Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians
In 2011-2012, Ithaka S+R examined the changing research methods and practices of academic historians in the United States, with the objective of identifying services to better support them. Based on interviews with dozens of historians, librarians, archivists, and other support services providers, this project has found that the underlying research methods of many historians remain fairly recognizable even with the introduction of new tools and technologies, but the day to day research
... of all historians have changed fundamentally. Ithaka S+R researchers identified numerous opportunities for improved support and training, which are presented as recommendations to information services organizations including libraries and archives, history departments, scholarly societies, and funding agencies. For archives, we recommend ongoing improvements to access through improved finding aids, digitization, and discovery tool integration, as well as expanded opportunities for archivists to help historians interpret collections, to build connections among users, and to instruct PhD students in the use of archives. For libraries, we recommend ongoing improvements in the provision of collections, including by addressing changing format preferences, by collaborating to maximize access to collections, and by offering discovery environments that incorporate the full range of needed materials. We also recommend that libraries develop new research support models that address historians' related needs for expertise at a sub-disciplinary level and for assistance in discovering and accessing primary source materials. For providers of digital and digitized sources, we recommend addressing the absence of foreign language and non-textual materials and providing additional transparency regarding their collections to maximize their value for computational research. In addition, we note the singular reported importance to historians of Google's offering and recommend that other providers evaluate their distinctive role in this light. For providers of citation and research notes management systems, we recommend addressing further opportunities to serve historians' needs to gain intellectual control of sources and organize them into a narrative. For history departments, we recommend a number of additions to PhD education, including training in how to develop a dissertation proposal recognizing resource constraints, in the adoption and use of research practices and methods, in the use of non-textual sources, and in the use of new forms of scholarly expression. For scholarly societies, we recommend initiatives to track regularly the changing research practices of the field to identify support needs, and to engage professionally with librarians, archivists, and other research support providers to address these needs. Finally, for funders, we recommend several opportunities where funding promises to address some of the professional development needs for historians as well as opportunities to build bridges between historians and their research support providers.