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Digitizing the History of Psychology, Part 2

Amazon KindleOne of the benefits of the APA’s “Akron Project” (at AHP here) is that it will make rare books and grey literature more accessible.  This will make it easier for psychologists to “do history” and for students of psychology to engage with the foundations of their discipline.  But at what cost?

The gizmo they’re using at AHAP, bought new, is rumoured to carry a price tag of around  $300,000.  If APA hadn’t rented the two they’ve been using since the project started in 2007, that amount would translate into a fixed cost contribution of ~$0.60 per scanned page (plus the marginal costs of labour and electronic delivery).  These costs are tangible.  What about the intangibles?

What about the cost of replacing the book as a content-delivery device?

This is the question posed by Christopher Conway in the latest issue of Inside Higher Ed:

The commodity of the book, as we have known it for the last few decades, is vanishing and being replaced by new electronic media. Paper-and-binding books have irrevocably begun to fade away as products of mass consumption and will soon transform themselves into curios like vinyl records. The age of the massive emporium bookstore is coming to an end under the crushing, virtual weight of the Internet. Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader is doing well and it promises to get better and cheaper in the future….  And worst of all, if you’re a paper-and-binding book lover such as myself, people are reading less paper than before.

For those of us who love the materiality of history, it’s certainly true that books have a certain hold on the imagination.  When a book is imbued with its own history, when what you hold is more than its contents, it seems almost to sing—a soul greater than the hum of its parts.  The feel and the smell and the dust, strangely, is part of the experience.  It connects you to everyone else who has touched that volume; in a small way, it also makes you part of the history experienced by future readers.

Does it matter that we are becoming increasingly able to separate our historical texts from their history? What do we lose in leaving the book behind? Continue reading Digitizing the History of Psychology, Part 2