open access

Open Access Research

Open access is not simply about putting data online. (A deep discussion about the failings of the techno-utopianism of 'the digital' is Colleen Morgan's phd thesis). Open access means making our data available in useful formats; it means exposing our thought process. It implies transparency in our peer reviews; it demands accountability in our governance. Accordingly, in terms of my teaching, I make not just my readings etc 'open' but also the process of our learning. I require you to make your materials open as well (with caveats; see below). I am open about how I grade - and the criteria we use we develop together. But baby steps, baby steps...

First step: our notes

As historians, we aren't all that accustomed to sharing our research notes. We go to the archives, we take our photographs, we spend hours pouring over documents, photographs, diaries, newspapers... why should someone else benefit from our work?

There are a number of reasons why you should want to do this. Read and be prepared to discuss the arguments advanced by these folks:

But most importantly, change is coming whether historians like it or not. Here in Canada, SSHRC has a research data archiving policy

All research data collected with the use of SSHRC funds must be preserved and made available for use by others within a reasonable period of time. SSHRC considers “a reasonable period” to be within two years of the completion of the research project for which the data was collected.

Note the conversation that ensued on Twitter after Milligan mentioned all this and also here

Things to think about:

Really, it's also a kind of 'knowledge mobilization'. In the workbook I created for my online undergraduate course on crafting digital history there are exercises on how to use services like,, and to make changes to a markdown file. Feel free to browse or take a copy of that workbook.

Split content from container

First, read Charlie Stross on Why Microsoft Word Must Die.

Now, take a look at sustainable authorship in plain text using pandoc and markdown. We will be giving this a spin ourselves. Indeed, it is one of my goals for my course that you integrate these approaches into your research process going forwards.

Caveats about putting your stuff online

The online world is not always (or even primarily) a safe space. Open access is not without its dangers, for you personally and academically. We need to talk about these things.

For all public-facing work, you may use a psuedonymn for everything that leaves a trace on the internet, if you so desire. Just let me know who you are! There is value in using your real name, and I strongly suggest you look into reclaiming your digital identity; but what is safe for me as a middle-aged white man to do online is not safe for everyone. You have the right to not have any public facing work at all; should you invoke this right we will arrive at an equitable solution that meets the learning objectives of this course.