Perspectives Paying It Forward
Allen Mikaelian, February 2014
Perspectives on History authors have a variety of interests and come from a range of professions, but they all share an astounding generosity. We do not pay them for their work (as much as we’d like to). And since Perspectives is not peer-reviewed, many of our writers know that their articles will have little impact on career advancement. Yet submissions pour in, and our writers labor over revisions, devoting significant amounts of their most precious resource—spare time—because of their commitment to our community of historians.
They come to us and work with us in a spirit of service—because they have an idea or a project or a teaching technique they want to share. We repay that generosity with promotion of their articles, using our network of members and our social media presence to publicize their contribution as widely as possible.
It’s to further repay that generosity that the AHA Council approved two resolutions at the annual meeting. First, Perspectives articles will no longer be gated. One no longer has to be a member to read the web version of the full issue on the first day of publication. However, readers still should become members, as those membership dues make publication of this magazine possible. We hope that readers will, in the same spirit of service shown by our authors, contribute to the discipline by joining the AHA or renewing membership. Membership is inexpensive, it has valuable benefits, and it’s absolutely necessary to keep this magazine going.
Second, the AHA Council approved a proposal to apply a Creative Commons license to future articles published in Perspectives. We have always allowed for noncommercial reuse of Perspectives material, with permission. Applying a Creative Commons license to individual articles, however, formalizes our operating policy and removes the necessity of having to request permission. Our authors want their articles to be read and used. Now a teacher can be assured that he or she has our permission to reproduce an article for a course, and history departments have our permission to reproduce In Memoriam essays on their department web pages. While we require a full attribution, and require the work to be reproduced as the author intended it, we will not require permission for noncommercial use of articles in future issues.
We think these policies make sense for Perspectives, but only because it is entirely supported by membership and the volunteer work of our authors. If the magazine drew its support from subscriptions, there would be an entirely different set of questions and considerations surrounding these decisions. But when a publication is a community effort, it makes sense to put that publication back into the community, conceived broadly. The only danger, the only possible downside, as I see it, is that readers may begin to forget that this publication has costs. I like how Hong-Ming Liang puts this, and cite him often. Liang is the editor of an open-access journal that, like Perspectives, enjoys institutional and volunteer support (his article on his journal appears in the May 2013 issue of Perspectives). Liang, though committed to keeping his journal open and available, frequently notes that “open” does not mean “free.” The time he and others put into this project has value.
We believe these policies reflect the intentions of our authors, who want to have their work read as widely as possible. And these policies serve the AHA’s mission to spread and promote conversations about the importance of history as widely as possible. An open version of Perspectives on History—which exists only because of our members’ commitment to the Association and the generosity of our authors—is the best way to achieve both.
—Allen Mikaelian is editor of Perspectives on History.