Post the Fourth, In Which I Digitally Archive Some Articles

Several months ago, I learned about Rice University’s Digital Scholarship Archive, an institutional repository where faculty members can store and share published and unpublished work online. Many universities now have such repositories, including the University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins, and others. But as Shane Landrum (@cliotropic) recently suggested, I’m not sure history faculty are widely aware of these repositories. I know that without a tip from the great Lisa Spiro (@lisaspiro), I might not have learned of Rice’s DSA at all. But I’m glad I did, and here’s why and how I’ve posted some of my published work to the repository.

For me the advantages of putting my work online in this way are clear. One benefit is curatorial. By putting my work here I can be sure that professional librarians will regularly back up my files, as well as convert documents to newer file formats when old ones become obsolescent. Without any maintenance from me, I will know that my online scholarly works will have permanent URLs, ensuring that anyone wishing to use them can rely on a working link.

But the greatest benefit here is that I can provide more open access to many of my publications, which otherwise would hide in subscription-only databases like JSTOR and Project Muse. I can also provide copies of unpublished work like conference papers. Indeed, once deposited on the repository, such papers no longer become “unpublished” work. And this means that the work and research put into conference papers can be shared widely. I can solicit feedback and critiques of the works long after a conference has closed while simultaneously ensuring that my authorship is documented and in the public record.

That’s why I’ve decided to make use of the DSA. And here’s how I did it.

The process of putting my conference papers online was straightforward enough once I received an account on the repository. (To read these instructions, Rice faculty will need to log in.) I didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission to publish those. But in order to find out which published journal articles I have the right to put online, I had to do a very modest amount of additional investigation.

First, I browsed over to SHERPA/RoMEO. This is basically an online database of publishers’ policies concerning reproduction and copyright; it’s as easy as typing in a journal’s name to find out where its publisher stands on the digital archiving of articles. You can use SHERPA’s “color coded” key to get a quick sense of what rights a particular publisher gives to an author, but it’s best to closely read the restrictions each journal places on archiving or, better yet, to click through any link that is provided to the press’s own policy page. Some publishers allow the archiving of an author’s pre-print or post-print version of an article (i.e., a Microsoft Word or PDF version of the submitted manuscript), while others allow the archiving of an actual PDF file of the published article, with the copy-editing and formatting done by the press. And various journals attach restrictions to these permissions.

For example, by searching for the Journal of the Early Republic on RoMEO, I learned that I could put the Publisher’s Version/PDF of an article in Rice’s DSA, so long as I waited until 12 months after the article appeared and so long as I honored the Press’s request to credit them for the original publication. By clicking through the link provided to the University of Pennsylvania Press’s own page on its archive policies, I also found a set copyright notice that I was required to attach to the archived work. (Click here to see an image of what this actually looked like on RoMEO.)

I also learned that another article I published in American Quarterly could probably be put up, but that I should contact the publisher to check. I sent an email and heard back the next day that I could post it, along with a credit. I think it’s also a good idea (and a courtesy) to confirm RoMEO’s results by emailing even those publishers who don’t require an email, so I also wrote the JER to make sure I was reading the policy correctly. I easily found the relevant email addresses on both journals’ homepages, and it was also reassuring that the JER’s homepage contained a link to the same Press policies on “Self-Archiving and Digital Repositories” linked to by RoMEO.

In short, faculty interested in using Rice’s repository should not regard difficulty of use as a barrier; the couple of questions I had were quickly answered by librarians and/or RoMEO and my publishers. One additional thing I learned is that to make these links available to people off campus, the “https” in the URL needs to be changed to “http.” But now, with just a little bit of work, I have two of my published articles, my dissertation (which I have the copyright to), and most of my conference papers available on the DSA. Click on the link below to see the list:

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In Search of John Brown’s Timbucto, Part II

In Part I, inspired by a Washington Post article about archaeologists who are uncovering an early nineteenth-century African American town in Timbuctoo, N.J., I set out to discover how another black community in upstate New York got the name “Timbucto.”

As I explained in that post, being certain about who named the New York “Timbucto” (which is most famous for its association with the famous abolitionist John Brown, who once lived there or near there) is not easy and may be impossible. The extant evidence suggests that Brown and his family members first used the name “Timbucto” in the late 1840s to refer to a small cluster of farms near North Elba that was settled by the families of three free black men. But even if we could settle the question of who named “Timbucto” (or Timbuctoo, N. J., for that matter) it would not settle the related question of why that name was chosen.

That’s the question for this post: Why would the name “Timbuctoo” be attached to these early nineteenth-century African American communities, one founded in the 1820s and the other at the end of the 1840s?

Surely in both cases the name referred to the African city of Timbuctoo or Timbuktu. But that means that to answer the question of “why Timbuctoo” we need to know what Americans between 1820 and 1850 would have known or thought they knew about the African city. What associations would the African Timbuktu have had in the minds of those who named these towns, whoever they were? To answer that question, we would need to paint a picture of the place of the African Timbuktu in the broader landscape of antebellum American culture. We’ll need to explore the print culture, newspapers and books from which people in New Jersey or people like John Brown would have learned about the African city.

A full picture of how Timbuktu was represented in American culture would require a larger research project than I can undertake for this post, though it seems like a do-able project that would be of great interest. It is possible, though, to sketch a preliminary portrait of Americans’ likely impressions of Timbuktu in the decades bounded by the founding of Timbuctoo, New Jersey, and John Brown’s move to the Adirondack mountains. It’s a portrait that includes not just John Brown, but an early Pan-Africanist named John Brown Russwurm, a French explorer named René Caillié, and a famous African Muslim prince who was enslaved, brought to America, and then freed in 1828 after he had been recognized by a white man who had met his father in Africa.

But unfortunately (or interestingly, depending on how you look at it) this fascinating portrait still does not decisively settle the question of why these two Timbuctoo communities got their name.

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