Have’s and have-not’s – online dissertations

Today I went looking for a dissertation, Beth Dunlop’s PhD thesis on 4th century sermons on the Nativity.  It does exist online.  If you are a ‘have’, it’s free to download.  If you are a ‘have-not’, it will cost you $40. 

I am an ordinary professional man, earning a living in an office, and paying huge basic-rate taxes.  I am, in short,  a have-not.  Probably most of the readers of this blog are have-nots. 

Of course the ‘have not’ has funded the access for the ‘have’.  That is what is the really bitter part of it all.  I am forced to spend my days in the office, writing software for insurance companies in order to pay my taxes; in order, in short, to provide access to scholarship for others to enjoy.  If *I* want access, I must pay again.  Not that anyone ever does, I am sure – the purpose of the charge is to deny access.

Examples of online state-funded scholarship which is inaccessible could be multiplied.  More and more, scholarship depends on databases of references; databases built with state grants, and access restricted to those in full-time education.  An ordinary man can’t even get an ATHENS userid.   We can’t get access to JSTOR.  Well, dammit man… what about the poor b****y public who pay for it all?!?!

We really need a revolution here.  Just why should the ordinary man be obliged to fund the leafy paths of scholarship, and then prevented from accessing the result, exploited if he shows interest?


9 thoughts on “Have’s and have-not’s – online dissertations

  1. I couldn’t agree more. For me sometimes it’s a double blow as I’m a professional archaeologist who wants to read about archaeology – not only am I paying for the scholarship, I’m also producing the datasets. But still a have-not. The days of Open Access journals are upon us though, and I’m hopeful that with them will come a better deal for non-affiliated researchers. In science, PLoS ONE is already quite a success I think. I also notice today that Edinburgh University Press are making access to their journals free for two months.

    As a short-term fix, have you tried e-mailing her (if that’s possible)? I know a few people have been very willing to share their work with me when I’ve explained my circumstances, and what I’m doing.

  2. As a ‘resting’ professional archaeologist I cannot afford access to on line academic resources, and I cannot get a PhD finished. My university was enthusiastic about my work and wanted to organise a conference, till I pointed out I could not give them £3500, now they have completely lost interest. Giving money to a university is the only way a practicing archaeologist can contribute to the subject; I am now trying to ‘publish’ my work on line as a blog, as I can no longer afford to buy my way into the system.

    Research grants are given to young students who did well in exams, and it has been my experience as a mature ‘self funded student’, that you and your work will be ignored. Universities are only interested in research students as a source of income, the actual research is unimportant.

    If you took the cure for cancer to a university – they would ask you how much you were prepared to pay for their help.

  3. Even without access to privileged resources an independent scholar can still do a lot of great stuff, but the work can be easily (and sadly) dismissed because he (or she) does not have three letters after his name. Guild rule is apparently alive an well in Academia.

  4. There has always been a role for the independent scholar; indeed we might think of A.E.Housman, working as a clerk for 15 years, until he was elected as professor of classics somewhere with the backing of all the most eminent scholars of the age.

    The independent scholar and the professional started equal, in access to the literature, except that the professional could do so full time (teaching duties aside).

    But this is now steadily ceasing, because the new electronic resources are not being made available in the same way. This is wrong, and stupid, and we need to shout about it.

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