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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Roy Rosenzweig, 1950 - 2007

Adam Bernstein, Digital Historian Roy A. Rosenzweig, Washington Post, October 13, 2007.  (Thanks to John Willinsky.)  Excerpt:

Roy A. Rosenzweig, 57, a social and cultural historian at George Mason University who became a prominent advocate for "digital history," a field combining historical scholarship with digital media's broad reach and interactive possibilities, died Oct. 11 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County. He had lung cancer.

Dr. Rosenzweig, who taught history at GMU for the past 26 years, founded the university's Center for History and New Media in 1994....

Dr. Rosenzweig was an author, filmmaker and documenter of oral histories. His books, including a social history of New York's Central Park and the labor movement's struggle in the 19th century for a shorter workday, underscored his interest in presenting what he called "perspectives of ordinary men and women" over the wealthy and powerful.

In the early 1990s, he helped create an award-winning U.S. history survey presented on CD-ROM. He then started the Center for History and New Media, which stemmed from his wish "to democratize the study of the past -- both by incorporating forgotten voices and by presenting the fullest possible story of the past to diverse audiences."

Edward L. Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, who conducted early digital history projects as a University of Virginia history professor, said Dr. Rosenzweig "was the real pioneer in this."

Ayers said that Dr. Rosenzweig's CD-ROM "Who Built America?" (1994), created with the help of two other historians, "first showed the possibilities of digital history" and that he remained important as an advocate by writing articles and reviews of Web sites for professional journals, through which he was a "facilitator and translator of digital history." ...

CommentRoy Rosenzweig was the leading US advocate for OA in the field of history, and one of the leading advocates anywhere for OA in the humanities.  His most important article on OA was Should Historical Scholarship Be Free? (Perspectives, April 2005).  In a blog post from April 15, 2005, I said, "I wish every discipline had a high-profile essay of this cogency to kick the ball forward."  Here are some excerpts from that article:

...Although the original force of the initiative was diluted through industry lobbying, the NIH measure represents government recognition of the principle that research, especially government-supported research, belongs to the public, which should not have to pay the prohibitively high subscription charges levied by many scholarly journals. The new policy affects few historians, but its implications ought to give us serious pause. After all, historical research also benefits directly (albeit considerably less generously) through grants from federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities; even more of us are on the payroll of state universities, where research support makes it possible for us to write our books and articles. If we extend the notion of "public funding" to private universities and foundations (who are, of course, major beneficiaries of the federal tax codes), it can be argued that public support underwrites almost all historical scholarship....The advantages of open access are fairly obvious....Open access to scholarship fits perfectly with the founding principles of scholarly societies....But the more important reason to consider how we can achieve open access is that the benefits of broad and democratic access to scholarship --benefits that are within our grasp in a digital era-- are much too great to simply continue business as usual.

He and co-author Daniel Cohen wrote an OA guidebook for historians, Digital History:  A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, and his Center for History and New Media at George Mason put theory into practice by developing Zotero, the Firefox-based tool for gathering and organizing online scholarship.

He wrote what is still one of the best scholarly assessments of Wikipedia:  Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past, The Journal of American History, June 2006.  

Commenting on MIT's Open Courseware project, he once said, "We should be in the business of having people steal our stuff, because we're trying to foster innovation, exchange, communication, and dialogue."  He will be missed.

Update. The History News Network is collecting tributes to Roy.