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What does it mean to internationalize H-Net?
by Robert Cherny, President-Elect, H-Net

From its beginning, H-Net may have had greater international participation in its activities, including governance, than any other US scholarly society. For the past few years, the H-Net Council has seriously discussed ways of promoting further internationalization. At the same time, other academics in the US have also been discussing the internationalization of their teaching and scholarship. Some of their conclusions have implications for H-Net's efforts:

  • internationalization involves more than studying parts of the world other than our own;
  • internationalization means that the dialogue about a topic includes participation by scholars from various places, not just the place being studied;
  • internationalization may mean broadening our approach to include a larger context or international comparisons; and
  • scholars need to consider the internet's potential for internationalizing scholarship.

How international is H-Net today?

Table 1

Table 1 (based on data from February 2002) suggests that current H-Net networks address nearly every region and sub-region of the world, and that a third of them are topical. Nonetheless, 54 out of 126 networks deal only with North America or Europe. Among the 43 topical networks, most concentrate on North America, Europe, and Australia--or even just on the US.

Some topical networks have worked at internationalization. Wendy Plotkin of H-Urban told me what that network has done in this regard. Here's a partial summary:

  • Having editors from outside of the US from an early stage and having an international Editorial Advisory Board was important.
  • The non-US editors sensitized the US editors to a greater international awareness.
  • Editors seek to introduce international topics for discussion.
  • The book review editor seeks non-US reviewers.
  • The H-Urban website has a strong international emphasis.
  • H-Urban has promoted off-list contact among US and non-US scholars.

There are undoubtedly lessons here for all H-Net networks.

The subscription list for HNET-Staff, our internal e-mail list for editors, as of last February, indicates that 400+ receive e-mail from US-based servers, 38 from western Europe, and 35 from Commonwealth nations. There are one or more editors in Ghana, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Senegal, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, and Zimbabwe. There are apparently no H-Net editors in China, India, the Islamic world (other than Ghana, Senegal, and Singapore), or Latin America south of Mexico.

I looked at data from 26 networks with nearly 40,000 subscribers--one-fifth of all networks and one-quarter of all subscribers. Among networks with US topics, upwards of 90% of subscribers are from the US. Among topical networks, US subscribers range from 70% to about 85%. Among networks focused on regions of the world other than the US, most have fewer than 70% of their subscribers from the US. The fewest US subscribers appear on H-Canada (61% are in Canada), H-ANZAU (73% are in Australia and New Zealand), H-Francais (conducted in French; 73% are in French-speaking nations), and H-Soz-u-Kult (conducted in German; 77% are in German-speaking nations).

These data suggest that language makes a difference. In addition, it is clear that nearly all H-Net subscribers come from regions where scholars have easy access to technology. Given the combination of language and technology, it's not surprising that the US, western Europe, Canada, and Australia dominate the lists of both subscribers and editors.

In conclusion, I suggest that H-Net faces at least these challenges as it seeks to increase participation by non-US scholars:

  • Language--how can scholars participate comfortably if their first language is not the dominant language of the network? How can English-speaking and non-English-speaking scholars participate comfortably in the same scholarly dialogues?
  • Technology--is there any way for H-Net to bridge the technology gap between scholars with easy access to computers and the internet, and those scholars who have no such easy access? How can H-Net reach scholars who may not have regular or reliable access to a computer or to the internet?
  • What can topical networks do to increase the international components of their activities?
  • What can networks that focus solely on US topics do to increase participation by non-US scholars in their activities?

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About the Author
Robert Cherny, President-Elect of H-Net, is at San Francisco State University and is also List Editor for H-California, Advisory Board Member for H-Labor, List Editor for H-SHGAPE, Advisory Board Member for H-West.

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