Building International Communities of Scholars and Teachers: H-Net, the Internet, and the University of the 21st Century

Mark Lawrence Kornbluh
Executive Director, H-Net
Professor of History, Michigan State University
mark@hs1.hst.msu.edu


With over 90 discussion networks, H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences OnLine is made up of a network of scholars and teachers from around the world. H-Net is committed to facilitating access to educational resources for teaching and research across international boundaries through use of new technologies. This presentation will introduce participants to H-Net's resources, and explain how scholars and teachers can make use of H-Net and its many initiatives to build scholarly communities that cross national and disciplinary boundaries.

H-Net is the largest distributor of electronic discussion lists in the world. H-Nets discussion lists reach over 80,000 subscribers in more than 95 countries. In addition to reaching well over one quarter of all academic historians in the United States, the discussion lists have made H-Net the premiere online scholarly computing group in the entire world. Each list has its own personality, is edited by a team of scholars, and has a board of editors. The goals of H-Net lists are to enable scholars to easily communicate current research and teaching interests, to discuss new approaches, methods and tools of analysis; to share information on electronic databases; and to test new ideas and share comments on the literature in their fields. Announcements and calls for papers can be much more detailed, and much more timely on H-Net. The networks feature dialogues in the discipline. They commission original reviews of books, articles, software, and museum exhibits. They post syllabi, course outlines, class handouts, bibliographies, listing of new sources, guides to online resources, and reports on new software, data sets, CD-ROMS, and World Wide Web sties. Subscribers write in with questions, comments, and reports, and often with a mini-essay of a page or two.

H-Net also integrates its electronic lists with a powerful and comprehensive site on the World Wide Web (http://www.h-net.msu.edu), which records nearly 200,000 visits each week by users in search of  resources and networking contacts about research, teaching, and software. The site offers centralized subscription information, direct mail access to the list editors, list archives, links to related resources, a comprehensive calendar of conferences and events, and a complete archive of H-Net media and book reviews all linked to a unified, searchable database. H-Net has published over 2,000 book reviews since 1994 and has pioneered the publication of electronic book reviews. The H-Net website is also the homebase for H-Nets many projects on multimedia teaching and book reviewing, as well as the host for many affiliated organizations.

Other H-Net projects and resources include cooperative endeavors to digitize and make widely available archival materials, artwork, artifacts, oral histories and music for use by scholars and teachers throughout world. Creation of online exhibits, photo archives and educational outreach programs can facilitate access to these resources by bringing them to a global audience. Training sessions and faculty/student/staff exchanges between international universities, museums, libraries and archives also contribute to the sharing of human resources, and further facilitate academic exchange in the humanities. H-Net has run training for scholars and teachers from West Africa, Southern Africa and also is working to establish Internet servers and infrastructure in Dakar. Additional training programs have been undertaken with European scholars and teachers, including the delivery material and curricula for civic education in Poland, cooperative classes offered jointly by the Jagiellonian University in Cracow and Michigan State University. Formal agreements between H-Net and several overseas institutions such as Odense University in Denmark and the Kansai Center for Asian and Pacific Studies in Osaka will result in similar programs and exchanges.

Central to these endeavors is H-Net's commitment to build a unique, active, cordial and enduring international cooperation and dialogue among scholars and teachers around the world. There are real challenges involved in the delivery of high-quality material and services online on an international scale. Barriers of language, culture and difference both in preferred technologies and in technological development make this a very difficult are in which to work. However, the rewards of working internationally are potentially very large indeed.

Throughout its history, H-Net has pursued a policy of inclusiveness balanced by the imperative of maintaining high standards of professionalism and scholarship. Because H-Net welcomes graduate students, beginning instructors and professors, senior academics, and interested professionals in a great range of fields, it is a training ground for a new type of academic experienced with networked technologies. Greater facility with mediated technologies has enhanced the marked value of graduate students who use and assist with our lists and webpages. It has also helped scholars to develop accurate information and skills in navigating the vast wastelands of the Internet in search of useful tools and sources. Finally, because practically all H-Net lists address issues directly pertinent to the college classroom, editors and subscribers have unprecedented access to new ideas, skills and resources they can apply directly in their courses.