You know, two or three years ago, you could tell when a student had researched a paper without bothering to get up from their computer. Nowadays? Not so much. The other day an acquaintance who's writing a fantasy novel asked me for some leads on medieval feuds and dueling, and I discovered that all the sources I thought he should see are available as either Google books or articles that I can e-mail to him in pdf form.
When I think about this in light of the bitter recent strike by the contract faculty at York University, I wonder about the future of higher education in general. Increasingly, universities are opting to hire people to teach only one or two courses at a time on a part-time basis. Full-time faculty who have the luxury of doing their own research are becoming rarer. I think it's getting to the point where people who want to do history research are realizing that they're better off getting a nine-to-five job outside of academia and an alumni library card for the online databases. Maybe I'm being overly dramatic here, but I wonder if universities aren't turning into teaching factories while the exciting ideas of the future are going to come from the hobbyists.