Because I’ve received so many comments to my post about the future of H-Net, I wanted to take a few minutes to respond to them in detail. Rather than respond to each individually, I decided to pull out some of the main themes and respond to those.
1. Matthew Gilmore writes that there is no way that the internal discussion of the H-Net editors can be shared, since that would be a violation of the H-Net bylaws. So, I guess I’ll just have to rely on the few tidbits that have been passed my way to get a sense for what the editors of the various lists actually think. It’s too bad that these discussions are closed from the view of the general community–unlike blogs that are open to all who care to read them. Gilmore also makes the valid point that my About page didn’t actually have a link to my name–hence the belief that I was blogging anonymously. Point taken. The page has been updated.
2. Several of the comments I received argued that email lists are much more convenient–that the information one wants is simply dumped into one’s email inbox and is there for easy perusal–much easier than hunting for the same information on various websites, blogs, social networks, etc.
RSS feeds do the same thing. Just as I used to do rely on H-Net to provide me with conference announcements, reviews of books, and the commentary of colleagues, I now get all that same information from another source: Google Reader. I prefer Google Reader for several reasons, the most important being that it is so clearly segregated from my email inbox–an inbox that is flooded with messages from students, my Dean, campus security, our building manager, etc., etc. Having the communications I want to read from scholars aggregated, sorted into folders I create according to my personal interest, available at a click, and fully searchable works very well for me–and it keeps all that communication clear of my inbox–the inbox that I wrestle with every day just to keep it under 50 messages.
3. A couple of people with lots of H-Net experience at the senior level (Greg Downey and Kelly in Kansas) wrote to say that they saw both positive movement for change going on within H-Net–not abandoning email lists, but adding new ways of communicating. I didn’t say that email lists should be junked next month or even next year. But I did suggest that they were probably on their way out and so I hoped H-Net would consider what comes next when the email list is over. These comments suggest that there is more going on at H-Net than is apparent on their website. Downey mentions a conference in his comment. I’d love to hear a review of that event after it happens.
4. A couple of people (Downey, the History Enthusiast) raised the question of wikis as one of many possible forms of information exchange among scholars and others who participate in discussions like those that take place on H-Net and in scholarly blogs. I think we have only begun to scratch the surface of what wikis can do for us. I used a wiki in a graduate seminar this past semester and found it to be a very useful tool for my grad students to exchange information about what they’d read. For more on this issue, I’d refer you to Roy Rosenzweig’s essay Can History Be Open Source? that appeared in the Journal of American History last year.
These are just a few of the main lines of discussion that have emerged in the comments to the original post. Thanks to everyone who contributed and I would encourage others to do the same. I post all comments received as quickly as possible (I moderate the comments to prevent spamming) and make them all fully available to all who care to read them.
Finally, a quick note about the medium–blogs, that is. If the purpose of academic discourse is the circulation of knowledge, then just based on the experience of the past 72 hours, blogs make it possible to circulate a great deal of knowledge at a high rate of speed. Since I posted the original item on H-Net my blog has had 1,544 unique visitors (as of 10:00 am EST). For a fairly obscure topic–the future of scholarly email lists–that seems like a fair amount of knowledge circulation to me. I’d be curious to know how many H-Net lists have more than 1,500 members?