In June 2006 the late Roy Rosenzweig published an article entitled “Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past” in the Journal of American History. Open source models like Wikipedia, Rosenzweig suggests, might offer alternatives to the historian’s highly individualistic and possessive craft. The triumph of Wikipedia indicates the thirst for free and accessible information people have. The methods and approaches that have characterized Wikipedia’s success raises questions about how we produce, share, and debate scholarly work.
Open source in the technical sense means offering software and code available for free, allowing users to explore, extend, debug, or tweak in a highly collaborative atmosphere (open access refers to the principle of making research freely available; for my purposes I tend to think of the two together and often refer to them interchangeably – for instance, offering the raw XML of a transcribed newspaper article on my digital history project is both open source and open access by providing access to my research and access to the data and encoding behind documents). Open source began with Richard Stallman, who voiced the idea of making computer code freely available for all to use and edit as long as they shared changes to the software. In his wake came Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, and Brian Behlendorf, the developer of the free web server package Apache. More below the jump.