Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.09.48
Roberto Danese, Andrea Bacianini, Alessio Torino (ed.), Tra 'volumen' e byte: per una didattica sostenibile della cultura latina: una guida a più di 50 siti web (seri, divertenti, kitsch) che ospitano il latino. Rimini: Guaraldi, 2003. Pp. 192 (with a diskette containing links to all the sites). ISBN 88-8049-209-8. EUR 12.00.
Reviewed by Michael Fontaine, Amherst College (email@example.com)
Word count: 831 words
In the last few years, the number of electronic resources in the classics has mushroomed, and we classicists now have at our disposal manifold instruments for research. These resources include electronic databanks of classical texts, both online and in CD-rom format; searchable electronic dictionaries; online access to card catalogs of the world's great libraries; digital banks of images of all kinds; and digital versions of classic works of scholarship. Many of these resources are of high scholarly quality. Alongside these more professional resources, however, are a number of websites devoted to Latin that volunteer help in learning the language, conversation with others, or near-endless links to other websites offering to do the same; these websites can and do vary widely in quality. At the same time, the Internet landscape has finally stabilized enough so that a printed book treating electronic resources (especially websites) will not necessarily become obsolete before it finds its way into the hands of readers. Consequently, the appearance of this useful guide to the many electronic resources for the Latin language is both timely and welcome, for the authors have succeeded admirably in wading through, processing, and critically analyzing all of this, and they have written a handy guide in a concise, easy style that displays judicious opinions.
The main text is divided into three chapters (1. Materials and Texts; 2. Latin Didactics; and 3. Amoenitates),1 of which the first two constitute the bulk of the book. An introductory essay by Danese opens the book, and an index of websites and a general bibliography round it out. A diskette containing hyperlinks to all the sites and email contact addresses comes with the book.
Danese's introduction helpfully spells out the occasion for, the objective of, and the target audience of the book. The occasion is this: the net is rife with Classics-specific websites of all kinds, ranging in quality from the sterling to the atrocious. How can we, and why don't we, assess all of this? Because the enormous amount of material online is of varying importance and quality, says Danese, "... the primary objective of our work has been to outline the websites and electronic instruments that, at some level, are of real value and usefulness, without any pretense of being exhaustive, but simply advising what, from our point of view, can be interesting to go visit" (p. 15). The ideal reader is envisioned as one who mistrusts the web as an instrument of work or has not personally managed to evaluate web's vast offerings (pp. 15-6). "Accordingly, we have thought of a public of scholars, teachers, and students who, using our critical approach to the web, may easily have within reach the best electronic instruments dedicated to classical antiquity, without losing time and energy in looking for them" (p. 16). The book focuses primarily on Latin resources, but some discussion of Greek resources is also included.
A typical entry is broken down as follows: the name of the website (or CD), with web address and e-mail contact information; an overview of the content; a guide to maneuvering through the site's options; and a critical assessment of the site's advantages and disadvantages. The book analyzes over 150 electronic resources (both websites and CD-roms) in this fashion. In Chapter One are found discussions of digital libraries (e.g. Perseus, TheLatinLibrary.com), electronic journals (e.g. Classical Quarterly, though -- surprisingly -- there is no mention of Jstor.org), search engines, the online resources of traditional libraries, web pages devoted to a single author, and the like. Chapter Two discusses didactic resources, such as online courses, grammars, vocabulary tools, and discussion groups reserved for Latin grammar; as well as CD-rom software for language acquisition (a format more popular in Italy than in the United States). Naturally there is a somewhat greater focus here on Italian language resources, but websites that offer help in French and English are also discussed. The final chapter, "Amoenitates," is dedicated to "curiosities," or interesting sites dedicated to the Latin language. Here are presented a series of links to, for example, the news in Latin via radio broadcast, dictionaries of Latin neologisms, Latin comic books, humanistic Latin versions of famous texts (e.g. sis anne non sis melius, illud quaeritur), and more.
Does the book accomplish its stated goals? It did in my case, and admirably so. While I was familiar with most of the major resources, I was surprised to find literally scores of sites of which I had previously been unaware. The authors have not simply listed and described useful sites and CDs, they have done a good job at explaining how the sites work, what type of work they are good for, and what sort of users will best profit from them. Readers will inevitably spot the omission of a favorite website, but that is to be expected in an anthology of any kind.
As the reader must know Italian to utilize the book fully, an English edition, with appropriately different foci for the didactics section, would be welcome.2
1. All text is in Italian; translations are my own.
2. The reader without Italian can nevertheless profit from both the indices and the accompanying diskette.