Open Access for the Pursuit of Knowledge

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One large impediment that exists for scholars who study the history of material culture is access to the visual sources that are housed in many of the museums, archives, and other repositories that comprise the public aspect of public history. Unfortunately, access to high quality images for scholarly work and publication continue to demand high costs or are completely prohibited.

Digital tools for historians, especially tools that can scan or create a digital copy of an artifact, have allowed historians to move in new directions and experiment with new modes of analysis. However, museums, archives, and the like also have it in their vested interest not to allow high quality images into the public domain.

In Germany, where I do most of my work, there is an initiative underway by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science to pressure museums and archives to loosen up their restrictions when it comes to allowing scholars to have access to digital collections. I wonder if there is a need for a similar initiative here in the United States?

When cultural heritage organizations impose restrictive access fees and attribute this to copyright, then these institutions are also limiting the potential of digital media and the progress of scholarly inquiry. Hopefully, we can work together with the cultural institutions to codify a set of best practices that guarantees that gaining non-commercial rights for images, video, text or any other media should not be a barrier for the pursuit of knowledge.

To read the statement by the Max Planck Institute in Germany (in English), see:

Original Format


Jon Olsen


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Jon Olsen

Date Added



Jon Olsen, "Open Access for the Pursuit of Knowledge." Forward Capture: Imagine the Future of Public History, Item #19 (accessed December 03 2021, 3:05 pm)