JSTOR opens up

Promo video for JSTOR’s Early Journal Content

Anyone who has gone searching for scholarly articles on the web will be aware of JSTOR. Type in just about any journal name, or look up any research subject, and sure enough there will be a link to an article held by this giantic American digital library. And if you do not belong to an institution that subscribes to JSTOR, you then end up banging your head against the desk because you, as an ‘unaffiliated scholar’, are not permiited access. So near and yet so far.

Well, in the continuing spirit of web altriusm (see yesterday’s post on Project Gutenberg) JSTOR has announced that it is going to make all of its journal content published prior to 1923 in the United States (the date before which all works published in the USA are held to be in the public domain) and prior to 1870 elsewhere in the world (a reasonable assumption based on the calculation of 70 years after the death of the author for a creative work in European law) freely available to anyone, anywhere. This represents 500,000 articles from 220 journals, or around 6% of the entire JSTOR collection.

JSTOR has not converted all of these journals to free access yet, but gradually the Early Journal Content offering will expand, with records marked by a green icon with the message “You have access to this content” and a box that states ‘free’. To search across the freely-available content, JSTOR provides an advance search page already set up for you, here. I’ve added this to Resources in the Bioscope’s right-hand column of links.

You can browse a full listing of JSTOR’s 2,270 journals (so far) here or browse by discipline here. Of course, they didn’t have anything called ‘film studies’ prior to 1923, so it will require some lateral searching, but to give an indication of the possibilities, I typed in our regular test search term ‘kinetoscope’ on JSTOR’s simple search page. There are 436 hits, but if I then click on “only content I can access” I get 47 open access records. The first five, eaching containing a mention of the word ‘kinetoscope’ somewhere in the text, are:

  • Chas. S. Slichter, ‘The Mechanics of Slow Motions’, Science, New Series, Vol. 11, No. 275 (Apr. 6, 1900), pp. 535-536
  • George Parsons Lathrop,’Stage Scenery and the Vitascope’, The North American Review, Vol. 163, No. 478 (Sep., 1896), pp. 377-381
  • G.A. Miller, ‘A Popular Account of Some New Fields of Thought in Mathematics’, Science, New Series, Vol. 11, No. 275 (Apr. 6, 1900), pp. 528-535
  • Henry Alfred Todd, ‘A Card Catalogue of Scientific Literature’, Science, New Series, Vol. 1, No. 11 (Mar. 15, 1895), pp. 297-299
  • Theodore Purdy, Reginald Cleveland Coxe,’The Wildness of the Waves’, The Monthly Illustrator, Vol. 5, No. 16 (Aug., 1895), pp. 183-186

A similar search strategy for ‘cinematograph’ yields 152 results, for ‘kinematograph’ 63 results, and for ‘bioscope’ 12.

It should be pointed out that JSTOR does have some free content from contemporary journals. For instance, in searching under ‘cinematograph’ I found an essay by Hannah Landecker, ‘Microcinematography and the History of Science and Film’, Isis, Vol. 97, No. 1 (March 2006), pp. 121-132. If you adjust the ‘sort by’ option to ‘newest to oldest’ you will get these occasional free modern articles appear at the top of your list of hits. You can also narrow down results to articles containing images, though do note that your average scholarly journal in the pre-1923 era didn’t go in for illustrations all that much.

All in all, this is a huge boon for the independent researcher, whether they be looking for silent film themes or any other topic of passing interest. Go explore.

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