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H-Net Community: Building Bridges

Network Is Publishing Book Reviews
for Historians

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Date: April 28, 1995
Section: Information Technology
Page: A53

By Thomas J. DeLoughry

A scholarly project that manages dozens of electronic mailing lists in history has begun publishing book reviews for its thousands of readers.

The project, which is known as H-Net, includes more than 50 mailing lists in such subdisciplines as women's history, the Holocaust, and American history.

H-Net is developing procedures that would enable the moderators of various lists to solicit reviews from scholars that would be circulated on the lists and then put in an archive that could be searched on line. Books would be ordered and distributed through an office at Michigan State University.

Mark Kornbluh, an assistant professor of history at Michigan State, is coordinating the book-review effort. He says 30 of the lists have distributed about 60 reviews in the last few months.

Richard Jensen, a professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago and director of H-Net, says he expects the project to distribute about 20 book reviews a week by the summer. The reviews, he says, will be longer and more timely than those in scholarly journals, often appearing only weeks -- rather than years -- after the books are published.

One of the most active lists has been "H-Film," a service for media scholars, which has produced an average of one book review a week in the last three months. Its moderator, Steven Mintz, a professor of history at the University of Houston, says the reviews mark an important point in the evolution of mailing lists from chat services to important scholarly resources.

"Our goal is to inject as much intellectual content as possible," he says.

The sheer number of reviews that are possible in cyberspace -- where there is no concern for paper or ink -- allows more scholars to be involved in the process, Mr. Mintz says. "We think it's an opportunity for a new group of people to help define the scholarly agenda."

Jim Oberly, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, who is a moderator of the list on rural and agricultural history, also is enthusiastic about the potential for on-line book reviews.

His list featured an "interactive review" in January in which the author of a book engaged list subscribers in a week-long question-and-answer session.

The one potential drawback, Mr. Oberly says, is that reviews could be produced so quickly that people might not be able to discuss them because they haven't read the book.

Reviews from the various H-Net lists will be archived on a Gopher server at Michigan State. The address is: hs1.hst.msu.edu.

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