gone, they then print on demand. The POD is not the issue — the length of time allowed for a press to recoup their costs is the issue. At least one year should be allowed before the digital versions are available for free on-line.
One other matter: l have worked over 50 years in this “profession” as an archivist, manuscripts curator, and editor of one documentary edition and assisted on one other prior to becoming managing editor of the Marshall Papers. In working with scholars performing research all those years I have heard many comments that the true scholar prefers the bound documentary editions for, if nothing else, the convenience of flipping back and forth to the index, glossary, cross-references etc. If one is searching for a specific topic then the digital format is useful; however, I remember well a professor of mine stating that the process of the search is the important thing, that we often learn more during that process that if we were to go directly to the subject or result. In other words, learning the background of the subject at hand — learning by osmosis — or how one got to that position is important. With the approaching digital searchers I fear we are going to lose that process–we may find our answer, but do not know the question, or how one arrived at the answer.
I am writing to express my concern over the proposed NHPRC Online Publishing of Historical Records program.
I have just participated in the online webinar conducted by Lucy Barber this afternoon, and a couple of key issues stand out. First, it seems clear that, as this program is being considered at present, transcription and annotation are no longer understood as fundamental to the “publishing” of historical records. Under the new program, proposals will need to “make a strong case for” transcription and annotation. In response to my observation that these editorial tasks had traditionally been the hallmark that distinguished the work of documentary editing from mere digitization, Lucy Barber admitted the term “publishing” was being used rather more loosely. Moreover, the subsequent Q&A gave me the strong sense that the program, as currently defined and considered, has opened the door to archives-driven digitization projects. Coupled with the new stance toward transcription and annotation, this development has the potential to greatly diminish the funding available for the more substantive work of documentary editors—even for “born-digital” projects that otherwise meet the demand for free public access. Beyond the latter question, something more fundamental is at stake here—what Daniel Stowell has called the “intellectual access” to historical records that documentary editors provide.
Second, in other ways, it seems clear that the NHPRC envisions an expanded role for the archival community, which—again—seems likely to come at the expense of the concerns of documentary editors. In the webinar, NHPRC staff seemed potentially open to the suggestion of one participant (a state archivist) that the state SHRABs become integrated somehow into the vetting of proposals for this program. The Q&A on this issue seemed to portray SHRAB involvement as a balanced counterweight to the current use of peer-reviewers who, according to Lucy Barber, tend to be documentary editors. To my mind, such a vetting process would mean a significant shift in the criteria for selection, significantly tilting the program away from the scholarly concerns of documentary editors and the creation of authoritative editions.
A short statement in opposition to open access
The current proposed NHPRC guidelines mandate that documentary projects in the future both be electronic, and that the delivery of these editions be free of cost to the end user. While this is only one aspect of a flawed proposed mandate, as the editor of the Dolley Madison Digital Edition I would like to state my own opinion here on requiring free delivery, also known as open access: that it would be a serious mistake with important negative consequences for the whole editorial community.
I am a strong advocate of the digital publication of documentary editions. I am so for a number of reasons including, most importantly, the potential intellectual and academic benefits, such as expanded content, aggregations of information, and linkages of material. In some areas, especially tabular and financial, the computers (and thus digital publication) potentially enable users to navigate information in ways not otherwise possible. The question for me is not the medium. Rather, it is the push to make all these editions free to the public.
It takes a great deal of work to produce a reference work that adheres to high standards. Gatekeepers (including academic publishers and those who serve as peer reviewers) serve a critical function in ensuring that these standards remain. Producing a well-made edition is not cheap, nor is publishing it in a manner that is both professional and sustainable. Someone has to pay. If it is not the end-of-the-line consumer (individual scholar or library) then who will it be? Not the government funders, at least as presently constituted. Nor will it be university libraries, whose budgets are already stretched too thin. Moreover it is unlikely to be philanthropists acting in the public interest.
In pursuing the dream of free to the public, may we as Americans be creating a nightmare scenario where academia and publishing will be gutted and hollowed, during a time when tertiary educational institutions may become processing plants to ensure that Americans receive a degree that will make them eligible to be hired in our new world, and where standards (and with them gatekeepers) will be abandoned as an elitist dream.
I would like to suggest that in the interest of saving all the wonderful editions produced by the many documentary editions past, present, and future, we think about some ways in which we might compromise.
Put briefly, could we and NHPRC, and NEH, and Congress, and the various powers that be, consider what I might call a dual publication system: those that are for free, and those that are published as subscription-based or some other other paid structure. Could we think about putting the good up for free, and the perfect at cost to the institutional end user (and the private end user). There is a precedent for this in the two versions of the Papers of George Washington, one free through Mount Vernon, the other for a subscription fee through Rotunda, a policy hammered out before the birth of Founders Online.
The free would be without annotations and essays and perhaps with minimal searchability, but online. The cost would include the scholarly annotations, essays, and especially any cumulative indexing.
The two types of editions could co – exist. For a precedent see the two versions of the Papers of George Washington, one free through Mount Vernon, the other for a subscription fee through Rotunda, a policy hammered out before the birth of Founders Online.
In addition, perhaps we could see this as a five-year transitional policy, knowing that in five years the digital landscape will have changed.
If we could agree on some sort of agreed-upon policy that will allow for a transitional period that accommodates both the champions of free and the champions of paid, we will, I believe, have done a great service to the community of documentary editors and the future of editing and given the whole enterprise some breathing time as we contemplate (and witness) the future.
Look at the acknowledgments of prize-winning and prize-worthy biographies and histories. Every author who is working on a subject for which there are published editions thanks the editors of those editions. Why? Because editors (a) bring together documents scattered around the world; (b) provide accurate, legible, searchable (by index or tagging) transcriptions; accurately identify and explain names and terms that are obscure even to scholars; and make their expertise available to biographers and historians.
As a researcher and editor, I would never denigrate the work of archivists. Without them, editing would not be possible. But without editors, historical writing on many subjects would not be possible either. Along with academic historians, those who write for the general public–the prolific nonacademic historians–would never be able to do what they do without published editions. Pauline Maier’s Ratification wouldn’t have been written without The Documentary History of the Ratification project. Stephen Ambrose couldn’t have written Undaunted Courage if Gary Moulton hadn’t edited the Lewis and Clark journals.
I raise this point because it is precisely these high-quality popular works (along with the occasional miniseries they spawn) that bring general readers to history–providing not only knowledge about a subject but an understanding of how we know what we know.
So here’s some evidence, for those who may need it–just a quick look from my own shelves:
Ron Chernow, Washington: “Any biographer of Washington must stand in awe of the scholarly feat accomplished by the eminent team of editors at the Papers of George Washington project….By gathering 130,000 relevant documents from around the globe, they have produced a modern edition of Washington’s papers that eclipses the far more modest edition published by John C. Fitzpatrick….Expert commentary appears at every step along the way.”
David McCullough, John Adams: “Publication of the Adams Papers began in 1961, with the first volume of the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, under the editorial direction of Lyman Butterfield, to whom all Adams biographers and students of the Adams family are indebted. Mr. Butterfield brought to the immense project the high scholarly and literary standards that have distinguished it to this day, as publication of the Papers continues in one splendid volume after another.”
Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: “Best of all, there was the new edition of the journals edited by Gary Moulton….Using these new materials and others Lewis and Clark historians have published more than twenty monographs….”
Annette Gordon Reed, The Hemmingses of Monticello: Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney…made documents readily available to me and were always eager to answer questions. Members of their staff…endured comments like ‘Didn’t I read a letter where someone said…” and would immediately find exactly what I was talking about.”
Pauline Maier, Ratification: “John P. Kaminski, editor of the Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, has been a consistent source of help and support. He sent me digital copies of pages from the DHRC that chronicled the last half of the New York Ratifying convention before they were in print….My greatest debt, however, is to Richard Leffler.”
Image editions and unannotated transcriptions are better than nothing. But it’s a long way from “better than nothing” to indispensable, reliable, gold-standard work.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed new grant programs for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. I am supportive of all of them but I will limit my comments to the ones that directly impact the Research Collections Division, which I head, and the State Historical Records Advisory Board, which I coordinate.
The Access to Historical Records program provides for preservation, arrangement and online description of historical records. I commend the Commission for requiring that the description of collections be available online. We have a number of large collections that would require substantial investments to digitize in their entirety but providing online descriptions lets researchers learn of materials relevant to them. Depending on the quantity of records in which they are interested, we can work with them to facilitate access. But, researchers need to know what is available before taking the next step. This grant program will support this kind of access. We recently benefited from a NHPRC detailed processing grant for the 2500 box Archives of the Menninger Foundation. The finding aid was a database and this is available on our website at http://www.kshs.org/p/menninger-foundation-archives/13787. In the past year, the high level descriptions of the collection and the database search screen have received over 2000 hits, supporting the assumption that this type of access is very useful to researchers.
The inclusion of the ability to provide digital preservation for unstable audio and visual formats in the Access to Historical Records program is also important. We have taken in a variety of these materials and always assume that we will “get to them.” But, that usually doesn’t happen unless we are responding to a researcher request. However, audio visual materials often have a great impact when they are used for educational purposes. Inclusion of digital preservation of these materials in this program will allow institutions with “backlogs” of these collections to undertake preservation measures but also enhance access by requiring digital copies.
The Literacy and Engagement grant program reflects the new reality that all sorts of potentially historical electronic records are being created daily. Given the challenges of long term preservation of digital records, increasing the public’s knowledge of what they need to do to preserve their own digital records and thus making them available, potentially, to historical repositories in the future. I started out dealing with manuscript collections—non-governmental unpublished collections of correspondence, etc.—and I have visions (nightmares) of not having these types of collections available in the future as correspondence is primarily via e-mail and mailboxes are cleaned out periodically. This grant program has the potential to be one of the most impactful programs that NHPRC has sponsored. If the general public becomes more knowledgeable about digital archiving, they will not only preserve their own collections but they will understand the challenges confronting government archives as they work to preserve electronic records that are the basis of accountability and transparency. This could lead to broader support for the work of government archives.
The program for Online Publishing of Historical Records continues NHPRC’s long standing efforts to make historical records readily available to the public. The Kansas Historical Society took advantage of microfilming grant to make some of its collections related to the early history of Kansas available through Interlibrary Loan, while also preserving the originals because an alternate copy was available to researchers. The Historical Society has an ever growing digital portal called Kansas Memory (www.kansasmemory.org). It now contains over 388,000 items ranging from photographs, diaries, maps, personal correspondence collections, selected correspondence of Kansas Governors, etc. We average over 25,000 hits per month as compared to 5000 in person researchers per year. To me, this demonstrates that the need is there if the content can be provided. Because of the quantity of our holdings and the labor required to create standards compliant digital images, we can only add a limited amount of material annually. However, the availability of this grant line will allow us to develop digitization grants focused on major collections. The inclusion of transcriptions in the allowable activities makes the materials word searchable but also provides access to younger students who do not read cursive handwriting.
The State Board Programming grants will allow State Historical Records Advisory Boards (SHRABS) to continue to undertake activities in several areas. Because many Kansas institutions with historical records do not have archives professionals on staff, the Kansas SHRAB has traditionally offered educational opportunities on a variety of topics to these “accidental” archivists. In the future, we will try to do more with encouraging citizens and students to use historical records, particularly those that are online. The SHRAB will also look at opportunities to encourage collaboration on various projects. Currently, a number of Kansas institutions are beginning an effort to collaborative collect Kansas web sites and this initiative, while not specifically a SHRAB activity, in the result of discussions among SHRAB members. Our concern with SHRAB activities is how to insure the necessary staff support to accomplish Board tasks. A concern about the program announcement is the issue of funding only 20 grants a year. Is it assumed that the states will develop alternating two year cycles so most of the state programs will be funded every other year?
In conclusion, I support the new grant lines that encourage online description and access and a more knowledge public about electronic records preservation issues. Working with local audiences through SHRAB programming often results in upgraded policies, procedures, and preservation in a variety of institutions with historical records. NHPRC is to be commended for revising its grant programs to reflect the reality of online access and digital preservation challenges.
Kansas State Historical Society
[This item first appeared on the Scholarly Editing Forum listserv, SEDIT-L, on 28 February 2014. Please excuse the crossposting.]
NHPRC and change
The newly promulgated philosophy and new award categories that NHPRC will be implementing with the 2015 award cycle have proved shocking to some in the editorial profession. Although it has been clear for several years that digital editing would replace hardcover publication, NHPRC seemed to be moving in the direction of continued print publication and digitization, saying that projects might continue publishing in hardcover, but they also had to put this same material online and make it available at no cost to the public. At the same time, the Rotunda Series was making cutting-edge strides in the area of digital editing, although its aim was a subscription service.
Despite this “handwriting on the wall,” the new information about the future of NHPRC funding caught many projects unawares. Judging by the widespread discussion of the new approach, it seems that, somehow, the editorial profession believes that it will be able to continue its publication process as it has been doing for many years and continue producing outstanding volumes which, in many cases, have revolutionized scholarship. But the fact is that digital organization of data, which has changed every other field of study, is clearly revolutionizing the editorial field, too. There is no standing in its way.
How is the profession to adjust in the face of such a monumental change in approach? For NHPRC to change the expectations for editorial projects in midstream does a disservice to the many years of work of so many of these projects. This change also creates the need for substantial investment in newly trained personnel with expertise in digital formatting and all the other aspects of digitization, and it requires substantial investment in hardware and software for the execution of this task. The suddenness of the change is jarring and inhibits the mission of NHPRC to “preserve, publish, and encourage use of documentary sources.” This major change will interrupt the productive ongoing efforts to fulfill NHPRC’s mission because it does not acknowledge the complexities inherent in a successful transition.
In our project, the thirty-two volumes of the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, which first appeared in hardcover, are now mounted on our website (www.usgrantlibrary.org) where they are searchable and available free to the public. At the same time, we have signed an agreement with subscription-funded Rotunda to take advantage of its digital editing expertise. We are now creating the first scholarly edition of The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, and our plans are to publish it in both a print and a modern digital edition. We are also working on the letters of Ida Honore Grant, the wife of U.S. Grant’s son, Fred, the U.S. minister to Austria-Hungary in the early 1890s. We plan to have these letters appear in original, transcribed and annotated form only online. In short, we are attempting to determine the best publication approach depending on the material in question.
Throughout the nation, online accessibility is rapidly changing the way universities, public institutions, and publishing houses function. Electronic-books are growing at such a rapid rate that, in a recent year, the nation saw the publication of more e-books than paperbacks. Many old book contracts are being revised to include legal agreements for e-books. Google books has made hard-to-find books available at a researcher’s fingertips. It has become the norm to see, in public places, both young and old reading the latest books on their Kindles or searching the internet for desired information.
The library of today is not the library of just a few years ago. Computers and databases and all sorts of other electronic tools are increasingly being used by undergraduates and the general public more than they use the books on shelves.
Yet, such developments do not mean that we should simply throw print copies overboard. We have to come to terms with the computer, but we must do so in our editorial profession in an orderly transition that will continue to allow us to make contributions to scholarship.
There is no easy solution, but simply mandating change is not the answer. Before the new NHPRC philosophy is implemented, it deserves study by authors and editorial scholars, NHPRC professionals, leaders in the fields of digital editing and digitization, university and commercial presses, and anyone else able to provide serious insight into a major issue.
We believe that NHPRC, ADE, and NEH need to convene a national meeting at a central location to study this matter carefully and come up with viable ideas. We would like to suggest the following thoughts as a way to begin the dialogue.
1. As stated above, we do not believe the new NHPRC concept should be implemented until everyone in the field has the opportunity to make suggestions.
2. All the ongoing editorial projects should be “grandfathered in” with a reasonable and agreed upon deadline for completion implemented. No project should continue to be federally funded past that deadline. If this is the aim of several of the new NHPRC programs, it is commendable, but legacy projects, now in print, deserve the chance to be completed.
3. NHPRC and ADE should take this opportunity to assume the lead in developing a National Set of Digital Edition Standards, much like the Machine-Readable Cataloging Standards (MARC) or the Society of American Archivists’ Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) for finding aids. The aim should be to develop software that would be available for all projects to use for their digital content. The creation of one platform for all digital projects would provide consistency and allow editors from a variety of projects to collaborate. It would also make possible a quicker transition from printed to digitized editions. Perhaps, this is already close to completion. If so, NHPRC and ADE should lead the effort to publicize and implement it.
4. Utilize the ADE Editing Institute to train junior editors in methods of digital editing and digitization and utilize ADE meetings to help project leaders learn how to transition from print to digital edited editions. Have NHPRC hire digital editing and digitization experts, sponsor transition institutes around the nation, and also make the experts available for travel to editorial projects for intensive training to make the transition. Provide funding for new hardware and software.
5. Provide financial awards to graduate programs to work with their Computer Science Departments to train future historians/editors/archivists in this digital methodology. Make such training an essential part of their education and thus help transition traditional graduate programs to an enthusiastic acceptance of such work for tenure and promotion.
6. Accept the fact that digitization is here. It is not a matter of print versus digital; there is still room for print, but digital is here to stay and will increasingly be the method of publication. Make it work for the profession, or the profession will inexorably become irrelevant.
John F. Marszalek, Executive Director and Managing Editor, Ulysses S. Grant Association, Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, Mississippi State University
Frank J. Williams, President, Ulysses S. Grant Association
Have historians/ and the various associations of american history weighed in on any of these proposals? Documentary editors are historians AND archival preservationists. The new NHPRC proposals would boost immediate access to archival collections, and dismantle much of the legitimacy of the work of documentary editors in the eyes of historians. Of course, wherever possible, technological advances that serve open access to scholarship is a great gift and worthy service. However, without consultation with the historical profession, the NHPRC changes seem to be a striking example of ‘throwing out the baby with the bath water.’ I speak as someone who entered the field of documentary editing just past its “glory days” of publishing multi-multi volumes of the papers of the founding fathers. Historians of the 1970s pushed for the expansion of the role of the NHPRC to include those ‘other than the great white men’ to showcase the range of people from all backgrounds who had played an important role in our history. To make sure the material would be quickly accessible, microfilm (in a pre-digitial world) was the chosen medium. All the women’s papers projects followed this path. However arduous collecting, identifying, organizing, and publishing, we all felt sure that we were serving history with a capital “H.” Unfortunately, most universities and scholars consider documentary editing projects subordinate to more established fields (which was especially true towards those preparing microfilm editions). While professors of history reside comfortably in history departments, and archivists securely within libraries, many documentary editing projects are more tenuous planets of the university that constantly have to create their own gravitational pull. NHPRC funding in most cases is the only anchor and source of legitimacy to stablilize the work of a documentary editor, enabling them to commit to the long haul of completing the work. The volumes mark the culmination of years of work. and showcase a depth of unique knowledge and understanding of the subject. In the academic world, the book still trumps all. Unless all scholarship becomes on-line scholarship, this hierarchy will be a constant. The changes suggested by the NHPRC may in fact not only cast aside the volumes, but also the work of those who have devoted their lives to the task. There is a remarkable stick-to-it-iveness of the documentary editor in spite of partial funding, and subordinate stature. If the NHPRC wants to change the terms of agreement, why not also provide full support for the people relying on the promise set forth when they entered their unspoken contract with the NHPRC. If full digital access to the collections is a priority, why not make sure to include the digitization of the hundreds of microfilm collections that had NHPRC support, and are being tossed along with antiquated microfilm machines. What reason is there not to make NHPRC microfilms part of this new plan? Is it because it favors the work of new archivists/ while it devalues the work of documentary editors? Historians, archivists, and librarians have a natural affinity and complementary work. No doubt there is much pressure on the NHPRC to justify its existence (and funding) in a changing political and economic climate, in a world that benefits from but also fetishizes the security of digital tools. A commission of the government that was once distinguished by the humanity and support it showed to its grantees–as well as to the members of the commission, that worked tirelessly to create ties to American historians, to offer assistance to projects searching for outside funds, to stand in as advocates of the work at the universities, offer prizes to particularly supportive scholarly presses, to go the extra mile to understand that ebbs and flows of work in a field that has no sabbaticals, no tenure, no security except in our belief in the value of the work for posterity. The NHPRC has turned coarse in its dealings in the guise of innovation. If we are united in our goals, why not take the time to find consensus, rather than assume that each consistuent is part of a petty turf war. The NHPRC is known for the stellar collaborative work it promotes and supports, the volumes that will live beyond our own lives; it is time for you to preserve the best of your own history–and not rush into new media platforms that may not survive the next decade.
I will add another voice of dismay and concern about the digital mandate. I am in favor of digital publication, but as a supplementary, not a primary goal of documentary editing. The mandate to publish digitally without any established guidelines in place for each stage of the process or any plans for long-term sustainability is shortsighted and dismissive of the very real problems documentary editors face—not just in doing the work that has, in the past, been valued by the NHPRC, but in confronting the obstacles posed by this new and unfamiliar medium.
With this mandate, the NHPRC is devaluing the foundational stages of documentary editing—collection, transcription, and annotation—and prioritizing new, secondary skills that relatively few people possess. Collection, transcription, and annotation are the heart of scholarly editions and, contrary to assumptions expressed by some, they can take many years, if not decades, of painstaking and expensive labor. Without these stages, the documents would in every way be unavailable to readers. The individuals who have the highly honed skills—archival, paleographic, and scholarly—to undertake these specialized tasks do not usually also possess the digital skills to do mark-up and build platforms. And they can’t do their own work in XML-TEI. Conversely, those people trained in digital languages are often not editors or historians. Maybe future generations can learn to do digital editiorial work, but that does not help projects currently underway. There are, moreover, no established guidelines put forth by the NHPRC or ADE for how to produce a digital edition and overcome these practical and technical problems. A digital mandate at the expense of funding the core work would thus be a fatal obstacle to many worthy projects.
But even if the problems of preparing a digital edition were easily conquered, what guarantee is there of the value of work that is thrown up on the Web, without peer review and without a platform that will be sustained and maintained? Certainly there might be greater access for a time, but will the work be educative or merely confusing to the general public? Will it simply disappear when fickle university administrators turn their attentions and resources to newer, shinier baubles? And, as always, what happens if the server goes down and the lights go off? All access then ceases.
It seems to me that prioritizing digitalization over the traditional work of documentary editors and the print publication process is like aspiring to have arms without a body.
Jane E. Calvert
Director/Editor, The John Dickinson Writings Project
As someone who has spent a great deal of time preparing historical manuscripts for publication, I think the question we should be asking is not whether a project has the resources it needs to be “born digital,” but whether it has the support it requires to be born at all.
Digital or not, a documentary edition cannot get around the fact that it must first put a great deal of time and hard work into the tedious tasks of assembling, transcribing, and researching the myriad documents that are its lifeblood.
Without these meticulous efforts, there would be no project to publish — certainly not one whose scope, accuracy, and resourcefulness should be trusted by any public audience.
Alicia K. Anderson
Transcriber, The John Dickinson Writings Project
Formerly Assistant Editor, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin
Commercial content providers offer all sorts of free material when they start. The New York Times, for example, put its editions on the web free. Gradually, however, they have begun to charge for “premium” material, searching the archives, mobile access, and the apps to use it. Candy Crush is free–to a point–but somehow is generating millions of dollars of income. Sometimes the exchange is not direct: Google Maps and G-mail are extremely useful, but the cost is having a picture of your house on line and the ability of Google to charge others for the use of your data.
There’s a reason for this: putting stuff on line costs money; maintaining it costs money; they’re not in this for their health.
There are certain basic constants that the digital media do not alter. One of them is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If end users aren’t paying for documents, someone else is.
Under none of the headings in Lucy’s message or in the blog is there a reference to carrying on the publishing program as constituted since the 1960s. What is the future of that program?
Keep in mind that the Records program exists by and large in enduring institutions that must develop and maintain servers and software ’til the end of time. Only a small number of editions exist in similar circumstances. Many of us are marginal and temporary employees of huge institutions that have no long-term commitment to our scholarship. Someone has dreamed up an inappropriate model for the Publications side of the Commission.
Why is the NHPRC saddled with a mission to improve “digital literacy” among citizens? This is lunacy, and has nothing to do with the Commission’s historic charges and accomplishments.
I don’t think we–the editing profession–ever solved the distribution problems of historical editions in books. At least two decades ago, some of us pushed to have the editions treated like government documents and placed in the government depository libraries.
It’s not an out-of-date idea even now. If you read up on current circumstances in the depository library program, you’ll see that adaptations for digital publications are underway. The technical support for the digital government publications might be much easier to deliver than editions would need—but that’s not certain. I used this historical records site quite a bit for annotation, and it’s quite sophisticated and FREE.
I advocate free access not only of editions but also of all the scientific literature that our public funding supports. Subscription services block out most of the American population from use. (It’s not “free market,” by the way, when an entrepreneur snatches publicly financed work and erects a pay wall around it. That’s misappropriation. Free market would be when the entrepreneur actually financed the work in the first place.) Nonetheless, the irresponsibility of the NHPRC in calling for free access without making any provisions to support those digital editions is stunning.
I recently hit a dead end when I tried to use the Booker T. Washington Papers on-line. The free access provided by the University of Illinois Press was a terrific assist to our work on the final two volumes of Stanton & Anthony Papers. And now poof! It may be a case that underscores the instability of unfunded access.
I suspect that we do know quite a bit about use. For one thing, the Historical Documents Study still holds up for the variety of uses for the microfilm and book editions, and electronic access sort of explodes the possibilities. Just tracking ourselves would provide useful data: how and why do we access edited documents? Is it the text or the annotation or both that attracts us? The electronic “model” edition of the Stanton & Anthony Papers got torpedoed by proprietary software. The edition was primary sources, many not transcribed. When it was up and running, scores of middle and high school teachers were relying on it for classroom work and student assignments. How do I know this about use? Because the teachers fired their Columbiads at me when the site went down. But I get e-mail still from people following through from two other electronic sources: those Google books previews and the small amount of documents and data on the project’s website. I hear from scholars, high school students, secondary school teachers, genealogists, and more. They seem to arrive at the editorial project by asking the web for answers to really specific questions, and then some of them broaden out when they arrive. Of course there is much more to learn about use, but I doubt we need a federally funded study to figure it out.
I agree fully about consultation with the presses that have stood by these editions for decades. That topic though brings us around another circle: who holds copyright? The NHPRC cannot simply announce to Rutgers University (and it is the university itself) that its copyright in the Selected Papers of ECS and SBA is nullified.
The Association for Documentary Editing urges that the following changes be made in the proposed grant programs:
• The ADE asks that editorial projects and projects which are based on the publication of digital surrogates (without the attributes that define an edition) be separated within the Online Publishing of Historical Documents grant program. Recognizing these types of projects as different versions of online publishing will allow the application of appropriate definitions and standards for each of them in the guidelines. This modification could help ensure that funding for editions according to established standards, in keeping with the support that the NHPRC, since its inception, has given to edited documentary publications, can continue. Careful definition of editorial projects would also be in keeping with the current grant programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities, where Scholarly Editions and Translations are given their own category and prospective applicants are advised to “demonstrate familiarity with the best practices recommended by the Association for Documentary Editing or the Modern Language Association Committee on Scholarly Editions.” We also ask that the published grant guidelines say nothing about crowd-sourcing for editorial projects, allowing project directors to continue to make decisions about how performance objectives will be accomplished.
• We ask that the requirement of free online access in both the Online Publishing and the Transition Support categories be held in abeyance until the NHPRC can study the issue and develop a practical, robust, proactive approach to developing best practice and taking responsibility for achieving this goal. In the meantime, the grants program can continue to encourage and assist editorial projects in creating online editions.
• The ADE urges the Commission to consider that debates over the fate of print publication are ongoing, and that the goal of broad digital access to historical sources does not require that all other options for dissemination should be removed from consideration. We should also consider, together, the contributions that scholarly publishers have made and will continue to make as partners with editors, sponsoring institutions, and funders to carry forward our essential work.
For fuller exposition of this matters, see my letter to the Archivist of March 28: http://www.documentaryediting.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ADE_28March_2014.pdf.
Who Will Be April’s Fool?
I am so old that, at the time of my first encounters with this particular federal agency, its name had fewer syllables and clearer intent. It was the National Historical Publications Commission. I have survived a great many of its fads, its epic feuds, and its ill-conceived reactions to tight budgets. Nonetheless, it hurts anew every time, when people we thought of as colleagues reveal themselves to be stunningly mission-insensitive and ill-informed about the work their Commission funds. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will now start digging through the Earth to China.
I comment on just one variety of problem in the changes offered. Free is good; no argument there. But in this case, a requirement for “free” publication functions chiefly as an excuse to exclude the esteemable historical scholarship on which the Commission built and sustained its reputation. This is a requirement for unfunded perpetual care. (When I checked in on-line dictionaries about the word “esteemable,” the answer came with commentary on my paragraph: “This word doesn’t usually appear in our free dictionary, but the definition from our premium Unabridged Dictionary is offered here on a limited basis. Note that some information is displayed differently in the Unabridged.” Even words have a digital class structure nowadays.)
Books are expensive to produce but they are self-sustaining for hundreds of years. The children grow up and leave home. I might choose to promote sales and use of the Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Microfilm Edition (1991) until I die. Or, perhaps, I might opt to demonstrate through a few more historical essays what riches lie in the Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, six volumes (1997-2013). But I am not expected to supervise a staff and upgrade equipment and shop for new software and check regularly that the links work and leave directions in my will for my heirs to pay obeisance to the Commission’s unfunded mandate.
On whom would this obligation lie? The “national historical publications” are, by and large, only temporarily affiliated with host institutions. (I know, I know: Princeton and Yale might dispute the meaning of “temporarily,” but I doubt their administrators have budgeted for perpetual care after the historians complete their work.) Editors are not empowered to commit their academic hosts to an expensive, long-term obligation. What university anywhere on the planet would let its office of grants and sponsored research submit grant proposals for new editions–or even continuing editions–when permission to seek funding commits the school to perpetual care? Or, is this an indenture on the Principal Investigator? Precarious employment just got worse.
I have been down this road before, with the Commission at my side, in the Model Editions Partnership. Where are MEP’s “national historical publications,” you ask? Precisely. I have a metaphorical child who will not leave home and stand alone, while the Commission feels no obligation to pay child support. “Travels for Reform: The Early Work of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1852-1861,” once a very popular site for teaching citizenship digitally (a better goal), is abandoned by and exiled from its original (grant-funded) hosts at the University of South Carolina. Accountability was nowhere to be found. A broken version later surfaced on the web with scores of malfunctioning links, out of date mailing addresses, and a baffling tangle of questions about literary rights and copyright. This child is not only “free,” she’s liberated. Where exactly does this flawed child belong? Who will feed her and clean her clothes? And why would a federal agency opt to mass produce a model that already failed in the agency’s own experiment?
“Perpetual care” has a legal and ethical history because it involves the creation of financial trusts to cover costs and because “perpetual” is a lot like “infinite.” In the cemetery professions, a distinction is drawn between “funds given for the perpetual care of individual lots” and “sums set aside by the cemetery officials for the perpetual care of the whole cemetery.” [http://www.iccfa.com/reading/1900-1919/perpetual-care-0] The Commission and the National Archives, if sincere in their new litmus test for funding, would consider their responsibility to the “whole cemetery” and get on with their institutional opportunity to create free, public, and perpetual access to the spectacular historical scholarship and documentary richness their grants have given to the public for more than half a century. The “individual lots” are fleeting in institutional and human terms.
Comments of Association of American University Presses
The Association of American University Presses (AAUP) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the National Historical Records & Publications Commission’s (NHPRC) 12 February 2014 draft announcements Online Publishing of Historical Records and Publishing Historical Records Online: Transition Support (the Drafts). AAUP’s 133 members represent more than 90% of the nation’s university presses, along with a variety of aligned mission-based publishers such as museums, learned societies, historical associations, and research institutes. Collectively, we publish more than 10,000 scholarly books and 800 journals each year. One of the hallmark of AAUP membership is a commitment to the broad dissemination of scholarship; consequently, AAUP has a long-standing policy in support of sustainable open access scholarly publishing. At the same time, AAUP members are expected by their parent institutions to meet budgets, maximize cost-recovery, and generally apply the same rigor to their activities as commercial publishers. In short, they stand with one foot in the academy and the other in the marketplace. Consequently AAUP is in a unique position to comment on several key aspects of the Drafts.
Concerns with Drafts in Their Current Form
AAUP generally applauds the goal of helping editors of future documentary editions to envision their projects as original digital projects (although we caution that such vision must include sustainability, and, based on the Drafts, we fear that the NHPRC may be underestimating the true complexity involved in creating fully-functional and permanently-archived digital documentary editions). We are most concerned, however, about the impact of the Drafts on existing projects, especially those long-term projects that have been consistently funded by NHPRC and that will be unable to meet the three-year completion date contemplated in the “transition” category.
For many decades university presses have worked cooperatively with editors of documentary editions to present and publish their work, and, more recently, to transform print volumes into digital formats. Aspects of the Drafts may have serious consequences for the future of these publishing relationships and the investment that university presses have been willing to make in these editions. In particular, we would draw the NHPRC’s attention to the following:
(1) PDF Is a Poor Standard for Digital Research Content. University presses have made great strides in the past decade in publishing digital documentary editions. These have included both original digital projects and the migration of print volumes to robust, searchable digital editions. One of the key learnings from this accumulated experience is the overwhelming superiority of XML to PDF as a digital format. Our members’ XML editions often are based on the pioneering work done for the Model Editions Partnership, which was funded by NHPRC. Unlike PDF editions, these state-of-the-art XML editions are designed to handle large databases of material and return useful results swiftly. The Drafts appear to direct projects toward creating isolated PDF editions or other inexpensive solutions. This approach is likely to produce siloed editions that cannot be cross-searched with other materials and that may not be supported by host institutions – who often expect fully-searchable XML content – after the projects are completed. Digital research requires robust technology; ironically, for many researchers searching in print can be easier than searching PDFs.
(2) The Costs of Digital Publishing Must Be Accommodated on Permanent Basis. The Drafts contemplate immediate free digital availability of all NHPRC-funded projects, with significant exceptions provided during a transition period. Unfortunately, however, the considerable costs of digital publishing will exist beyond the transition period. These ongoing costs must be reimbursed through some mechanism – a charge to content producers, a charge to content consumers, or support from government or private sector sources (or some combination thereof). AAUP members have accumulated substantial experience experimenting with these various approaches to funding open digital access; one of the most widely used is the embargo period. Unfortunately, the Drafts effectively eliminate this mechanism, making it even more difficult to assure the sustainability of long-term NHPRC projects. (And, it should be noted, even completed projects will experience permanent and ongoing maintenance costs in a digital environment.) Without a cost recovery mechanism, many publishers will be forced to abandon the projects they have been publishing. The ensuing “domino effect” could actually lead to a result directly opposite NHPRC’s stated goal: less access to documentary editions instead of more.
(3) The Drafts Penalizes Some Non-Profit Publishers Who Use Subscription Fees to Recover Costs. By way of example, a number of documentary editors have called the University of Virginia Press’s Rotunda “the gold standard” of digital editions. Rotunda was established with private funding largely from the University of Virginia and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with the understanding that it would become self-sustaining through a subscription-based model. Libraries purchase the subscriptions and make the editions available freely to their patrons. Through agreement with its funders, Rotunda’s sustainability model relies on subscription fees. By withdrawing NHPRC support from projects that use subscription fees to recover costs, the Drafts penalize projects that have chosen to work with Rotunda or other similar non-profit publishing outlets, despite Rotunda’s considerable investment in the technology infrastructure to support useful, permanent digital editions.
Recommendations & Conclusion
Based on the foregoing concerns, the AAUP respectfully submits that, in order to best achieve its commendable goal of broad access to NHPRC-supported work, at least as regards the dissemination of the documentary editor’s work the Drafts could benefit from further consideration and broader stakeholder input. We therefore urge a one-year delay in the finalization of the Drafts as they relate to the publication of digital documentary editions. During this period, we encourage NHPRC to initiate dialogue within the full stakeholder community – publishers, documentary editors, historians, librarians, and others – in order to ensure its goals are met. We think it is especially important that NHPRC give further consideration to the concerns it has raised before it disrupts existing publishing relationships – a certain outcome of the Drafts in their current form.
AAUP members are interested in pursuing creative new arrangements that will open the materials they publish to as many readers as possible, and stands ready to assist the commission in any way possible in making productive use of the year delay we are recommending.
Peter M. Berkery, Jr.
The American Historical Association takes note of NARA’s proposed draft guidelines that require NHPRC grantees to “publish online editions and provide free online access.” We agree that broad dissemination of these essential documents is imperative, and hence support the requirement that grant proposals to NHPRC include plans for digital publication. We are less certain that either historical scholarship or public culture is well served by a rigid requirement that such dissemination be free of charge.
NHPRC funding has encouraged and supported the valuable and painstaking documentary editing work that has made collections of carefully edited primary sources available to historians, educators, and the public. The publications are of inestimable value to the nation and support the public culture and citizenship that is vital for sustaining democracy. The AHA is pleased to see proposed changes that will even further broaden the presence of these documents in American public culture, but it is equally imperative to maintain the quality of historical scholarship that is essential to the utility of these materials.
The collections that users encounter are not mere digitized compilations of documents contained in the nation’s vaults. Archivists, editors, publishers, and the institutions and funders who make their work possible contribute essential expertise. Which version of a speech was the final draft? Was a letter actually received? How much would awareness of a contemporary rhetorical convention substantially affect understanding of its author’s meaning? Our responsibility to the men and women who created the original primary source materials, and to the public for whom these papers are history, heritage, and cultural inheritance, requires attentiveness to these kinds of questions.
The ultimate question to be asked here is how we can ensure that these documentary editions continue to be produced with appropriate expertise and reach the widest audience. The digital revolution provides not only new means for producing and providing access, but also new opportunities for historical scholarship in the production of these projects. The world in which we research, write, and disseminate our work is changing, and expanding online publishing of historical records increases their utility, value, and appeal.
Similarly, the needs of digital government present challenges to state archives. The creation of government records in digital form can be vital for engaged citizenship, but also raises challenges for their preservation and use. To that end the AHA also supports the NHPRC’s move to provide funding to state archives in preserving and providing access to electronic government records.
Digital publication of all NHPRC projects will broaden access. The proposed transition period of four years, as well as funding to support the move to digital, will help projects to build sustainable digital resources, but that access involves new ongoing costs for elements such as preserving the digital files and creation of vital metadata. The expense of producing these works in either print or digital is significant, and publishers must be able to recoup their investment.
At the same time, these edited documents are a public good, and there are reasonable obligations that accompany public funding. Publishers can, for example, be reasonably required to complement a subscription model for digital publication with free access to secondary school students and teachers. This is not a matter of balancing diverging interests: everyone involved in the ecosystem—the institutions at which projects are based, the publishers, the archivists, the editors, and the funders—have an obligation to encourage both wide circulation and sustainable models of high-quality production.
Executive Director, American Historical Association
A great article from Archives Next- “The Future of Archives is Participatory: Archives as Platform, or A New Mission for Archives”