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H-Net: Scholarly Moderation and the Online Community
by Marilyn A. Levine [mlevine@lcsc.edu], Lewis-Clark State College [www.lcsc.edu/mlevine]

Although it is now common in academic institutions to encourage new learning technologies, the truth is that the electronic revolution primarily has not taken place in the academic milieu, but in the world of commerce. In fact, many colleagues in academe have been frightened and dismayed by the rapid changes in the world of learning due to the internet and enhanced status of the personal computer. Professional organizations, universities, and academics who share intellectual interests have taken some leadership in setting standards within this whirlpool of change. Perhaps, one of the strongest organizations to emerge has been H-Net, which stands for Humanities and Social Sciences Online. This article will present a brief introduction to H-Net, discussing its history and objectives, organizational structure, special projects, and future directions.

H-Net HISTORY: THE DEVELOPMENT OF ONLINE SCHOLARLY MODERATING H-Net is an international consortium of scholars and teachers. According to the current mission statement:

H-Net creates and coordinates Internet networks with the common objective of advancing teaching and research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. H-Net has been committed to pioneering the use of new communication technology to facilitate the free exchange of academic ideas and scholarly resources.

Conceived by Prof. Richard Jensen in 1992 at the University of Illinois Ė Chicago, H-Net launched its first list, H-Urban under the editorship of Wendy Plotkin in February 1993. H-Women and H-Holocaust followed soon afterwards. In the spring of 1994, most of H-Net's operations and lists began to move to servers and offices at Michigan State University where Prof. Mark Kornbluh secured institutional support for H-Net.

The idea behind H-Net was to develop scholarly, moderated electronic networks. Given the plethora of electronic bulletin boards that emerged in the new internet milieu, the key idea that initially informed H-Net was to develop specialized discussion groups whereby the postings would be processed by editor-gatekeepers. Each discussion list would have a mission statement, an editorial board, and the editors, whose tasks might range from editing messages to book reviews or managing a web site for the list. H-Net has therefore pioneered the creation of a new form of publication, because the archives of its edited lists comprise a vast and growing anthology of edited discussions, reviews, essays, and ephemera of continuing usefulness to scholars, teachers, and the interested public.

Initially funded by H-Net the National Endowment for the Humanities, H-Net was able to secure a stable base of operations through the generous support of Michigan State University, where Prof. Kornbluh established MATRIX: Center for the Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online in MSUís College of Arts & Letters. H-Net MATRIX is one of the largest humanities technology research centers in the United States, with a full-time staff of over a dozen professionals in educational technology, humanities computing, and systems administration. In addition, H-Net replaced its founding charter with a constitution and by-laws that provide for election of officers, define the duties of editors and staff, and set the mission for H-Net as an independent scholarly organization.

Since its inception, H-Net has grown in size and scope to include:

DISCUSSION NETWORKS. The goals of H-Netís networks are to enable scholars to easily communicate current research and teaching interests; to discuss new approaches, methods and tools of analysis; to share information on electronic databases; and to test new ideas and share comments on the literature of their fields. Lists usually have an organizing focus that may include: a region, an historical era, a discipline category, an historical event, or other themes. H-Net lists reach over 100,000 subscribers in more than 90 countries. Subscriptions are screened by the listís editors to promote a diverse readership dedicated to collegial, productive, scholarly communications. Each list publishes between 15 and 60 messages a week. Subscription applications are solicited from scholars, teachers, professors, researchers, graduate students, journalists, librarians and archivists.

JOB GUIDE. The H-Net Job Guide is posted weekly. This job guide provides free advertising for academic related positions in the history and humanities, social sciences, and rhetoric and communications areas. The H-Net Job Guide is not only available online, but most discussion networks publish the Job Guide index to their subscribers. The H-Net Job Guide is one of the most important tools for those seeking new positions in academe.

H-Net REVIEWS. The H-Net Reviews is the largest publisher of online scholarly reviews, and was the pioneer in this area. The internet as a medium not only allows quicker publication of the review, and no limitations on book review lengths, but it allows discussion between reviewers, authors, and readers. Book reviews are made available for cross listing to all interested discussion networks, and increasingly publishers are citing the H-Net book review commentaries.

TEACHING. H-Net Teaching is a gateway the brings together the educational possibilities of new learning technologies, with a focus on discussion networks that re dedicated to teaching, as well as growing repository of teaching materials and helpful linkages to online pedagogy sites.

ANNOUNCEMENTS. The H-Net Announcements is an area has quickly developed into a central clearinghouse for information about academic events. The announcement categories include conferences, educational programs, call for papers, publications, funding opportunities, and new Web sites.

In addition to the above services, the staff at MATRIX developed an Editors Database and will be developing an international Directory of Scholars., which will significantly aid scholarly communication.

THE FUTURE OF H-Net As H-Net grows in providing academics with discussion lists and other professional services, there has been a heavy utilization of H-Net infrastructure. The H-Net Web site, for example, has more than 500,000 visitors a week, with most visitors spending more than 10 minutes on the site. The H-Net organization has had to consider the capacity for maintaining high standards and areas of professional growth. Thus, in 2000-2001 H-Net went through a major reorganization and adopted a new Mission statement, by-laws, and constitution. However, challenges remain, such as:

Perhaps the most significant initiative H-Net has undertaken will be a new e-print server that will archive and make available through an interoperable system architecture, a growing collection of pre- and post- prints from members of H-Net networks. H-Net also is planning a new online teaching journal that will exploit the massive archive of teaching-related materials maintained at its network pages and in its discussion logs.

  • How can we raise the status of H-Net activities and new learning technologies in terms of professional recognition within the academic structure?

  • How can H-Net attain a reliable funding basis to maintain current projects and infrastructure, as well as expanded projects?

  • How can we meet the challenge of an asynchronic organizational structure in the functioning of H-Net beyond discussion Networks?

  • Are there new patterns of representation, behavior, and modalities that H-Net needs to promote in the new area of Humanities and Social Science Informatics?

Given the voluntary nature of the service provided by the editors and committee members of H-Net, it has demonstrated that academics can take active and responsible leadership in this area of new learning technologies. The principles of scholarly communication, rich content development, and the creation of new resources has created a truly cohesive online community in the humanities and social sciences.

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