Friday, April 29, 2011

Historians and Online Sources

The listserv H-SHEAR (Society for the History of the Early American Republic) has recently had some fruitful discussion about the use of online primary sources in works of scholarship.  Mark Cheatham has summarized the debate nicely over at his blog, "Jacksonian America."  Here is a taste:

On the H-SHEAR discussion network earlier this week, Dan Feller called out historians who cite non-standard sources. He gave three examples from two books and one journal article that focused on the Jacksonian era. The two books cite non-institutional websites as their source for several of Andrew Jackson’s presidential messages instead of the standard sources: James D. Richardson’s multivolume collection of presidential messages or digital images of the originals, available online at the Library of Congress American Memory site.

I tend to agree with both Dan Feller and Caleb McDaniel.  Online primary sources are incredibly valuable to the historian.  I used many of them in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation and even one or two in The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  But they must be used with caution.