The fact that I spend a lot of time in the 18th century doesn’t mean I’m not concerned with the 21st.
As president of the American Historical Association, I started a programme to make dissertations into e-books in 1999. Before I knew it, I was involved in other electronic projects. Harvard invited me to become director of the libraries in 2007.
I would not minimize the digital divide, which separates the computerized world from the rest, nor would I underestimate the importance of traditional books.
When you tell people you’re in history, they give you this pained expression because that was the course they hated in high school. But history can be exciting, intellectually rigorous, and fun.
The notion of ‘history from below’ hit the history profession in England very hard around the time I came to Oxford in the early 1960s.
As a graduate student at Oxford in 1963, I began writing about books in revolutionary France, helping to found the discipline of book history. I was in my academic corner writing about Enlightenment ideals when the Internet exploded the world of academic communication in the 1990s.
It’s important to make clear to all the schools at Harvard the central role of the library.
People think that when you use Google you’re finding exactly what you need, but really, you need expert help.
Texts are always in flux.
I was very fortunate to be elected to the Society of Fellows at Harvard, which is, in effect, a small research center where you are given three years to do whatever work you want.