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