Dear readers, yesterday I was fortunate enough to have a second academic book review published on the H-Florida forum of H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online. The review is on Miami: A Cultural History, written by the Florida Sociologist and Emeritus Professor of Florida International History, Anthony P. Maingot. While the book has several flaws, Miami is probably the only survey of The Magic City that takes its history from the frontier era up to the present (2012), discussing the makeup of its modern neighborhoods, the recent trends of its architectural development and foreign investment, and the nature of its ongoing cultural institutions. As far as I am aware, no other work on the city better profiles its current social and architectural landscape for readers. For those interested in learning about Miami’s unique status as a global city in the modern age (though not necessarily its history), Maingot’s book is a great place to start.
Publishing another review gives me the opportunity, once again, to extol the benefits of H-Net. As defined on their site, “H-Net is an international interdisciplinary organization of scholars and teachers dedicated to developing the enormous educational potential of the Internet and the World Wide Web. [Their] edited lists and web sites publish peer reviewed essays, multimedia materials, and discussions for colleagues and the interested public.” Although “the computing heart of H-Net resides…at Michigan State University,” contributors come from all over the world (accessed September, 2015).
Professional historians, lay readers, and college students alike know H-Net for providing concise, informative, and easily accessible reviews of new books written by experts in their respective fields. These reviews are especially tailored for the context of our digital age; they come out much faster and they are much more accessible than book reviews in hard copy publications. First, this means that readers can access book reviews much closer to the date of a book’s actual publication, long before any reviews have appeared in the academic periodicals that have traditionally held a virtual monopoly on such book reviews.
Second, H-Net supports our Democratic processes through a commitment to the free access of information. Book reviews in academic journals are locked up in pay-to-play databases like JSTOR. Often times, these journals will delay the uploading of their book reviews to such databases in order to encourage more purchases of their hard copy editions. The result is that scholars may not even see a review on their database search until long after it has been published. More importantly, those who do not belong to paying educational institutions, like independent scholars, cannot access these reviews on databases without paying hefty costs. Their alternatives are purchasing the issues directly from the journal or asking someone else to download the review for them. On the contrary, all book reviews on H-Net are free to anyone with internet access.
Third, the virtual format of H-Net reviews allows for instant feedback from readers, reviewers, and even the authors themselves in a variety of dynamic ways, including discussion posts. These mechanisms make H-Net reviews far more interactive than hard copies reviews ever have been in the past and can ever hope to be in the future. H-Net’s forums support the idea that scholarship is not a top-down process, composed of a series of one-way interactions between an expert writer and her or his readers. Instead, scholarship is a space where ideas are exchanged equally. Where a high-school student at the public library has the opportunity to interact with a PhD professor over historical questions that interest them both. Fourth, the virtual format of H-Net means that reviews are detached from physical space and, therefore, have greater freedom to be flexible. Writers can link their pieces to other internet sources and compose reviews that vary in length, detail, and style.
Fifth, H-Net reviews are entirely paperless, unlike their counterparts. While all journals have transferred most of their book reviews to a digital format, they continue to print hard copy editions as well. By building and sustaining its infrastructure online, H-Net upholds our modern commitments to reduce material waste wherever possible and to encourage the dissemination of historical work through digitization. In these ways and more, H-Net is suited to meet the educational needs of students and teachers in the information age.
To summarize, H-Net book reviews come out faster, are more free, more accessible, more interactive, more flexible, and more sensitive to the environment than hard copy reviews. Since book reviewers are not paid to write reviews for H-Net or hard copy journals, monetary incentive is not an obstacle to becoming a reviewer with H-Net. At present, the major obstacles to H-Net’s success appear to be preconceived notions that its quality of scholarship and reputation are less than that of hard-copy journals with longer histories of publication. These assumptions are sure to change with both time and the gradual acceptance of H-Net by scholars from new and existing generations of the historical profession.
And so, if you are a new or experienced historian who is looking to build his or her personal library, get your opinions out there, and establish expertise in a particular field, I encourage you to think about becoming an H-Net reviewer by contacting one of the organization’s many sub-list supervisors. These supervisors are listed on the organization’s website.
In closing, many thanks to Jeanine Clark Bremer of H-Florida, and the rest of the staff at H-Net for their help in editing and publishing the following review of Anthony P. Maingot’s Miami.