Harming the Historical Record

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Scholars who work on large archival projects have struggled during the Bush administration. The president has repeatedly proposed eliminating the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which is one of the two federal programs that supports the intense, decades-long projects that involve editing and publishing of collections of documents. Congress has saved the program, but just barely.

Now the National Endowment for the Humanities has revamped the rules for the other major federal program that supports such work: Scholarly Editions Grants. According to scholars, the NEH has largely stopped using the peer review process for the program, and as a result, the grant process has become inconsistent and unreliable. Projects that had regularly been receiving grants saw their applications denied for no apparent reason.

And now the NEH has issued new guidelines — just as scholars were finishing grant applications — granting preference to those projects that make all of their documents freely available online. While the scholars who work on these projects support digitization (and generally do put their work online), they say that the humanities endowment’s plan could make it impossible for university presses to afford to publish their work.

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