Abstract: Historians have been in recent years among the most vocal critics against open access to scientific literature. Discussing the controversies they have triggered in Europe and in the USA, we argue that research on open access should be broadened chronologically and thematically. The first section recalls the very first debate on open access that took place among library professionals at the turn of the XXth century and points similarities with the present situation. The second section reviews the criticisms levelled by humanities disciplines against mandatory regulations on open access. The third section argues that the potential of open access for science democratization and knowledge dissemination may not be taken for granted and need further empirical assessment.