Open and shut case

November 26, 2009

Your article on open-access journals, "Learning to share" (12 November), focuses on the sciences, where research is funded; university libraries that want to save on subscriptions and storage; and commercial publishers that operate for profit. That the humanities are different is attributed to innate conservatism, not because they inhabit a very different world.

Many humanities journals have print runs of a few hundred (insufficient to interest commercial publishers), aim to break even from modest subscriptions, and attract individual authors who cannot be reimbursed the charges for publication.

New journals that embody new approaches are the lifeblood of the humanities, and there are many quality local archaeological and historical examples. Open access may render them uneconomic and unviable, make digitally archived articles un-peer-reviewed and hence as worthless as many privately published pieces on the web, deny outlets to pioneering research and perhaps drive academics into safer work that is assured of publication. Open-access articles in the humanities could have a very negative impact.

Michael Hicks, head of history, University of Winchester.

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