From the News column in the February 1999 Perspectives

AHA Survey Indicates Growing Acceptance of Internet

Robert B. Townsend, February 1999

Use of the Internet and World Wide Web has become an intrinsic part of the work of academic historians, according to an AHA survey of history departments in the United States and Canada.

More than 75 percent of history departments reported that all of their faculty had access to the Internet, and most of the others said they were working to expand access. And 78 percent of the departments described the use of e-mail as "very important" to their communications with other faculty and colleagues throughout the world. Access to and use of the World Wide Web was lower, but only slightly.

Conducted last summer, the survey elicited responses from 383 of the 729 departments listed in the Directory of History Departments and Organizations in the United States and Canada. The departments were asked the percentage of their faculty with access to the Internet and World Wide Web; the level of importance they placed on different uses for each; whether their staff had access; and where access was less than 100 percent, if they planned to increase access.

E-Mail Use

Departments in the United States reported that an average 96 percent of their faculty had access to e-mail. The number is only slightly lower for departments in Canada, where the average was just over 95 percent. While 94 percent of U.S. departments reported that their staff had access to e-mail, all of the Canadian departments reported access.

In departments with less than 100 percent access to the Internet, all but a handful said they planned to increase access to faculty and staff. Among the few that did not foresee increasing Internet access, most noted that this was due to resistance from individual faculty members.

The departments reported that communication with faculty at other institutions was the most important use for e-mail, but keeping in touch with their colleagues in the department and others in the field rated nearly as high. Keeping in touch with students and using e-mail to receive messages from listservs rated lower, but still a majority of departments rated these uses as "very important."

When broken down by region, the Northeast emerges with the lowest levels of access. Departments in the Northeast averaged only 94 percent access to e-mail (2 percent below the national average) and 88 percent access to the World Wide Web (4 percent below the average). The Southwest enjoyed the highest level of access, with an average of 98 percent with e-mail access and 97 percent with access to the Web.

However, departments in the Northeast placed a much greater importance on the Internet, with departments there more likely to indicate that e-mail connections to colleagues and students were very important to them.

World Wide Web

The World Wide Web has not had the same impact on history departments, even though an average of 92 percent of U.S. faculty reported they had access to the World Wide Web. The use of the Web for research and teaching was rated as only "somewhat important" by most departments, and a significant portion (over 10 percent) said use of the Web was not important to the department.

Access to the Web was significantly lower in Canadian departments, where the average with access was only 72 percent. However, only one Canadian history department said the World Wide Web lacked any use for the department.

The results demonstrate that the Internet has moved from the margins to become a vital part of academic life, as well over two-thirds of the department chairs reported that e-mail was "very important" to their communication with other faculty, colleagues, and students. The World Wide Web received slightly less enthusiasm, but only marginally so.