Through my university account, I have access to an amazing storehouse of scholarly knowledge named JSTOR. This garden of intellectual delights contains thousands of academic articles and pamphlets, some going back to the 1800’s and earlier, in PDF format. The older articles are obviously scanned in from the originals, and they have been scanned very meticulously. By this I mean that the pages were carefully aligned to the scanner, so that the lines of text aren’t tilted about all a-kilter; this rectification must have been achieved by computer. (My guess is that newer articles were already available in PDF format, so they didn’t need to be scanned in.)

But the really cool thing about JSTOR is that the words in the body of the articles — not just the titles, not just the abstracts — have been indexed. The JSTOR staff must have had some sort of optical character recognition software to do this. This means that one can go to JSTOR, do a search on arbitrary search terms, and receive hits even in ancient articles with archaic fonts, even if the search terms occur in the body of the article rather than merely in the title.

It would be very tedious to manually go through hard-copies of journals, looking for all occurrences of some search term such as panpsychism or Aquinas. But with JSTOR, one can do it in seconds.

Do you realize how awesome this is?

From doing many, many searches on JSTOR on various topics of interest, it has become clear to me that if you’re going to write an article and you want future generations to be able to find your article, it would help to choose the title very carefully; rather than some vague title like Further Thoughts on a Recent Controversy, insert concrete topical words in the title, e.g. The Split-Brain Experiments Revisited. Also, you should try to follow the consensus spelling of proper names (e.g., Scriabin vs. Skryabin, or Rachmaninoff vs. Rachmaninov), even if you don’t agree with them. Otherwise, if people try to use the most common spelling of terms to find articles, they will miss your article! Of course, what might be a consensus in one era may drop out of favor in another era.


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  1. […] published in The American Journal of Theology. Here are the references (if you do not have a JSTOR account, these links may not […]

  2. JSTOR has done a fine thing by making the body of academic research going back a few years available online in searchable form. Less fine is that it has put a wall around the data. Instead of allowing everyone access on a micro-payment scale, they purposely make their second-hand product – human knowledge – scarce so as to keep up the revenue. When did knowledge become someone’s private pasture? Search my blog under JSTOR and you’ll find numerous arguments relevant to this question.

    • Yes, I fear that wall. So, I will try to enjoy my access to JSTOR, while I can. After I graduate, I will lose my university account, and then be shut out of the “garden of intellectual delights” that is JSTOR.

      It will be like being banished from Eden, prevented from re-entering by a flaming sword.


    • The Walled Cities: Keeping Out The Joneses (via MetaFilter)


  3. Only in this digital Eden, the sword is not wielded by a Cherub, but conjured by tricks of light.

    Fwif, This might be of interest.

    • Thanks, that is indeed of great interest! I went through the same four steps mentioned in the second paragraph of your IMproPRieTies piece: search, glee, consternation, and puzzlement. And perhaps an additional, fifth step: annoyance.

      You probably already know that in the biomedical literature, there is a new NIH policy that publicly-funded research must be made publicly accessible. I hope that this open-access movement will extend to other literatures as well. The Public Library of Science looks like a solid attempt in this direction, at least for new papers (it doesn’t liberate previously published papers).


    • OK, now I’m going off on some random tangents; please indulge me. This is a classic thought chain.

      I am thinking of a Star Wars theme now. The flaming sword evokes light sabers. While tricks of light evoke
      Jedi mind tricks.

      And I am also thinking about a certain economist/philosopher named Henry George. Some years ago, a friend of mine (who knows much more about economics than I do) was raving about Mr. George’s thinking. I wonder whether some interesting analogy between Mr. George’s ideas of land rent and JSTOR’s storage of literature can be made. (Incidentally, I just went to JSTOR to look up papers on Mr. George and the theory of rent.)

      Also, I happen to have a book entitled Significant Paragraphs from Henry George’s Progress and Poverty, published by Kessinger, who is in the business of publishing rare reprints. This in turn makes me think of my earlier post about rare piano sheet music.

  4. Regarding Markov chains: fascinating. One-off association: He might have an interesting argument with Freud over the pastness of the present and the future.

    Re George, perhaps his thinking relates in a broader way to the relation of Pipes and Content on the net. Here’s a timely related tale – a comment of mine there might be said to possess a certain Georgic spirit:

  5. […] Earlier post on JSTOR. Published in: […]

  6. […] have mentioned JSTOR earlier here and here. Eco World Content From Across The Internet. Featured on EcoPressed College […]

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