Publication Date

February 28, 2022

Perspectives Section

Letters to the Editor

AHA Topic

Professional Life, Research & Publications


Research Methods

To the Editor:

In her December 2021 column, “Another Digital Revolution,” Jacqueline Jones writes about the digitized wealth of “evidentiary riches” that she was able to tap for her research. But, she writes, “in terms of accessing digital collections that university and other libraries have subscribed to, independent scholars are at a distinct disadvantage here.”

In 2018, I participated in an AHA annual meeting session organized by Becky Nicolaides. The panel accompanied an AHA survey on research access among independent scholars that received more than 1,000 responses and revealed a diverse community of researchers who lacked remote access to electronic databases, among other problems. As Becky commented, the problem “affects faculty as much as independent scholars, and it is a teaching problem as much as a research problem.” Becky later published “Locked Out” in Perspectives on these issues.

In addition to barriers hampering their research, independent scholars now face major obstacles to publication as more and more journals impose article publication charges for open access articles. The upshot will be a loss of fresh voices and ideas that might invigorate the profession.

In 2020, the AHA Council issued a Statement on Research Access, which encouraged history departments to extend library access to unaffiliated scholars. It recommended that “any PhD program that centers ‘training the producers of new knowledge,’ ought to consider its ethical obligation to provide those scholars with the requisite means.”

However, the AHA itself has taken few concrete steps to support this recommendation. How many institutions have actually changed their practices? How many have even tried? In an email sent to members on December 28, 2021, James Grossman listed the activities of the AHA over the past year, but he did not mention any efforts to address the problems of access or publication charges.

AHA officers should do more than agree that there is a problem—they should be working on solutions.

Margaret DeLacy
President, Northwest Independent Scholars Association

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