Introduction

Alexander Dallas Bache (1806–1867), scientist, government administrator, and university professor addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the first national scientific society in the U.S., and asserted that, “While Science is without organization, it is without power: powerless against its enemies, open or secret; powerless in the hands of false or injudicious friends.” (Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1852, lii — liii). When Bache was writing in the 1850s there were many decentralized educational institutions such as public schools, lyceums, and some religiously-affiliated universities. There was only one consistently published scientific journal…


I’ve been reflecting on a few recent articles and meetings lately that have focused on problems in scholarly communication. In particular, I’m thinking about Micah Vandegrift’s recent post on Open Knowledge where he suggests that open knowledge is about “creating a new academic value system for/as a public good.” This is certainly a laudable goal, but contrasts with an editorial on a journal from the American Anthropological Association which observes that the association’s journal is viewed as a money-making effort to subsidize work of the organization. Similarly an article focusing on the UK perspective and advocating for a definition of…


Over the past few weeks, I have been working on a project to topic model the American Journal of Science between 1819 (its first year of publication) and 1922; this journal, during much of the 19th century, was the only specialized scientific journal in the United STates. I can release data sets later, but just wanted to share some preliminary results. Though this research is far from conclusive, it does provide a useful proof of concept for the method of using topic modelling to determine how genres of material change over a long period of time. …


One of my first posts when I launched this blog asked the question, why don’t alchemists share? Another scholar I mentioned in that post, Pamela Long, has discussed the issue of authorship and secrecy. She has also written about the separation and mixing of two kinds of practice, artisinal (or for lack of a better analogy “applied” work) and academic (work performed at universities. She argues that there were “trading zones” in which people moved between these two spheres with relative fluidity. She also notes that in the modern age, such trading zones are less fluid because of current requirements…


Lately it seems that many articles have been coming through my news-feed about the failure of scholars to communicate their research to the public. Some of these articles have even taken a historical viewpoint in order to propose solutions. Still others propose communicating historical scholarship as a way to contextualize modern issues (like the 2016 election). In all, this has led me to reflect a bit about my own work on the history of scholarly communication and why it is actually quite important in today’s world. If one agrees with all of these articles, there is one common denominator: the…


I was reading the recent Distillations magazine from the Chemical Heritage Foundation and saw an article on Information Overload. It reminded me of the post I wrote a while ago on big data in the 19th century, along with multiple posts about the American Chemical Society and Libraries in the 19th century. Sarah Everts, the author of the information overload article, rightly points out that having to manage vast amounts of data is not necessarily a new problem, as multiple other authors have pointed out. She concludes by asking “how should we collect this metadata intelligently and in useful moderation…


As I was thinking recently about the idea of whether research needs to be “pure,” I’ve begun to draw some rather tenuous connections to another project I’m working on about Theophilus Wylie and his role as scholar and librarian in the nineteenth century. Andrew Abbott and in Chaos of Disciplines Abbott specifically discusses higher education in relation to the trend of “purity” in research. Abbott states “Professions are organized around abstract knowledge” particularly “those who exercise the profession’s knowledge in its most pure form” (p. 145). He then goes on to state that “In general, professionals who are doing what…


In doing some reading about professionalization, and some research on the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, one of the forbears of the American Chemical Society), I came across the presidential address of J. Lawrence Smith, a chemist and president of AAAS in 1873. The discussion covers several topics, but prior to reading Smith’s lecture, I was reading an article by Andrew Abbott, “Status and Strain in the Professions,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 86, No. 4 (Jan., 1981), pp. 819–835 where Abbott states, “Over time, professional knowledge develops a system of such relative judgments of purity and…


There has been a great deal of furor over the recent Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) article on the digital humanities. This post is not a response to that article since there have been many responses, articles, and commentaries that are better than what I would be able to say anyway. If anything, the article has sparked some interesting debates and has opened the opportunity to ask some important questions. In some ways I feel that these are not particularly new debates; in fact when I saw the LARB article it reminded me of some of the very impassioned…


Recently, I was reading an article entitled “Big data problems we face today can be traced to the social ordering practices of the 19th century.” It led me to think a bit about this history of scholarly communication project which I think is very related to the larger issues they’re discussing. The first reaction, at least from a historian’s point of view is that the “Big Data” conversation is not the second time this has happened but (at least) the third. The first arguably would be what Ann Blair has discussed in Too Much to Know, which dealt with the…

Shawn Martin

Shawn Martin is the Head of Scholarly Communication, Copyright, and Publishing at Dartmouth College. See more at http://www.shawnmartin.net

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