H-Net about    search    site map    people    donate    contact    help
Discussion Networks Reviews Job Guide Announcements

H-Net at the AHA

H-Net at AHA '97


Yoneyuki Sugita

Osaka University of Foreign Studies

Friday, Jan. 3 2:30-4:30 p.m. Hilton, Bryant Suite


The information revolution has drastically changed the way research and education are conducted. HNET has taken the lead in utilizing this radical change, establishing a global communication network among scholars in humanities and social sciences. H-NET has signed a formal affiliation agreement with the Kansai Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies (KIAPS) of Osaka, Japan in order to assist Japanese scholars to get online. Even though some Japanese scholars do outstanding research, they tend to be isolated from the global academic community. H-NET/KIAPS joint effort is one of the most important steps to internationalize Japanese scholarship. This paper first explains what kind of problems Japanese scholars have to overcome before enjoying the fruits of the information revolution; then, indicates what the current situation is in Japan; and finally makes five proposals to link Japanese scholars with the global online network.


Osaka University of Foreign Studies (OUFS) installed a local area network (LAN) a few years ago. All faculty members may obtain E-mail accounts free of charge and the majority of them have already done so. We currently provide students with their own accounts. Our university, however, has only one expert on computer science on campus. Most of the faculty members are new to computers let alone LANs. OUFS has a computer room, but there is nobody to help us when we have questions on how to use computers. Consequently, only a small number of faculty members actually use the LAN. In short, we have basic facilities, but have practically no technical support.

Many Japanese scholars, especially the older ones, are likely to have a mental block when it comes to computers. Even though they make the very first step to install personal computers in their offices, they tend to use them only as wordprocessors. They collect documents, materials, books, and articles in the traditional way, using library cards and indices. If they wish to discuss their ideas and perspectives, they will wait until scholarly meetings and conferences are held a few times a year. Due to the limited amount of time allotted to panelists, they normally cannot have a deep and thorough discussion on specific topics. I only wish they could join H-NET. They do not taste the fruits of the information revolution and do not realize what they are missing. They are curious about the Internet and computer networks, but they simply do not know what to do. There exists a need for a linkage between those scholars and the online network.

The majority of messages on the Internet and mailing lists are posted in English. This is inevitable because English is the universal language with which scholars all over the world communicate with each other on various subjects. H-Japan is supposed to be a bilingual discussion list (English and Japanese), but most of the messages are written in English. Japanese scholars, primarily Japanese historians, in H-Japan may be able to read English, but it is difficult for them to express their ideas and perspectives clearly and concisely in English. Consequently, for the Japanese scholars, H-Japan tends to serve as a one-way information highway: they only receive information without sharing their own views and thoughts with other subscribers.

H-Japan, established in early 1996, expanded dramatically in less than a year, and now includes over 600 subscribers. H-USA, a discussion list for international study of the U.S., has experienced moderate growth: established in early 1996, it now consists of approximately 150 subscribers. Even though both H-Japan and H-USA have screening processes to admit new subscribers and editors carefully monitor all incoming messages, there occasionally appear flames, purely commercial messages, and unscholarly personal attacks. These unwanted messages degrade the quality of H-Japan and of H-USA. It is time for H-Japan and H-USA, especially H-Japan, to expand not only horizontally (in terms of the sheer size of the lists) but also vertically (the quality of the lists).

H-NET still has a credibility problem: major universities and institutions still do not give full academic recognition to online reviews and articles. H-NET has a most elaborate review project; however, our university still regards online review articles as less important than those in major print journals such as the Journal of American History and Reviews in American History. Electronic journals are becoming popular however, their articles also receive less academic credentials than those in print journals, Consequently, scholars tend to use electronic journals and mailing lists as a way house to publish their articles in print journals. Indeed, there seems to be a division of labor now between H-NET discussion lists and electronic journals on the one hand and print journals on the other. However, if we fully utilize computer-related technology, we may publish not only articles and reviews but also responses to and comments on the articles with incredible speed and volume. It would get scholars engaged in more thorough discussion and deepen their understanding. In other words, H-NET and electronic journals could expect a bright future. Our biggest challenge is how to enhance their quality and how to acquire academic credibility for them.


Not a single day passed without finding a newspaper or magazine article on the Internet in Japan. Most universities now have computer rooms and some have established local area networks on campuses. Since personal computers have decreased their retail prices dramatically, a substantial number of scholars now possess their own computers in their offices. They are very curious about Internet. The problem is that they do not know what the Internet and discussion lists can do, how they can participate in the lists, and how the information super highway may benefit their research and education. What we need now is education. H-NET delegates came to Japan last year to hold a workshop in Osaka and Tokyo in cooperation with the OUFS and Waseda University. They demonstrated what the Internet could do, what H-NET could offer, and how computer technology could meet their scholarly needs. We had hundreds of participants both in Osaka and Tokyo. They included scholars, librarians, administrators, graduate students, and advanced undergraduate students. Workshops and demonstrations are the most effective ways to get scholars involved with the Internet and H-NET.

Understanding the importance of networks among scholars all over the world, KIAPS actively supports H-NET activities and tries to spread its network among Japanese scholars. As a pilot project, KIAPS and H-NET concluded a one-year agreement in 1996 with financial assistance from the Japan Foundation. This agreement made H-NET workshop possible in Japan. In return, KIAPS delegates visited Michigan State University to discuss a book review project, the University of Virginia for a multimedia project, and Washington, D.C. for another H-NET workshop. KIAPS and H-NET signed a formal, multi-year cooperation agreement in order to help incorporate scholars in the Asia-Pacific area into H-NET. H-NET is gradually becoming known to the Japanese academic community and we will hold another workshop at an annual meeting of the Japanese Association of American Studies held in Nagoya in 1997.

As Japanese scholars gradually get to know more about the Internet and computer networking, they make various demands. A Japanese French historian hopes to review an excellent book on the French revolution in Japanese. Some graduate students wish to get comments on their manuscripts before submitting them to journals. Editors of scholarly journals in various disciplines are willing to post tables of contents and summaries of their most recent journals. Since Japanese scholars' understanding of computer networks is still at a primitive stage, it is necessary to establish a sort of comprehensive discussion list among Japanese scholars regardless of their disciplines in order to stimulate their academic interests in using computer technology for their research and education.


  1. Workshops

We should try to eliminate the Japanese scholars' mental block regarding computers and the Internet. The most effective way is to hold workshops and to demonstrate what the latest information revolution can do and how much benefit they can get by joining H-NET. In this sense, the H-NET demonstration at the annual meeting of the Japanese Association of American Studies this year is a crucial event in spreading H-NET among Japanese scholars of American studies. Most academic societies hold their annual meetings in the spring and fall in Japan. They may invite us to their meetings for demonstrations and workshops. If we invite H-NET delegates from the United States every time, we need an enormous amount of funding to organize the workshop. Frankly, it would be impractical. It would cost much less if H-NET used local representatives. This problem leads us to consider H-NET's organizational structure.

H-NET now has Japan Representative (Professor Takeshi Matsuda, Professor of American History at the OUFS and Vice President of KIAPS) and an affiliated organization in Japan (KIAPS). KIAPS currently accepts all kinds of questions and inquires concerning H-NET in Japan. Even though KIAPS and H-NET have concluded a formal agreement, KIAPS does not act as a representative of H-NET nor does it assume responsibility for H-NET projects. Since H-NET has been growing at great speed, reaching over 43,000 subscribers in more than 70 countries now, it is time for H-NET to setup a regional branch office in order to maintain a decentralized structure and to serve local-specific needs more effectively. H-NET should designate KIAPS as its regional representative in the Asia-Pacific area. Only then can KIAPS formally hold workshops on behalf of H-NET and acquire organizational credentials and legitimacy. Two KIAPS members have already received H-NET online training for editors, serving as active editors for H-Japan and H-USA. Two more expect to receive training soon. OUFS possesses enough equipment to hold editors' training as well as workshops. KIAPS trained editors will be able to go anywhere in Japan and other Asia-Pacific areas to hold official workshops on behalf of H-NET. As H-NET becomes global, organizational decentralization will be inevitable and effective to meet various regional-specific needs.

2. Translation Software and Student Helper

One of the most important local-specific problems in Japan is the language for communication. H-Japan is a pilot project in which both English and Japanese are official languages. In reality, however, the dominant language is still English. This does not necessarily mean that Japanese scholars have nothing to say, but rather that they are overwhelmed by the messages written in English. Unless you understand the general flow of discussion on the net, it is difficult to participate in H-Japan discussions.

There may be at least two ways to overcome this language difficulty: using translation software and student helpers. Using a translation software is probably the easiest and least expensive way. Various kinds of translation software are widely available in Japan and prices have dramatically decreased, ranging approximately from 10,000 yen to 200,000 yen ($90 to $1820). H-Japan editors may use this kind of software and be able to send translated messages to the list. If technically possible, we may be able to install this software in the server which would automatically translate every message. This sounds ideal, but the most serious problem is the quality of translation. If you ever use any kind of translation software, you can easily recognize how primitive it is at the present stage. Editors need to spend a fair amount of time to edit and modify translation before sending it to the list. We may tentatively install the best available translation software in the server, recruit more bilingual editors, and have them check the translation before sending it to the list.

Another method is to hire competent students to write a summary of each message in English/Japanese. It is not too difficult to find bilingual students on campus and they are willing to do this kind of job. The biggest problem is that it is very expensive. We estimate that we would need at least $5,000 a year to hire one competent part-time bilingual student helper, and H-Japan would need at least three helpers to maintain the current flow of messages. In other words, we would need $ 1 5,000 per year just for this translation service. Even though H-Japan can expect an acceptable quality of translation service and much more flow between Japanese and foreign scholars, this large expense prevents us from pursuing the idea unless we make some arrangements with major foundations or institutions.

3. Translation Scholarship

Major universities with substantial interest in H-NET and in Asia-Pacific studies may provide a translation scholarship for qualified Japanese graduate students. The Graduate School of Osaka University of Foreign Studies has a number of bilingual (English and Japanese) and trilingual (English, Japanese, and other Asian languages) graduate students. American universities could offer full scholarship to them in return for their online translation and other language-related work. For example, the Department of Asia-Pacific Studies of XXX University could offer a research assistantship to a qualified bilingual Japanese graduate student of the OUFS with a fair amount of computer knowledge and H-NET experience in return for his/her language-related work on the net for 15 hours a week. Instead of paying $15,000 every year, for part-time student helpers, this scholarship would allow one Japanese graduate student to pursue his/her degree at a major university in the U.S. while he/she could offer a better translation service to that university. This is a mutually beneficial project which is worth trying.

4. H-Zipang

H-NET and KIAPS are now considering establishing H-Zipang, a Japanese-language H-Net discussion list for scholars throughout the humanities and social sciences. The main purpose is to establish a scholarly network among scholars within Japan, to help link them and foreign scholars, to present the ideas and findings of Japanese scholars, and to help them appreciate the possibilities of computer communication. H-NET is normally divided into academic and area-study disciplines such as H-Diplo, H-Labor, H-Japan, and H-USA. As academic specialization continues, this compartmentalization is an unavoidable development. Those scholars on the same net feel comfortable in using technical terms and may engage in complex discussion at great length. In the U.S. academic community, the Internet and computer networks have become inevitable sources of research and education information. Americans position themselves at the top of the information revolution age.

In Japan, the situation is drastically different. Japanese scholars are still hesitant about adjusting themselves to the latest technology. Those who have different motives, interests, and demands are trying to find out what the computer network can do. Since Japanese scholars are far behind their American counterparts on the information super highway, what we need now is not an exclusive discipline-specific network dominated by the English language but an inclusive Japanese-language list for humanities and social sciences. H-Zipang's primary mission is to "get Japanese scholars hooked on the net." H-Zipang would serve as a liaison list between Japanese scholars and the global computer network community, We strongly hope that H-Zipang will indeed be established, which will let Japanese scholars taste the fruits of the information revolution.

5. KIAPS/H-NET Academic Association And CD-ROM Journal

Many scholars regard H-NET simply as a network for book reviews, information exchange, and discussion on particular issues. H-NET does not have online journals. In addition to daily discussions, it is time for H-NET to deal with scholarly articles and discussion papers. We propose to establish KIAPS/H-NET Academic Association (KHAA) in order to create online and CD-ROM journals. H-NET will become a network not only for daily postings but also for publishing high-quality manuscripts. Utilizing a large amount of human resources of both H-NET and KIAPS, KHAA could easily establish a firm review system. In order to become financially self-sufficient, those who submit manuscripts would pay submission fees ($30 to $50) for review. Submission, review, and publication of manuscripts would all be managed online; consequently, we could expect to publish an acceptable manuscript within a few months after KHAA receives it. Every year, KHAA should also combine all the accepted manuscripts together and publish them in a CD-ROM journal. We estimate that it would cost 250,000 yen ($2,270) to produce 50OCD-ROMs. Individual scholars and libraries would be able to purchase this CD-ROM journal for 500 yen ($4.50) per copy. Turning H-NET into an international academic society in cooperation with KIAPS and publishing online and CD-ROM journals would help enhance the value of H-NET.


Three steps are necessary for the internationalization of Japanese scholarship. First, holding workshops and establishing H-Zipang would help to eliminate Japanese scholars' apprehension regarding computers and the Internet and encourage them to go online. Second, the arrangement of a translation scholarship would benefit the whole academic community by bringing Japanese scholarship to the world. The establishment of H-NET/-KIAPS Academic Association and the publishing of CD-ROMs as well as online journals would increase the H-NET's academic credentials. The process of internationalization of Japanese scholarship may contribute not only to a horizontal expansion (more participants in the network) but also to a vertical development (higher quality of messages and more academic credentials) of the computer network in the global academic community.

Yoneyuki Sugita
Assistant Professor of American History Osaka U. of Foreign Studies
8-1-1 Aomadani-Higashi Minoh-city
Osaka Japan 562
phone/fax: 81-727-30-5416

Humanities & Social Sciences OnLine
Humanities &
Social Sciences Online
in cooperation with MSU Department of History
Contact Us
Copyright © 1995-2007