How Open is Open Access?

The following quote from an article about art education seems to have broader implications:

Early excitement for the Internet’s democratic potential has been replaced by a complicated marketplace of competing agendas of consumption, entertainment, social networking, and political action that continues to offer both opportunity and exclusion. Increased participation is coupled with a persistent digital divide, a gap in who has access to digital technologies and who does not, illustrating that “disparities in technology access and use are related to socioeconomic status, with income, educational level and race among the factors associated with technological attainment” (Mehra, Merkel, & Bishop, 2004, p. 782). Opportunities for participation have evolved through the advent of social media, mobile computing, and increased access to computing networks. These opportunities continue to be shrouded in inequitable distributions of access and expertise, functioning as a “new form of the hidden curriculum, shaping which youth will succeed and which will be left behind” (Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, & Robison, 2006, p. 3).[1]

For me, such concerns about access to and literacy in visual culture raise a question in a different debate: open access. How open are so-called open-access publications? Besides the question of digital access, who possesses the requisite know-how to locate such academic works, not to mention read, understand, and critically engage with them? Open access might be desirable, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that academically sound, openly available scholarship will automatically be freely accessible to nonacademic readers.


  1. Aaron D. Knochel, “Assembling Visuality: Social Media, Everyday Imaging, and Critical Thinking in Digital Visual Culture,” Visual Arts Research 39, no. 2 (2013): 13–27, here 15.  ↩

“Colonizability of Africa”

This 1899 map’s legend makes sense within a late-nineteenth-century imperialist framework, and the brutality of its seemingly objectively portrayed vision is unmistakable.

“Colonizability of Africa,” 1899, New York Public Library Digital Collections, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47df-fd22-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

The Limits of Fact-Checking

False information gains strength from its roots in stories that make sense to a lot of people; mow down the latest false facts and more will soon sprout until we address those stories themselves—and the reasons people believe them.

– Paul, J. Croce, “What We Can Learn from Fake News,” History News Network, July 23, 2017, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/166400.

Encouraging Immigrants to Buy into the War Effort

World War I poster advertising savings stamps for the war effort. Source: Library of Congress PPOC, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002712000/

I find this 1917 poster interesting because it seems to target urban, working-class immigrants. Besides the dress of the people waiting in line to lend Uncle Sam some money, there is the American flag held by the child, whose enthusiasm attracts the attention of the adults around her.

Children, whether immigrants themselves or native born, seem to have played a special role in immigrant families, mediating in different ways the adults’ encounter with the culture and institutions of the new country. Certainly the authorities saw such potential in these children.1


  1. See Simone Lässig, “The History of Knowledge and the Expansion of the Historical Research Agenda,” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute 59 (Fall 2016): 29–32, https://www.ghi-dc.org/fileadmin/user_upload/GHI_Washington/Publications/Bulletin59/29.pdf.

War, Gender, and Nation in 19th-Century Europe: A Preliminary Sketch

If military service had become a rite of passage for young men in much of Europe well before the mutual slaughter began in the summer of 1914, neither its ubiquity nor its meaning to those it embraced were foregone conclusions.1 To be sure, the fundamental challenge offered by the declaration of the levée en masse in revolutionary France in 1793 represented an important first step, as did monarchical Prussia’s turn in 1813 to the near-general conscription of those men considered young and fit enough to join the fight. Continue reading “War, Gender, and Nation in 19th-Century Europe: A Preliminary Sketch”

Cultural History and the History of Knowledge

In a blog post earlier this month, “From Cultural History to the History of Knowledge”, Johan Östling and David Larsson Heidenblad examine the attraction and potential utility of the history of knowledge as an historiographical approach. Particularly helpful is their attempt to tease out its relationship to cultural history.