"H-Net Ten Years On: Usage, Impact, and the Problem of
in New Media," presented at the annual conference of the American
Historical Association by Mark Lawrence Kornbluh, Executive Director,
H-NET and Peter Knupfer, Vice President Networks, H-NET

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be with you this morning to talk about
H-Net. As many of you know, this month marks the tenth anniversary of
the creation of H-Net. For professional historians, as well as the general
public, events such as anniversaries that end in zeros, often occasion
the opportunity to take stock and evaluate a moment of historical change.

For those of us deeply involved in running H-Net, our concerns, we
should make clear, are far from disinterested. (Peter and I both joined H-Net
as editors during its first year and have been deeply involved in all
aspects of the organization for most of the last ten years.) Our goal is
two-fold. To try to understand how H-Net and other similar endeavors in
networked scholarly communication have changed the profession and the
nature of what it means to be a historian, as well as to use this
information to help direct the future development of H-Net.

Our paper this morning, like H-Net itself, is a collaborative effort. In
it, we try to lay out what we see as the main questions and challenges
in beginning to evaluate and understand H-Net's development. We will go
back and forth in presenting this paper and are eager to hear your responses.

Ten years ago, most computers had small green screens, big floppy drives
and were still far from ubiquitous in the humanities. Word processing
was winning over the profession, but departments still paid secretaries to
type for faculty. The World Wide Web had yet to be invented; indeed,
very few historians had even heard of email or the Internet.

The announcement of H-Net in January 1992 on usenet bulletin boards
immediately attracted attention of many historians who were early
adaptors of email. The idea of developing edited communities of discourse that
focused on professional concerns, but cut across national, disciplinary,
and professional lines thrilled many of us. That these concerns should
include the scholarship of teaching as well as research was an
undeniable part of the appeal. Within a year, H-Women, H-Urban, and HOLOCAUST had
been joined by H-Labor, H-LatAm, H-Law, H-Teach and others. H-Net had
grown from the original 3 discussion lists to nearly 20 lists, 10,000
subscribers and almost 50 editors.

Growth demanded development: policies, structures, procedures, services,
and above all, a sense of direction. It is arguable that the history of
the organization from 1994 to the adoption of its constitution and
bylaws in 2000 followed lines familiar to historians of professionalization,
moving from discourse to discipline; from informal exchanges of
information to highly organized individual networks gathered within a
self-governing structure of bylaws; from a loose collection of
list-based moderators working through a server at the University of Illinois
Chicago, to a scholarly society headquartered and supported at Michigan State
University's MATRIX humanities technology center; from moderators who
simply brokered discussions to editors who anthologized them into
massive, unique web archives; and, from broadly-defined online communities
reaching across broad swaths of disciplines and fields, to segmented, specialized
offspring networks dedicated to specific issues and content.

This course was not always self-evident, nor is it yet clear to us what
particular pressures produced it. During its early years, H-Net's
internal communications literally hummed with excitement, energy and
debate as moderators and directors struggled to define and make sense of
what they were doing. Many of these early discussions featured "reports
from the field" as moderators surveyed their subscribers and each other
as they groped toward whatever boundaries might exist in this new medium.
We frequently referred to ourselves as pioneers who not only were early
adopters of new media, but also the new guys on the block, outsiders who
were challenging the stodgy, resistant mainline scholarly organizations
like the American Historical Association, Organization of American
Historians, and the African Studies Association to take this new form of
scholarly communication seriously. Small learned societies also were
concerned about us in turn, fearing that new media would undermine their
business models, steal their content and audiences, and merge them all
into a hodge-podge of barely digested cut-and-paste banality

H-Net's early growth strategy naturally heightened such concerns, since
the early lists and networks encompassed entire disciplines, gathering
literally tens of thousands of readers that most humanities and social
science journals went begging for. Within four years, the average list
had over a thousand subscribers, some double and triple that number.
H-Soz-u-Kult, on sociocultural method and practice in German topped 6500
subscribers, while area-studies networks in Asia, Latin America,
American Studies, women's history, and foreign affairs linked historians to
educators and the interested public in unprecedented numbers, averaging
2000 subscribers each. These and many other networks quickly tapped
into existing scholarly communities and connected them to new audiences. In
the relatively cloistered world of scholarly publication, these numbers
demonstrated a significant demand for information that the conventional
outlets (conferences, journals, and newsletters) could not meet on a
continuing basis.

H-Net's early tendency to describe itself through metaphors to the print
world--that its edited messages; its use of advisory boards; and, its
posting of essays and more formal academic writings in addition to
discussions constituted a free-form yet disciplined variant of the
traditional journal--fed these worries about competition and the reach
for "market share."

While we saw ourselves as pioneers in 1993--blazing a new trail of
communication and cutting through boundaries that had limited
discussion---none of us ever imagined the scale that H-Net would grow to
in just ten years. At the end of 2002, H-Net now has over 150 edited
networks (and will launch another half dozen this month) with over 500
editors worldwide. (Virtually every week, we get inquiries from a new
community of scholars within the humanities or social sciences that is
interested in starting an H-Net network.) We have sent out over 1
million individual messages on our various listservs during these ten years
(every one of which is available on the web). The _H-Net Job Guide_, which
began as an effort to democratize the job market, now posts over 2500
positions a year. During the season, over 20,000 individuals connect to our
website to check on openings each week! Moreover, _H-Net Reviews_ in the
Humanities and Social Sciences is the largest on-line publisher of
scholarly book reviews. We publish nearly a thousand reviews a year,
reviewing books from all parts of the world.

The technical capacity necessary to run H-Net has grown geometrically as
well. When we began we never imagined what it would take to support the
communities that we were building. We thought that we could be a
"virtual organization," living off the beneficence of university computer
centers. Today, H-Net runs over a half dozen servers. Four machines alone are
necessary to efficiently handle the over 800,000 pieces of email that we
deliver on an ordinary academic day. Sophisticated database programming
makes it possible for us to manage a website that averages over a half
million discrete connections each week. Most of those connections come
from the dominant search engine, Google, as the scale, scope, and usage
of H-Net results in very high rankings by Google's algorithms. This means
that in addition to serving a vast subscriber base, H-Net acts as a
portal to the profession on line. Using Google to search for any substantive
topic in the humanities and social sciences, one almost always finds a
link to H-Net resources within the first page of search results. The
fact that visits to our website average over 10 minutes a piece--an eternity
in cyberspace where clicking in and out is the norm--indicates that people
are actually reading many of the pages that they find. We are committed
to maintaining all of H-Net resources on line (at the same url) in
perpetuity. As a result, we are engaged in ongoing research and
development, and are moving to an xml-based repository. To do this in
tandem with maintaining a low-bandwidth flat ascii delivery system, that
is open to everyone worldwide, is a constant challenge.

Quantity, of course, does not automatically translate into quality. To
say that H-Net is huge, does not speak to that question. Nonetheless, the
quantity of usage does mean that individuals are finding something of
value to them in H-Net. Editors would not devote the time they do to
their networks if this did not bring them some value. Scholarly
societies only link up with H-Net lists because it makes sense for them. And
subscribers, over 150,000 of them, would not invite H-Net list messages
into their over-flowing mailboxes if they were not getting something in
return. Nor would website visitors stay more than a few seconds unless
they found material of value to them. In sheer market terms, demand and
usage indicates value. The challenge is to identify exactly what that
value is. Quantity does not make quality, but it does indicate that the
profession is using H-Net, indeed H-Net networks have become a central
means of communication for history and many related disciplines. This is
all the more reason to ask, what H-Net's impact has been.

H-Net has tried fitfully over the years to measure this. Required first
by our charter and then by our constitution and bylaws to review
operations periodically, we have repeatedly been stymied by the sheer
scale and the porousness of H-Net, which mitigate against measurable,
verifiable gathering of data. Aside from statistics about numbers of
subscribers and visits to our website, all of our information has been
impressionistic, anecdotal, and therefore inferential--conversations at
conferences; conclusions gathered from subscriber complaints or
requests for specific services from editors; backchannel intelligence that this
or that editor was hired or fired because of participating in H-Net; etc.
As early as 1994, the executive committee had attempted an enterprise-wide
review by assigning groups of lists to committee members for review and
analysis. In addition, editors were surveyed about their work and were
asked to discuss their lists' services with their subscribers. Most of
our early lists also screened subscriptions with individual
questionnaire forms that provided a snapshot of the list's audiences. But after about
1996, many of our lists and networks, old and new, abandoned the
screening of subscriptions, while our porting of discussions to the web expanded
readership to legions of unknown non-subscribers. It is ironic then
that in an age of information overload, data on our subscribers, our
circulation, and usage rates of our material are fragmented and

Indeed, we learned rather quickly that we were growing beyond the
ability of a single energetic individual (in this case, our first executive
director Richard Jensen, who subscribed to and followed all the lists)
or even of teams of editors to assess the lists comprehensively. The early
reviews produced largely favorable commentary about the value of H-Net
for information exchange and basic networking, but they also provided
precious little information about our readers or how they were using the networks
at the workplace, in research, or in the classroom. They also
documented how far short we had fallen of some editors' initial ambitions for H-Net
as a publisher for formal academic content (commissioned essays, online
journals, conference papers, etc.). It appeared at first that the
primary motivation for contributions to our networks was simply to talk and to
be heard, as opposed to publishing in the conventional sense.

Some of these early analyses of our operations reinforced our belief
that H-Net began by appealing largely to younger, pre-professional or
marginalized scholars and teachers for whom conventional means of
reaching their peers through publication and conference participation were
unavailable or extremely hard to use. Many (but not all) of our first
generation of moderators were drawn from this population of graduate
students, adjuncts, teachers at smaller or peripheral institutions, as
well as new entrants to the professoriate. Working as editors in
conjunction with advisory boards of senior scholars in the field
connected these people to the profession in new, exciting and challenging ways,
and exposed them to the rigors of gatekeeping much sooner than their
programs of study or their status would have allowed.

Short of a full-blown, comprehensive survey of H-Net undertaken at all
levels of the organization, we do think that the basic structure of
H-Net's network model, which we require in order to launch a network
(i.e., an editorial team, an advisory board of six members, a mission
statement reflecting knowledge of an audience to be served and the
resources that could serve it) has proved successful. Indeed, the
following points do in some degree of combination describe "success" for
an H-Net network:

_Persistence_: Only a few of our lists have ceased publication for lack
of an audience or an editor to tend it. Most H-Net lists are over two
years old (an eternity in cyberspace) and have recruited a second
generation of editors. Their flexibility has been important to their
durability as new editors and content emerge through experimentation and
experience. Lists that are dominated by the personality or style of a
solo editor eventually reach a crisis where new editors must be
recruited or the list itself is forced to succumb.

_High participation rates_: Although quantity does not create quality,
it does often reveal it. The fact is that high-traffic networks also tend
to have high substantive participation rates that produce consistently
useful, new, value-added material. H-War, H-Diplo, H-Women, for
instance, are posting an average of fifteen to twenty-five messages per day, while
their subscription rates remain steady. No one is leaving because of
all this traffic. Much of this discussion includes extensive narrative and
expository treatments of major and emergent issues in the profession,
spiced with citations and references to existing sources, and, of great
interest, pointing to new online sources in advance of notice in the
print media.

_Clear, consensus-driven editorial standards backed by an active
editorial team and advisory board_: It is a rare list that has both active
editorial management and poor levels of communication with subscribers.
H-Sox-u-Kult, H-Urban, H-Asia, H-Africa, H-Women, and H-Ideas are
staffed by teams of editors who stimulate discussions; build new materials at
the network website; recruit new editors and board members; and, advocate
their networks at professional conferences and meetings. They publish
and enforce standards of _netiquette_ that have helped make moderating and
editing of academic lists the accepted norm in our profession. In ten
years of moderated and edited discussions, not a single dispute between
a subscriber and an editor over editorial decisions has reached H-Net's
highest level of appeal, its Council. Although some disputes have been
severe and potentially very damaging, all have been resolved in one way
or another by local editors, subscribers, advisory boards, and members of
H-Net's directorate. Perhaps two dozen serious disputes have arisen in
that time--remarkable testimony to the general acceptance of
professional-quality editing and gatekeeping. Perhaps more important,
in at least two instances where the disputants "seceded" to form their own,
rival lists to publish material that they believed was being censored at
H-Net, the new lists withered and disappeared within a few weeks.

_Production of value-added material beyond list discussions_: In
addition to book reviewing (to be discussed in a moment), a number of networks
build upon discussions through features and value-added material of
interest to the profession. H-AmIndian's news summaries and teaching
recommendations in native American history (http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~amind/);
H-Urban's extensive syllabus archive
(http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~urban/teach/index.htm); H-Demog's working
and conference papers on mortality
(http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~demog/mortality.html); H-Bahai's Digital
Publication Series (http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~bahai/index/pubs.htm),
which includes a library of fugitive Bahai and Babi-related texts in
Persian and Arabic--the largest of its kind anywhere; H-Africa's and
H-Women's comprehensive thread anthologies collected and stored by
editors (http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~africa/threads/) and
( http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~women/threads/); H-Idea's twentieth century
"A Century's Retrospective," which commissions review essays of critical
works in the field (http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~ideas/retro.html); and,
H-Polmeth's preprint paper server (http://web.polmeth.ufl.edu/papers.html)
are all examples of materials that editors and subscribers collect and

_Affiliation with scholarly societies_: although H-Net urged its
networks to establish formal relations with learned societies, H-Net's image as
anoutside rival to traditional avenues of communication made it this
difficult to accomplish at first. In addition, some editors purposely
cultivated their own independence from professional societies at the
same time that the latter began to launch their own online services. Yet
within the past two years, more of the new applications for networks
come in as proposals from learned societies, a sign of increasing acceptance
of H-Net's professional status. Thus, H-SHGAPE, H-SHEAR,
H-History-and-Theory, H-German, PSRT-L, Jhistory, most of the public and
local history networks, H-Education, H-Environment, H-GAGCS, H-LatAm,
and several dozen other networks are formally connected to professional
societies, either through incorporation into bylaws or by other formal
agreement. In some cases, the pre-existence of a tight-knit community
of scholars (such as the case with H-SHGAPE, H-Polment, H-Mideast-Medieval,
or H-Education, all of which were grounded in a learned society) gave
the network its driving force while in symbiotic relationship, the network,
helped the society to publicize its scholarship, recruit officers, and
attract new members.

Networks that lack all of the above have found it more difficult to
retain and develop their audiences. Some lists have failed due to changes in
the profession itself: H-W-Civ, for instance, could not maintain a strong
readership or level of content in the face of the decline of
Euro-centered surveys and the rise of World History and cultural studies. Others,
such as H-MMedia, were innovators in infancy but have in some respects been
bypassed by the widespread adoption of new media in the classroom and
boardroom. Some, such as H-Psychohistory and H-NEXA, failed because
their editors, as judged by H-Net's editorial affairs committee and its
Council, violated professional norms and flouted H-Net's bylaws.

While H-Net's discrete subject area networks are at the core of the
organization, several of our largest initiatives are H-Net wide and
involve common resources, even as they are operationalized by the
various networks and network editors. Two of these, _H-Net Reviews_ in the
Humanities and Social Sciences, and the _H-Net Job Guide_, deserve a
close look.

The vision behind _H-Net Reviews_ was to take a central means of
scholarly communication, i.e. peer review of publications, into the digital world.

Freed from economics and time schedules of print publication, _H-Net
Reviews_ could offer to rapidly speed up the review process and to
eliminate artificial limits on length. Our model was _Reviews in
American History_ rather than the 500-word review typical in the journals of
record. Given H-Net's diverse networks, we also aimed to get books
reviewed from diverse perspectives, often requesting multiple copies of
individual books for review. Most important, we aimed to open up the
review process and turn it into an arena of discourse, where reviews
could be discussed by a professional audience, many of whom also read the
book. Our hope was that authors would be willing to break with the norm of the
print word and engage their critics in discussion about their works.

As with everything on our networks, the role of editors was crucial to
_H-Net Reviews_. Each network was to have one or more book review
editors. A central _H-Net Reviews_ office handled much of the administrative work
and arranged for professional copy-editing of the final reviews, but it
was the review editors that assigned books, asked for rewrites, and
accepted final reviews. Editors were to choose reviewers based on
professional norms---professional competency and lack of bias. However,
H-Net did want to democratize the process and make it possible for a
wider range of individuals, including those early in their careers, to review
works relevant to their own fields.

In many ways, _H-Net Reviews_ has been remarkably successful. The sheer
number of books reviewed, the diversity of publishers and reviewers
worldwide far exceeds our expectations. The distribution of _H-Net
Reviews_ is also mind-boggling. Each review goes out by email to
anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 readers and is instantly available over off the
web. Time and again, review editors indicate that they get more comments on
the reviews they wrote for H-Net than on any other publication they have
ever written.

We have sped up the review process, (although often not as fast as we
would have hoped) and we have provided a forum for longer more
discursive reviews.

As with our network discussions, _H-Net Reviews_ has varied greatly by
network and editor. Some editors have done remarkable jobs in covering
new books in their fields. They have commissioned first-rate reviews,
every bit the equal or superior to any print publications in their
fields. Other H-Net review editors, like review editors on smaller journals have
found the task tough going. Reviewing has languished for those networks,
while those reviews published have been sporadic and uneven in quality.

Equally important to the role of the review editor, has been the culture
of different networks. Some, like H-SHEAR, a small very specialized
network supported by a scholarly society, and H-Africa, a large
multi-disciplinary community, have established cultures that promote
discussion of new works in tandem with the publication of reviews. As
this has grown in practice, authors have shed their reticence and have been
willing to engage in online discussion of their works. In contrast,
other networks have been unable to break through long established patterns of
behavior. On these networks, electronic publication varies little from
print publication (except for the volume of distribution), reviews are
scarcely discussed and authors almost never reply.

This unevenness caused a great deal of consternation for H-Net editors.
We are cognizant of the fact that the stakes are very high in the peer
review of books. Given H-Net's enormous distribution network, we take
this responsibility seriously. The informality of H-Net and differing
expectations about digital publishing can exacerbated the problem.
Nonetheless, the economics of online publication gives us an advantage
over print journals in that we can assign multiple reviews and cultivate
responses to ensure that an author's work gets a fair treatment.

_H-Net Reviews_ has not revolutionized book reviewing by any means, but
we have broadened the review process, opened up a new venue for peer
review, and provided an opportunity for scholarly discourse. That different
communities take advantage of this opportunity unevenly reflects both
the nature of those communities and their editors.

On the surface, the _H-Net Job Guide_ is more a professional tool than
an intellectual one. The driving motivation was to provide the widest
possible distribution of information about professional openings. There
is no doubt that the _Job Guide_ does this. The number of positions
advertised on H-Net far exceeds that in _Perspectives_ or the
_Chronicle_. The volume of usage speaks to the utility of the guide. It is important
to recognize, however, that the motivation behind the _Job Guide_ goes
beyond simply providing a professional service.

>From the start, H-Net has been committed to democratizing opportunity.
H-Net networks encourage graduate student participation. In the flat
ascii world of H-Net listservs, ideas can be evaluated on their own worth. The
signature files at the end of posts that indicate academic position and
status, do not carry the same weight that titles carry in departments,
print publications, and conferences.

To what extent has the spread of information about academic positions,
and the opportunity to network and become known regardless of locale and
position, helped to open up the stodgiest and most hierarchical of the
humanities disciplines over the last decade? We do not know. But it is
certainly a question worth asking.

Ten years ago, H-Net announced its existence. "We are here--come one and
all." Our assumptions were that there was a demand for edited,
structured discussion; for communication across national and disciplinary lines;
and, for communication between graduate students and faculty as well as
amongst the profession and a wider educated population. We also took it for
granted that there was a desire to share resources and knowledge as well
as for free and open online publications. There is no doubt that we were
right. The sheer numbers are overwhelming and there is every reason to
believe that H-Net will continue to grow and encompass many more
communities within the social sciences and humanities.

Indeed, from the standpoint of 2003, H-Net institutionalized. We are not
revolutionaries banging open the doors of the academe, but rather one of
the main means by which the academe communicates and publishes. (H-Net
and the AHA, not only co-exist, but assist each other in innumerable ways.)
And just like the mainline scholarly societies, H-Net is taken for
granted. We are part of the socialization of the profession. Graduate
students learn about H-Net and join H-Net networks routinely as they
join the profession. Academic departments post their job openings to H-Net as
they do to the _Perspectives_ and the _Chronicle of Higher Education_.
Scholars write reviews for H-Net networks as they do for the _AHR_ and
other mainline journals. Discussions on H-Net's networks spill over into
conferences and departments.

H-Net has tried hard to professionalize itself. It operates under a new
Constitution, remarkably similar in structure to the AHA, with elected
officers, a Council, and a formal decision making process. Carefully
thought out bylaws govern network communications. The process of
starting new networks is far more rigorous than ever before. Networks that have
violated professional norms and others that have not reached a large
audience have been closed and editors have been decertified. H-Net
lists, as a result, are much less the expression of the personality of
individual editors and are increasingly the product of collaborative communities.

If H-Net has been institutionalized and professionalized, it is time to
ask, in a rigorous fashion, whether and how H-Net has changed the
professions. To what extent have H-Net and the technologies on which it
is based, fostered a culture of immediacy that is antithetical to scholarly
analysis? Is, as early critics complained, H-Net mostly composed of
time-wasting "chat." How, or perhaps more accurately, in what ways, has
H-Net contributed to a "decline in standards." Given H-Net's
increasingly institutionalized position within scholarly communities as a means of
communication, one rarely hears the full indictment today, but to what
extent has H-Net been an expression and tool of the post-modernist
devolution of serious scholarly inquiry.

Turning the question on its head, from the opposite perspective, we need
to ask in what ways H-Net has contributed to an opening up of the
profession. Has the flattening of hierarchy within H-Net had an impact
beyond cyberspace? Has extending the discourse beyond limited
professional journals and ivory covered walls helped to reconnect
historians with k-12 teachers, librarians, archivists, journalists, and
a broader educated public? Has H-Net been a positive force towards
internationalizing the profession, particularly for less developed parts
of the world? Has H-Net's commitment to take the scholarship of teaching
seriously helped to offset the postwar imbalance within the profession?

We need to ask these questions in a rigorous and sustained manner. To
this end, we intend to undertake a detailed internal and external review of
H-Net in the coming year. We will ask you here with us today to help
pose the questions and the larger profession to participate in the study. In
the end, H-Net is the product of the labor of hundreds of our colleagues
who serve as editors. Such an analysis not only can help us understand
the impact that H-Net has, but can also direct energies and efforts in
H-Net's future development.