6.0391 History Profession OnLine (1/310)

Tue, 8 Dec 1992 19:08:15 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0391. Tuesday, 8 Dec 1992.

Date: Sun, 6 Dec 1992 10:58 CST
Subject: H-Net plan to put history profession on line

H-Net Planning Document
version 3.1 Dec 6, 1992
not confidential--circulate & comment
by Richard Jensen
Bitnet: U08946@uicvm Internet: u08946@uicvm.uic.edu
tel (615) 552-9923 fax: (312) 996-6377
Professor of History, U of Illinois, Chicago, 60680

1. Half of the academic historians in the US have a powerful
computer on their desks. Many graduate students have one,
or have convenient access. The analogy is the Model T
Ford-- people own a wonderful machine, but use it only to
drive to church on Sunday (i.e. for basic word
processing). Our main goal is to get historians to use
their equipment for communications.
2. We are organizing a team of historians at the University
of Illinois, Chicago, that is planning to assist the
history profession to go on-line and make use of the
remarkable advances in computers in recent years. H-Net
will comprise two parts.
3. The first will be an electronic "bulletin board" system
open free to all historians in the US--and across the
world. Technically, H-Net will operate in two modes
("Internet" and direct telephone access), such that any
historian with a personal computer (IBM compatible or
Apple Mac) and a modem can connect to it (also a "dumb"
terminal linked to campus computer). Most will connect
through their campus computer system via Internet. Others
can phone us long-distance. (We will have an 800 number
for first sign-on.)
a) H-Net will primarity operate as a bulletin board
system, using the widely-used "Wildcat" software. It
will have Listserv, Fileserve, Gopher and FTP services
(these are ways to disseminate files electronically.)
4. The second part of H-Net will be a hands-on training
program to show historians how to use their PCs more
effectively. The training will be provided in all-day
sessions at host universities (probably 4-5 a year) and
formal sessions at conventions like the American
Historical Association (AHA), Organization of American
Historians (OAH), and Southern Historical Association
(SHA) (probably 2-3 /year).
a) We will show historians how to use Bitnet to
communicate to each other--the "poor academic's fax."
Bitnet messages tend to be much more frequent,
shorter, and less formal than written letters or
telephone calls.
5. The logic of H-Net is that a valuable service can be
performed by working through an established discipline,
and its departments and associations. The core target is
college and university history departments in the US,
Canada--and anywhere else interested, plus the
established associations like the AHA, OAH and SHA.
a) Eventually, we will invite the established
area/chronology groups: Medieval, Reformation,
British, Asian, African, French, Spanish, Latin
America, World War II, US: Early Republic, Gilded Age,
Afro-American, Western, etc.
b) also the established topics/methods groups: Catholic,
Church, Film, Foreign Relations, Lesbian/Gay Military,
Oral, Peace, Public, Science, Social Science, Urban,
Women, World, etc.
6. Based on my experience running 11 summer institutes in
the new social history and quantitative methods at the
Newberry Library, and 12 shorter mini-institutes, I
estimate from 200 to 300 historians a year will
participate (including public historians and graduate
students.) Institutions will be asked to pay a modest
registration fee. NEH will be asked to cover 80% of the
costs, with the remainder coming from the U of Illinois
and the participants.
7. The national H-Net bulletin board will have a number of
"doors" that provide a variety of services.
a) Useful and timely information will be posted, with a
very short turnaround time (one day), compared to the
many weeks needed for printed matter. We will work
with groups to put their newsletters on-line. (If a
group wishes, access to its newsletter can be
restricted to its members only.) Conferences and
conventions will be announced; interested parties can
contact the organizers directly; preliminary and final
programs can be posted. The printed journals will not
go on-line.
1) The AHA Job Register will be on-line, for AHA
members only.
b) N-Net will set up (free) private meeting "rooms" for
groups of historians, such as program committees,
conference organizers, or editorial boards, so they
can communicate easily and privately with one another.
c) We will invite volunteers (historians from across the
country, or the world) to moderate the various doors.
Their role will be to keep a steady flow of material
going out, and to encourage the right people to enter
into conversations.
d) There are already several dozen Bitnet-based history
conferences (several each in ancient and medieval,
Russian, Chinese, western Europe, US, women, and
methodology). These groups are international, with
strong representation from Canada and western Europe.
The East Europeans are just now linking up to Bitnet;
Brazil is the first Third World country to become
active. We will publicize these groups and show
historians how to join. We will provide technical help
for anyone who wants to start a new history
conference. We probably will sponsor some ourselves,
especially regarding methodology, and reviews of
software. Messages can be in any language (but will be
limited to ascii characters).
e) One door will lead to course syllabi, outlines and
handouts donated by teachers. We will show users how
to download them into their own word processors. We
will have the capability of storing and forwarding gif
graphics files (maps, graphs, charts, overhead
transparencies) as well as text.
f) As interest grows, rather specialized doors can be
opened. One might be a service for users of a major
textbook in Western Civ, allowing instructors and
teaching assistants around the country to exchange
ideas, handouts, tests, and helpful hints.
g) Doors will lead to bibliographies donated by
historians. (At present, there are few good ways to
publish the bibliographies historians lovingly
h) The major new source we will create is a combined
retrospective index to the major history journals.
Editors spend a great deal of effort to compile highly
sophisticated indexes of their journals--indexes that
go far beyond authors and titles. We will obtain the
diskettes used in recent years, and scan the printed
indexes of other years. The result will be a large
on-line source that will be accessed by a key word
search. Students and scholars will use to gain much
better access to the contents of the major history
i) There are many electronic texts, CD-ROMs and finding
aids becoming available. Our H-Net board will tell
historians about them, and exchange tips on how to use
j) Especially vital are library catalogues (including the
major universities) which are now available free to
people who know how to use Internet. The CARL service
(guide to recent articles) is open (for those who know
how to access it.) Other services like RLIN, OCLC and
the OED are restricted. Many historians have access to
the latter through their campus computer center or
library, but do not know how to use them. We will show
how to download information into their word processing
program, and (better) how to load them into
bibliography textbases, like ProCite. These sources
are the domain of campus libraries; our job will be to
make sure historians know how to interact with
8. Undergraduate teaching is an area that is poorly served
by the printed journals. National and local on-line
boards can provide a variety of services.
a) Nationally, H-Net will set up discussion groups for
professors and teaching assistants who teach the large
survey courses. Topics of discussion will include
textbooks, supplementary books, publishers'
supplementary materials (test banks, transparencies,
study guides, teacher's guides), helps and hints on
discussion sections, and anything else teachers wish
to discuss. Volunteers will moderate these groups.
b) We will set up a model "departmental" board here at
UIC, where faculty can communicate with students. Most
of our students are commuters--and many of our faculty
work at home--suggesting that email may be a good
solution to the problem of communicating with each
other. The University of Kansas History department is
the first (and only) departmental model.
c) We will show departments how to set up their own local
boards for their large courses. One could be for
students to interact with their instructors--for
example, by asking questions or adding follow-up
comments, or seeking help. Another could be restricted
to the professor and the TAs, allowing them to discuss
the course privately on a day to day basis.
d) Undergraduate and graduate seminar-style courses can
set up their own local boards. Students can post
their papers and other students, and the professor,
can make suggestions and critiques. Substantive
discussions can follow up a class meeting. The
professor can use access to Internet sources to
provide exact bibliographic suggestions to students
writing papers.
9. The whole project will be operated as a model that can be
emulated in other disciplines. We will keep logs and
"how-we-did-it" guides, and will be delighted to help
anyone with their technical questions.
a) The American Philosophy Association sponsors an
excellent bulletin board that we will monitor and
emulate. It is basically a newsletter service; entry
is open, but it is not possible to download files.
H-Net will have file download through the Wildcat BBS
software, and through ftp over Internet.
b) "HUMANIST" is an excellent discussion group, with very
well edited messages. It has about a thousand
subscribers, & a few dozen regular contributors, but
disappointingly little history presence. We will
monitor HUMANIST (and other lists) and cross list good
10. History is a large and complex field, with vital links
beyond academic history departments. For example, history
has close relations with archives, state historical
societies, museums and rare book libraries (among others)
and with scholars around the globe. Some outside groups,
like genealogy and local history societies, do important
work in gathering and computerizing primary data.
Problem: how does H-Net link up with these other
11. H-Net will be run from the History department of the
University of Illinois, Chicago. A national council will
set policy, a local council will direct operations and
coordinate with campus entities like the History
department, the Library, and the Computer Center. H-Net
will be entirely non-political. The doors and
conferences will be moderated (by us and especially by
volunteers around the country) to provide a smooth flow
of information to the users and to avoid overloading
their e-mailboxes with irrelevant material. (Our model:
a) Volunteers are out there. The knack of keeping
discussion groups focused on important issues is
essentially a teaching skill; experts in the
discipline know who to ask to contribute.
b) The H-Net board will be a hybrid system operating
simultaneously on PC hardware and WIldcat software (to
be purchased by grant) and also on Internet/Bitnet
through the UIC Computer Center.
12. One ideological commitment of ours: we are keen on
broadening the access opportunities of all historians,
especially those at smaller schools and historical
societies. We will include both the IBM-compatible and
the Apple tribes. Historians who do not have their own
PCs can obtain access through departmental or campus
machines (according to the newest Peterson Guide, every
college in the country has PCs.) We will "give away" (in
the form of shareware) the necessary software (like the
Procomm terminal program.)
a) Internet and Bitnet have several thousand nodes
(mostly university computer centers) and over a half
million users (mostly in the sciences). The planned
"NREN" system will be even more elaborate and will
allow many more users to connect (including high
schools). It will be the interstate highway system of
the 21st century.
b) Nationwide, colleges are facing a budget crunch.
According to recent EDUCOM survey, half plan to cut
back the training and services they offer their
faculty. History departments will be especially hard
hit, because few have computer experts who keep up
with fast-breaking innovations.
13. We have had a good deal of experience with computers and
software, and we enjoy keeping abreast of the newest
innovations. Kelly Richter and Wendy Plotkin are very
talented graduate students in history, and have a
remarkable background in hardware and software. Plotkin,
for example, is giving papers at both the Social Science
History Association and the American Historical
Association conventions this fall on her analysis of how
historians and publishers are dealing with electronic
texts. They will handle day-to-day operations, and assist
me in the training programs. I will be project director.
14. Our first priority (spring 1993) will be to establish a
bulletin board system for the U of Illinois Chicago
History Department. It will operate as a Listserv (with
Fileserv and FTP services as well). As demand increases,
we will split into a general List (for department
announcements), and specialized lists (for the graduate
students, for example). We will individually train
faculty and graduate students in the necessary email
technique, and will assist faculty in setting up
specialized lists for their courses.
15. H-Net has been endorsed by the AHA (Professional Division
and Research Division), the Southern Historical
Association, and the Organization of American Historians.
ACLS has expressed support--it considers H-Net an
ambitious project that would put history well ahead of
other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.
(Scientists and engineers dominate Internet now.) We will
work with major history organizations to reach their
members (via conventions, journal, newsletter, membership
directory), and upload newsletter-type information
generated by the organizations.
16. We have a five year time horizon. The technology is
changing so fast that it would be unwise to predict much
longer than that. Our UIC team does not expect to spend
more than five years on the project. If H-Net fails to
catch on, we will confess we misjudged historians and
move on to something else. If, as we expect, it does
prove successful, it will be self liquidating. We will
have trained enough departmental "gurus" around the
country that they can show their colleagues and students
how to go forward. The history conventions will have
regular sessions on the newest technology. The various
bulletin boards and doors will be taken over by
volunteers, who will use their own university facilities
to operate the services.
17. Two schools have begun discussions about being a test
site early next year. Department chairs make the point
that they would be in a stronger position if they could
show their deans that historians are using their fancy
new hardware in creative fashion. While teaching at West
Point (where every instructor and cadet has a PC), I gave
out assignments and outlines, held "office hours" and
collected "papers," all by electronic mail. My guess is
that historians are becoming increasingly curious about
where their Model T might take them on the new
interstates, and how fast.