One year and 50 posts ago today, History Leaks embarked on its mission to promote open access and strengthen the public domain. In that time, the site has published thousands of pages of documents, including feminist comic books, missionary manuscripts, anarchist newspapers, and West African schoolbooks. The Daily Worker project alone has generated over 32 gigabytes of data, much of it never before available online. Although very modest when compared to other sites with multimillion-dollar budgets, full-time employees, and international partnerships, History Leaks has made its mark. And its goal, to increase public awareness and access to rare and underappreciated historical material, remains as important as ever. Please stay tuned for more.
A contributor recently wrote to suggest that drawing attention to hidden archival gems is just as important as making new material available. As this site continues to grow and evolve, it makes sense to point readers to already existing, but relatively unknown, resources. Piles of new documents are digitized and placed online by libraries and archives, but remain little known or used, even to specialists in the relevant field. So, in addition to providing links to fresh content that has not been digitized or widely publicized in the past, History Leaks will also bring its users news and information about existing or neglected collections that deserve a wider awareness. And, as always, your comments and contributions are warmly appreciated!
History Leaks will take a brief hiatus for the next several months and will return at the beginning of the next academic year. Submissions will continue to be accepted at email@example.com.
Have a great Summer and see you in the Fall!
“Truth,” wrote antislavery activist William Lloyd Garrison, “is revolutionary in its tendency.” Those who fought slavery and prejudice two centuries ago recognized that one of the central functions of oppression is to conceal itself from view. If slavery preferred to work in the shadows, its opponents fought back by exposing it to the light of day. If slavery demanded forgetting, abolition demanded remembering everything it sought to erase. The facts, figures, and narratives published by antislavery activists built an archive of truth that remains essential to historians today. The ongoing digital revolution has made possible the liberation of many such archives. Yet the process remains haphazard, uneven, and incomplete.
Even as unprecedented numbers of documents are made available for free online, untold numbers languish in darkness, unknown and unheard. The institutions and repositories that undergird our democracy by preserving access to these materials face dramatic cuts in public support, and the open web itself remains under siege by private interests. Although every issue of Garrison’s Liberator is now available online, similar newspapers and manuscripts remain unavailable to the public at large. To view them, one must purchase or gain access to an expensive institutional subscription to a private database. In this situation, to remain neutral or to do nothing is to lend support to the status quo.
The first duty of every historian is to speak the truth. Therefore it is the responsibility of every historian to ensure the broadest possible access to the source materials from which they build their scholarship. It is the responsibility of every historian to work together with archivists and librarians to preserve and improve the integrity of our public heritage. As researchers, we often digitize vast amounts of information or rediscover underappreciated gems that remain locked away in our personal files. Most of this information is not available elsewhere online. By sharing even a small amount of this data, we can strengthen the public domain and draw much needed attention to our embattled public repositories and institutions. By enhancing and promoting access to the truth, we can fortify democracy and fight ignorance. Will you join us?