History Journals' Statement on position in relation to Open Access

We, as editors of the History journals listed below, would like to make our views clear in relation to the government’s planned implementation (in conjunction with RCUK and HEFCE) of the Finch Report. We fully support initiatives to make scholarship as widely and freely available as possible, above all online. However, we have serious concerns about several aspects of the proposed implementation of the policy, which we believe will have a serious effect on the reputation of UK scholarship internationally, on peer review, and on the rights of authors.

Background: The Finch report proposed that academic journals in the UK should move to a ‘gold’ open access policy wherever possible. The government wants all RCUK funded and all QR funded scholarship to be published ‘gold’ insofar as funding allows. This would mean that an author (through their university) would pay an ‘article processing charge’ (APC) to the journal and the article would be available free online immediately on publication.

The government also envisages ‘green’ open access publication. This means that no fee is paid by the author to a journal. Instead, the article must be made freely available online after an embargo period. If gold access is not offered by the journal, that period could be as little as 6 to 12 months. In the case of humanities, the government is prepared to accept a longer period, perhaps around 2 years, particularly if the journal concerned also offers gold open access.

Our position:

1. We
want first to make it clear that we will accept gold APCs.  We have a responsibility to the UK research community. Many authors will be required to be published in ‘compliant’ journals which allow the possibility of ‘gold’ publication, and it is vital that all authors be able to publish in the journals of their choice.

2. We will also offer the possibility of ‘green’ publication, i.e. where an author does not pay an APC, and there is a period of embargo after publication, and subscriptions are charged.
The period of embargo we will offer will be 36 MONTHS. We think this is the shortest possible period that would still protect our viability as subscription-funded organisations, which have to pay for copyediting and the management of peer review, and is fully consistent with the need to make research publicly available.

3. We wish to underline that all our decisions about publication will be taken regardless of whether an author is able to pay an APC or not. The quality of the work will be the ONLY criterion for publication.

4. The licence that we will offer for publication in EITHER green OR gold will be a CCBY NC ND (creative commons non-commercial non-derivative) licence only; that is, it will not allow commercial reuse, or tweaking or reuse of parts of an article (text mining). The government has specified that ‘gold’ access is to be given on a CCBY licence, the most permissive form of creative commons licence that there is. This however means that commercial re-use, plagiarism, and republication of an author’s work will be possible, subject to the author being ‘credited’ (but it is not clear in what way they would be credited). We believe that this is a serious infringement of intellectual property rights and we do not want our authors to have to sign away their rights in order to publish with us.


Contemporary British History

Contemporary European History

Continuity and Change

Cultural and Social History

Economic History Review

English Historical Review

European History Quarterly

First World War Studies

French History

Gender & History

German History

Journal of Global History

Journal of the History of Collections

Historical Journal

Historical Research

History Workshop Journal

Journal of Ecclesiastical History

Journal of Scottish Historical Studies

Parliamentary History

Past & Present

Renaissance Studies

Royal Musical Association

Rural History

Urban History


Open Access and the Finch Report: Response from the P&P Editors

Past & Present welcomes moves to widen access to academic journals.

As many readers will know, in the UK the government plans to implement the Finch report which supports Open Access publishing. This will mean that authors will have to pay an Author Publishing Charge (APC) to be published with immediate (gold) Open Access.

We want to state clearly and unequivocally that merit will be the sole determinant of Past & Present’s decisions to publish articles.

Whether an author can pay an APC or not will be irrelevant.

We will accept APCs and will also publish the articles of authors who cannot pay APCs. This means that all authors outside the UK and all within can continue to be published free of charge in Past & Present.

The UK government plans to introduce the recommendations of the Finch Report and make all UK-authored publicly funded journal articles freely available online.  

Under the preferred ‘gold’ model, instead of article publication being financed through journal subscriptions, the AUTHOR will pay to have their work published (Author Publishing Charge) to make their work immediately available online. These proposals are being pushed through very quickly, without proper consultation or consideration as to the effects they will have on scholarship.

The Author Publishing Charge reflects a model of publishing based on the natural sciences that does not fit the humanities and social sciences. The articles published in historical journals have to be very carefully peer reviewed and copy edited, and their ‘shelf life’ is ten, twenty or even thirty years. This means that we have to invest money in the process of peer review and dedicated editorial work, so as to maintain the highest scholarly standards.  

Many scholars who are early career, independent, retired and, perhaps most importantly, scholars outside the UK and in developing countries will in many cases be unable to pay the Author Publishing Charge. We wish to assure all authors that we will continue to accept articles regardless of whether they pay an APC or not.

The UK is currently a world leader in humanities research and Past & Present is acknowledged to be among the top historical journals in the world. Half of what it publishes is by authors outside the UK and it has a growing readership in developing countries. Leading scholars on our Board work for free in order to advance scholarship and help scholars all over the world maintain the highest standards in our discipline.

World class scholarship does not come cheap. We are alarmed at the potential impact of the Finch proposals on scholarly standards. The Finch report examines a range of financial levels at which the Author Publishing Charge might be calculated. But the highest figure it mentions would barely cover a third of what it costs to produce a Past & Present article. Our subscriptions are deliberately kept low so as to make the journal as widely available as possible, to both institutions and individuals. Our production costs are in line with those of leading international sister journals such as the American Historical Review. 

The effect of even the highest APC mentioned in the Finch report might be to destroy the quality and reputation of one of the journals for which the UK is famous internationally.  If ‘gold’ were implemented universally, it would also bring to an end most of the charitable activities we support. We cannot see how this can possibly be in the interests of UK scholarship.

The government has specified that ‘gold’ access is to be given on a CCBY licence, the most permissive form of creative commons licence that there is. This however means that commercial re-use, plagiarism, and republication of an author’s work will be possible, subject to the author being ‘credited’. We believe that this is a serious infringement of intellectual property rights and we do not want our authors to have to sign away their rights in order to publish with us.

Past & Present is also a Learned Society. We are a charity. The money generated by the journal that is not devoted to production of the journal goes to fund two year-long post-doctoral Fellowships in History each year; to support the Royal Historical Society’s book series that publishes young scholars; to give research money for doctoral students through the Royal Historical Society; and to support the Institute of Historical Research.  We publish a supplement each year which we distribute free to all our subscribers. We also host regular conferences and publish a book series of cutting-edge historical volumes, with two books appearing per year.

We are exactly like the Learned Societies which the Finch Report says must be protected from the changes the government is proposing. We are in favour of widening access.  Indeed we regularly make selected articles freely available online, and we continue to explore further ways of widening access to the content of the journal. But we believe that universal gold access is not the way to do this. We believe that this would be very damaging to the integrity of scholarship in the UK and to its international standing.

The Editors

Past & Present


More Information on Open Access

The Finch Report

Research Councils UK Policy on Access to Research Outputs and press release on additional investment in OA

HEFCE statement on implementing open access

British Academy response 

Letter from the President of the Royal Historical Society on OA

American Historical Association response

Economic History Society response and update

Journal of Victorian Culture response

Pierre Purseigle's blog: this has a great set of links to more information on Open Access

John Walter article in Tate exhibition

John Walter's article, 'A "Rising of the People"? The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596' (Past and Present 107, 1985) features in an exhibition by Patrick Keiller at Tate Britain, 'The Robinson Institute'. To celebrate we have made the article freely available - find it here.


Useful links and websites we like

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Institute of Historical Research website

History Workshop Journal website


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