AHA Today

What We’re Reading: March 31, 2011

AHA Staff | Mar 31, 2011

Ken Burns Vietnam WarIn the news this week, some new ideas about declassification of historical records, Ken Burns announces Vietnam War documentary, and the LA Times checks out a Virginia Civil War sesquicentennial project. Then, learn more about reCaptcha, get advice on online images and copyright, peruse a roundup of women’s history, and take a look back at historic D.C. We also continue with more articles and news on the William Cronon affair. Finally, follow-up on the recently rejected Google Books Settlement through a number of links.


  • Declassification
    The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) offers ideas for simplifying declassification of historical records. Share your thoughts on the National Archives blog.
  • Ken Burns
    Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ nextproject is a 10 to 12 hour PBS documentary series on the history of the Vietnam War.
  • Civil War
    The LA Times reports on a recent Civil War sesquicentennial project where “[a]rchivists are visiting 129 cities and towns across Virginia to digitally scan long-hidden journals, letters, maps and other Civil War records into an online database before they disappear forever.”

New York Times captchaResources

  • Captcha
    The New York Times looks at Captcha programs and how they’re using the masses to translate old texts into searchable computer files.
  • Images and Copyright
    The Teachinghistory.org blog offers some advice on finding images online and determining their copyright protections.
  • Women’s History
    Katrina Gulliver hosts the second installment of the Women’s History Month Carnival, featuring women filmmakers, fashions of the 1870s, biographical pieces, and women criminals in Australia. See also part I.
  • Historic D.C.
    The National Museum of American History posts some maps and images of 1800s D.C. that illustrate the history of an 1882 flood and the planting of the cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin.

William Cronon
We’ve put up multiple posts on the William Cronon affair this week, but today we round them up as well as offering links to new insights.

  • AHA Statement
    At the beginning of this week the AHA released a statement criticizing attempts by the deputy executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party to intimidate William Cronon following a blog post he posted on his personal web site.
  • Additional Context
    On Monday we put up a roundup of additional articles and texts that lend context to this issue, including:
  • OAH Statement
    The Organization of American Historians has released a statement, in which they speak out for academic freedom and defend William Cronon.
  • Defense of William Cronon
    Barbara Fister, a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College, argues that there is "big difference between using information to discover, learn, and create as opposed to using it to discredit, bamboozle, and destroy."
  • Eric Foner
    Eric Foner discusses the recent political events in Wisconsin in his article, “Return of the Class Struggle.”
  • The Nation
    In “Wisconsin’s Cronon Affair: The Power of a Simple Fact The Nation delves into the Cronon situation.
  • Google News
    Track articles, blog posts, images and more on this topic through Google News.

Google Books
In last week’s “What We’re Reading” we noted the recent rejection of the Google Books settlement. This week, we follow-up with some related articles.

  • Orphan works
    Jennifer Howard at the Chronicle notes one of the underlying challenges of the Google Book Settlement is the lack of a clear policy for dealing with "orphan works" (texts and materials still under copyright, but lacking a clear owner to authorize re-use). The orphan works issue remains a significant problem for historians of the twentieth century.
  • Charting the Settlement
    This diagram (PDF) from the Association of Research Libraries lays out the possible paths the Google Books settlement might take following Judge Chin’s ruling.
  • Alternatives
    Inside Higher Ed looks at two possible alternatives to Google Books: “smaller, academically oriented projects are hoping to continue making electronic texts more discoverable.” 
  • Digital Public Library
    Former AHA President (and now director of the Harvard Libraries) Robert Darnton celebrates the Google Books ruling, and sees it as an opportunity to create a true "digital public library" for the future.

Contributors: Miriam Hauss Cunningham, Elisabeth Grant, Jim Grossman, Chris Hale, Vernon Horn, Pillarisetti Sudhir, and Robert B. Townsend

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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