Age of scarcity

The expression “age of scarcity” was introduced by the American historian Roy Rosenzweig (1950-2007) to describe the period marked by a lack of primary sources for historical research prior to the digital revolution and the invention and generalisation of the Internet.

According to Rosenzweig, scarcity in the historical field defines itself primarily by the small number of primary sources a historian can rely on to study a specific research question. However, this scarcity is not only due to the small number of sources that have been preserved. In fact, costly or difficult access to existing primary sources can also reduce the available sources for a researcher.

With the digital revolution, Rosenzweig argues, historians have entered an “age of abundance”, marked by a large amount of available primary sources, However, scarcity remains a reality in the age of abundance, because existing and accessible sources can’t necessarily be used by a historian due to the absence of reliable meta-data or due to legal restrictions, such as copyright issues.


ROSENZWEIG R., “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era”, in The American Historical Review, vol. 108 / n° 3 (2003), p. 735-762.

FICKERS A., “Towards a new Digital Historicism? Doing History in the Age of Abundance”, in Journal of European History and Culture, vol. 1 / n° 1 (2012), p. 1-9.

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