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H-Net, Addressing the Digital Divide
by Melanie Shell-Weiss, H-Net Advisory Council

Addressing the challenges of the digital divide remains a primary focus of H-Net's activities. The H-Net community has always seen networked communication and online publication as a tool to access to historical knowledge and other humanities resources. For H-Net, much of the attraction of the Internet is its ability to bridge distance and network a wider community of scholars, teachers, and students.

Our current efforts to foster cross-cultural communication have focused on a range of activities. First, H-Net's more than 140 discussion networks enable communities with common interests - ranging from Middle Eastern Gender Studies to Urban History to the history of Florida - to overcome traditional barriers to debate and exchange of scholarly information. The conversations of these networks, syllabi, bibliographies, book and software reviews are not only distributed to members by Listerv software, but are also made available by H-Net through the World Wide Web. We are currently the world's largest, free, online publisher of historical knowledge.

H-Net's initiatives, however, extend beyond creating and maintaining the communications infrastructure of its discussion networks. H-Net's editors and subscribers also work to address a range of scholarly needs and inequalities faced by the global humanities and social science community. In much of the world, humanities scholars live and work in societies that have not enjoyed anything like the levels of support for their endeavors that scholars in advanced industrial economies like the United States, Western Europe and Australia take for granted. For many members of H-Net's Africa networks, for example, the legacies of colonialism include poor and often highly selective access to print-based information resources. Thus, beginning in 1996, H-Net, in partnership with Michigan State University, and a host of Africa-based educational and cultural institutions and NGOs, launched an extensive African Internet Connectivity Project to address these needs. Beginning this year, H-Net is also launching a humanities electronic publications initiative that breaks with the increasing practice of "pay-per-view" licensing and fees models which currently dominate the scholarly publishing world.

About the author
Melanie Shell-Weiss is a member of the H-Net Advisory Council, co-editor of H-Women.

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