Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.10.40

Paola Donati Giacomini, Innovazione e tradizione: Le risorsse telematiche e informatiche nello studio della storia antica.   Bologna:  Il Mulino, 2002.  Pp. 137.  ISBN 88-15-08783-4.  EUR 10.50.  



Reviewed by Anne Mahoney, Perseus Project, Tufts University (amahoney@perseus.tufts.edu)
Word count: 1188 words

This slender book is packed full of resources for ancient historians and other classicists. Donati Giacomini has collected references to a wide range of electronic resources, both on line and on disk. She also gives a brief overview of the Internet, how it works, and where it came from. She explains the basic concepts of email, search engines, and hypertext. This book would be perfect for someone who's a bit timid about computers (and probably thinks of "computers" as a single, monolithic category) but wants to see what all the fuss is about. But even experienced Internet users will find pointers to new web sites, on-line journals, mailing lists, and other resources. Read this one at your computer: it's fun to explore. Although the book is in Italian, the technical terms are mainly borrowed from English, and of course URLs and screen shots are the same in any language. American undergraduates, especially those who know some Latin, should therefore not be daunted by the Italian title: they will be able to use this book even if they cannot read every word of the text.

Donati Giacomini begins with an overview of the invention and development of the Internet, covering basic terms like "world wide web," "hypertext," "HTML," "TCP/IP," and "protocol." She explains how to read a URL, identifying the protocol and, for HTTP URLs, the server and file path. She gives a brief discussion of how to use a web browser, explaining the features common to just about all of them without getting into details of specific pieces of software. She explains email, including header fields, smileys, basic netiquette, and a warning about spam scams. This brisk chapter -- all of this fits into just over 20 pages -- does require knowledge of Italian but is solid information, general enough that it will not be out of date instantly, yet specific enough to be useful. While true beginners may not need to know what a domain name server is, or the standard TCP/IP packet size, they will hear these words and they may well be curious. Donati Giacomini answers the basic questions without overwhelming the reader with technical details.

The rest of the book is more specifically classical. Chapter two covers email lists and news groups. The heart of the chapter is the four-page list of classical email lists, with subscription information and URLs for more information. Although she gives the subject of each list (where it's not obvious from the list name), Donati Giacomini does not attempt to evaluate them; readers will not know which email lists have a lot of traffic, which are closely topic-focused, and so on. In her discussion of Usenet, she mentions the news groups sci.classics and sci.archaeology but not humanities.classics. It would be useful to note that news groups tend to attract more irrelevant messages than email lists, including not only commercial notices, pornographic invitations, and other spam, but also political postings made by individuals without attention to the nominal topic of the group. Anyone may post to an unmoderated news group; there is no notion of subscription as their is for email lists. As a result, news groups can be flooded with off-topic messages. In general, email lists will have a higher percentage of relevant messages than unmoderated news groups, though of course there are exceptions.

Chapter three discusses text and picture collections, listing the major collections and summarizing their contents. The list of topical text collections is particularly useful. It includes for example Diotima, Resources for the Study of Judaism and Christianity, and Cicero's Home page. A section on epigraphical, papyrological, and numismatic sites includes many of the major collections, such as the Epigraphische Datenbank Heidelberg, APIS (papyri), and the American Numismatic Society. Image collections include map collections and museum sites as well as other multi-media projects.

In chapter four, Donati Giacomini summarizes bibliographic resources, starting with an explanation of on-line library catalogs and how to use them. In addition to on-line versions of the well-known print bibliographies Gnomon and L'Année Philologique, she lists the journals covered by TOCS-IN and summarizes the bibliographic headings in the important site Bibliotheca Classica Selecta.

Chapter five discusses on-line publication, including journals, monographs, conference programs and proceedings, and institutional sites. The last category is not really out of place, since many scholarly organizations publish newsletters or conference proceedings on their web sites, and some academic departments include links to faculty research. The section on journals lists two dozen journals and newsletters published only on line, giving BMCR first place as "un prezioso strumento di aggiornamento bibliografico" (p. 87). Donati Giacomini also lists print journals that maintain a web presence, and indicates whether each site includes articles from the journal or simply information about it. In the section on monographs, Donati Giacomini gives no examples, and indeed there is no obvious clearing-house site from which to get a list of all the books published on line, whether self-published or peer reviewed and edited. She notes correctly that an on-line monograph can include far more illustrations than a print book (p. 100) and that on-line publication makes texts much easier to find, particularly useful for theses and dissertations (p. 101). She also notes that on-line books can be hypertextual (p. 100), but does not point out that more often they are not: a book published in the form of page images or in PDF form has essentially the same structure as it would in print. Even a book presented in HTML form with links among its parts or to other resources does not necessarily exploit hypertext as well as it could. A book originally written for print publication and sequential reading will still encourage the reader to start at the beginning and follow the argument as it develops. Truly hypertextual writing anticipates a reader who may come in anywhere and proceed in arbitrary directions; the scholarly argument must be clear whether it's read backwards, forwards, or inside out. Whether this is a useful way to present classical scholarship remains to be seen: there has been little experimentation.

The final chapter covers resources available on CD, including text corpora, bibliographies, and encyclopedias. The book concludes with two bibliographies. First is an eleven-page list of web sites mentioned in the text, over 250 of them from ABZU, the guide to resources about the Ancient Near East,1 to ZPE, the web site for the Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik; the URLs were verified in January 2002. The other bibliography gives books and articles cited or useful for background, including several works on hypertext theory as well as technical works on the internet, books and articles by classicists about electronic resources, and work from the museum community about virtual spaces. The bibliography is quite up to date, and the works listed here are a good start for anyone beginning to read up on Internet scholarship, electronic publishing, or related fields.

In short, this is a useful "starter kit" for a classicist approaching the Internet, with much of interest as well for those who have lived in cyberspace for years.


Notes:


1.   The address for ABZU has changed; the new URL is http://www.etana.org/abzu/. It is inevitable that any printed list of URLs will sooner or later become obsolete; Donati Giacomini and Il Mulino are to be commended for getting this book into circulation quickly enough that very, very few of the URLs cited have changed.

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