The end of Open Access Anthropology (.org)

Open access week is a time to celebrate new projects and look back at the success of old ones. However today (yes, it is still Tuesday in Honolulu) I also want to look back at one open access project that I recently said goodbye to: the website openaccessanthropology.org.

OA Anthro was founded back in the heady days of 2006. Back then, open access was a movement that was just beginning to gain recognition in the social sciences, and the blog was meant to be a central location for anthropologists interested in open access issues. The blog continued for a number of years until, basically, we all got too busy doing other things. After a years of inaction, we recently finally decided to pull the plug.

So: was openaccessanthropology.org a success?

In an obvious sense, the answer is ‘no’ because the site is no longer around. Although, technically, this is not true: even after we pull the plug on the live site, it will still be archived on archive.org among other places. Still, if someone came to me and said: back in 2006 you had grand plans to change anthropology, and now all you’ve got is a backup of your website on archive.org, I think it would be a lot of truth in that.

I think this point of view seems even more reasonable when you look at the anthropology landscape today: There are major open access journals now, such as HAU and Cultural Anthropology. Even the AAA is getting into the game with their occasionally-not-disappointing semi-OA journal Open Anthropology. Openaccessanthropology.org alumns like Chris Kelty and Jason Jackson have played major roles in  projects such as the University of California’s open access policy and openfolklore.org. And openaccessanthropology.org turned into… what?

On the other hand…. There are major open access anthropology journals and OA anthro alumns have played major roles in OA projects. If that isn’t a sign of success then I don’t know what is. To me, this is a sign of the success of the website, and the early OA anthropology movement. Open Access is now widely simply the default ethical option in anthropology today — something that is not true in all disciplines. It’s not the default publishing model for anthropology… yet. But the ideas do have a fundamental legitimacy now that they didn’t eight years ago — and the website was a big part of that.

Indeed, by around 2008 it was clear that OA projects were not going to be restricted to small-scale, homebrew grassroots efforts, and that the discipline was open to wide-spread change. The site fell apart partially because people got sucked up into much bigger, larger projects — which is certainly a sign of success and not failure.

Another reason that the site fell apart was social media and the increasing amount and velocity of information out there. We could expect people to read two or three (or ten) blogs a day. Savageminds had more eyeballs than openaccessanthropology.org and it made more sense to double down on this blog as a project and focus eyeballs here, rather than force casual readers to search out content across three or four blogs.

Early OA blogging was not the sole, or perhaps even the main, cause of the widespread uptake of open access ideals in anthropology. But it did have an important role to play. I’ll keep on playing that role to the best of my ability by publicizing important OA initiatives and projects. For a while, openaccessanthropology.org was the best way to do that. Now, thankfully, open access anthropology is too big for the website once designed to discuss it. I’m super proud that now, eight years later, the first stages of the movement are obsolete. I can’t wait to see what the next eight years bring.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

3 thoughts on “The end of Open Access Anthropology (.org)

  1. Thank you for the immense amount you have done to inform us about open access and to trace various steps ahead and setbacks over the years.

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