Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.08.08 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.08.08

Marcus Schröter, Erfolgreich recherchieren - Altertumswissenschaften und Archäologie. Erfolgreich recherchieren.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter Saur, 2017.  Pp. viii, 202.  ISBN 9783110299021.  $35.00 (pb).  


Reviewed by Denise Reitzenstein, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (Denise.Reitzenstein@lrz.uni-muenchen.de)

Table of Contents

It is in several ways odd to be reviewing a (paperback) book about web-based research in ancient studies and archaeology, and not just because of its medium but because this is a review for a platform based in the English-speaking world on a volume addressed to a German-speaking audience. The medium probably makes more sense when you have access to the eBook edition, a pdf file, which, according to the publisher De Gruyter Saur, costs ten times as much as the print edition1––if that is not in fact the price tag for the entirety of the “Erfolgreich recherchieren” series. This high cost of entry immediately raises the question of whether this introduction is worth it. While the choice of language is not the concern of the reviewer, it occasionally affects the content selected (e.g., on p. 170 Schröter observes the “ubiquitäre Präsenz digitaler Abbilder kultureller Artefakte” due to digitization, but only focuses on German projects––not even Austrian or Swiss ones––in collections and museums).2 In an ideal world, virtual ubiquity entails the permanent availability of data and access uninhibited by national borders, but in reality such data is heavily gated, e.g., by the need to register or even purchase access if your research library has not already paid for a licence.

The author of this introduction, Marcus Schröter, librarian at the University of Freiburg, Germany, and responsible for the fields of History, Ancient History, Musicology, Classical Archaeology, Pre- and Protohistory, Roman Provincial Archaeology, and Philology, defends his choice of medium: the scholarly discourse in the humanities primarily takes place in books (instead of in articles as in the sciences) and will continue to do so in the near future, even if books are increasingly published online (1–2). Schröter’s institutional background may well have had an influence on his appreciation of the book, as it has on his definition of ancient studies, which is clearly guided by the scope of his responsibilities: he follows a broad definition that does not narrowly concentrate on Ancient History, Classical Archaeology, and Greek and Latin language and literature, but also includes Christian and Near Eastern Archaeology and Byzantine Art History. Schröter’s audience is limited not to undergraduate and graduate students, but also includes Ph.D. students, university lecturers and even school teachers, who are all invited to update their knowledge of online resources (1). This reviewer is thus herself included in the supposed readership, as are the undergraduate students of Ancient History she regularly teaches and from whom she learned about the possible pitfalls of web-based research.

It is characteristic of the publisher’s series “Erfolgreich recherchieren” to divide the volume into three sections. The first one, “Basics” (6–75), introduces the beginner struggling to find source material, research publications, and resources to the main research techniques. Schröter briefly explains the origins of scholarly research, the different types of publications, especially monographs and papers, the ways of finding both when compiling a bibliography, online library catalogues, and interdisciplinary databases. He also sketches the specifics of ancient studies in German libraries and related services. He finally tackles the question of conducting research via general search engines (i.e., Google and alternatives) versus via scholarly tools. The volume’s brief third part on “Informationen weiterverarbeiten” (“processing information,” 173–186) ultimately returns to this first section in that it too is directed at the beginner who is just being introduced to the organization of knowledge and how to shape it into a written form.3

This structure raises a problem, since almost half of the volume thus deals with general questions not specifically relevant to students of ancient studies. One might with some justification wonder how reasonable it is to have these two sections written by different authors every time a new volume on “Erfolgreich recherchieren” is to be published. 4 The second section and core of the book, “Advanced” (76–172), is devoted to lexicons in ancient studies, the field’s bibliographies, catalogues of specialised libraries, auxiliary sciences of history and the sources, research data, excavations, and museums and collections. Unfortunately, there are several major desiderata and inaccuracies in this section. In addition, questions arise regarding the way in which information is arranged, its suitability for beginners, and the print edition format.

Though the volume opens with a broad definition of ancient studies, the section “lexica” (76–86) narrowly concentrates on classical antiquity, especially Latin, and Byzantine Greek. The Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaf(t (RE, not mentioned is its abbreviation Pauly-Wissowa(), though “selbst Denkmal alterumswissenschaftlicher Forschung” (76), is only given one and a half pages including its successors Der kleine Pauly (which could have been neglected) and ( Der Neue Pauly ( DNP>).” Schröter makes no effort to introduce the beginner to potential challenges in accessing the (RE, e.g., the numerous entries in the supplement volumes best located by consulting the lexicon’s register volume published in 1980.5 This brevity is probably not the author’s fault but due to the publishers standard of the whole series. As a result, however, students might give up their efforts too early. Elsewhere, by contrast, Schröter wastes space with information of minor priority, e.g., when explaining how the Stowasser, a Latin dictionary traditionally used in German Latin classes, came to have its cover designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, a descendent of the editor Joseph Maria Stowasser (84). This is all the more irritating as Schröter mentions Latin dictionaries (83–84) but neglects dictionaries of Ancient Greek more or less completely.6 Dictionaries of languages other than Latin or Byzantine Greek such as Akkadian7 or Egyptian8 are also left out, revealing that the broad concept of ancient studies is not consequently implemented in this volume.

At this point, the structure and accessibility of information in this volume shall come to the fore. Probably, the print edition is not meant to be the first choice, as it is cumbersome to look up information in this volume, especially as it relates to the World Wide Web; Schröter provides Web addresses at the end of the volume (187–197) and not in combination with the respective source or database as they are mentioned in the text. The homepages are presented in order of appearance throughout the previous chapters, which does not make an eBook edition appear much handier. There is a general index with most of the keywords and resources mentioned throughout the book (199–202). Abbreviations are not included, so students encountering DNP or RE for the first time may look them up under the wrong letter.

The general order of the “Advanced” section is comprehensible, although the chapter on auxiliary sciences of history and sources (102–162) has an oddity that is hard to explain. It starts with a summary of auxiliary sciences of ancient studies and archaeology that is far more suitable for a volume on medieval studies: apart from epigraphy and numismatics, it includes palaeography, diplomatics, sigillography, heraldry, and genealogy while leaving out philology (primarily textual criticism) and papyrology (103). The chapter itself, however, does not pick up this set, but provides information on resources for Greek and Latin epigraphy (104–114), ancient numismatics (115–120), ceramics and other archaeological sources (121–139), papyrology (140–144), literary sources (144–153), geography (153–157), onomastics (157–158), and prosopography (158–161). There is no mention of cylinder seals in the short chapter on sigillography, which focuses only on Byzantine seals, nor does it give resources for the study of Roman legal history, e.g., the Ius civile or the Roman law library––though the chapter on literary sources does list databases for ancient Near Eastern studies, such as CDLI, ETCSL, BDTNS, and ETANA.

Schröter is certainly right when he states the book is still the medium of choice when publishing research results in ancient studies and the humanities in general. But is this justification enough for a book-form introduction to primarily web-based research resources? His book has to compete against online link lists maintained by German and other universities and institutes worldwide9, which are either open access or available to students enrolled in universities. One might easily imagine students surfing these websites or looking up information, e.g., on Wikipedia.

The general parts of the introduction leave out interesting topics, e.g., the site that I have just mentioned—Wikipedia, which is regularly used by students, teachers, and lecturers both as readers and authors, commercial enterprises such as academia.edu or researchgate.net, which offer highly controversial access to current research publications that are most often under copyright, or the role of blogs such as, e.g., The Ancient World Online (AWOL). If we take Wikipedia as an example, it is literally omnipresent. Far less present in the minds of most users is the knowledge of how it works, what kind of standards and aims Wikipedia follows, how it might come to be entangled in commercial interests through the backdoor, and how the entries relate to those in other language versions.

It should be mentioned that several weaknesses of the volume are not the author’s fault. The standards of the series and the limited number of pages demand a tightly curated selection of resources and information that can be provided. The bibliophile might cringe at the careless editing, which has left a number of typos (e.g., Pauly‘s Realenzyklopädie, p. 77; Antiquity Á-la-carte, p. 157/196/199), or at the constant repetition of glossed abbreviations that are hardly ever used (e.g., p. 82–83 four times refers to the “Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL) ,” but only once to TLL). Given the free availability of link lists and library guides online, this volume might on the one hand seem dispensable to most web users. On the other hand, it offers a tangible guideline for the beginner, mainly pupils at high school, seeking information on general and specific research strategies and the organisation of the knowledge unearthed.


Notes:


1.   Cf. the Publisher’s website (latest view: 08.07.2017). This price does not correspond to eBook prices on the websites of relevant online booksellers.
2.   P. 132–135 very briefly refers to the British Museum (London), the Musée du Louvre (Paris), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Wien).
3.   General introductions, such as Norbert Franck/Joachim Stary, Die Technik des wissenschaftlichen Arbeitens. Eine praktische Anleitung, 17th ed., 2013, serve the purpose of this third part much better.
4.   Cf. the review on this volume by the librarian Oliver Berggötz, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz, on H-Soz-Kult, 22.05.2017.
5.   German students will find the free online Tutorium Augustanum. Ein althistorisches Proseminar, Augsburg 2012 by Andreas Hartmann more useful (e.g., p. 27–28 on the RE, KlP, and DNP occupy the same space as in Schröter’s introduction but provide more information).
6.   He only briefly mentions the Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ) in a paragraph on the “Lexikon zur byzantinischen Gräzität” (84), leaving out the Gemoll. Griechisch-Deutsches Schul- und Handwörterbuch von Wilhelm Gemoll, Durchgesehen und Erweitert von K. Vretska, 10th ed., Vienna/Munich 2006 as the Greek equivalent of the Stowasser for Latin. The Liddell-Scott-Jones and other Greek reference works––including the LBG––are accessible online via TLG Thesaurus Linguae Graecae.
7.   The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, ed. M. T. Roth et al., Chicago 1956 ff. (CAD); Akkadisches Handwörterbuch, unter Benutzung des lexikalischen Nachlasses von Bruno Meissner (1868–1947) , ed. Wolfram von Soden, Wiesbaden 1965ff. (AHw).
8.   Wörterbuch der ägyptischen Sprache, ed. A. Erman/H. Grapow, vol. I-V; vol. VI: Deutsch-Ägyptisches Wörterverzeichnis; vol. VII: Rückläufiges Wörterverzeichnis; vol. VIII-X: Belegstellenverzeichnis, Leipzig/Berlin 1926–1963. The Thesaurus Lingue Aegyptiae (TLA) is online.
9.   E.g., the link list of the Alte Geschichte at Humboldt University Berlin provides a detailed compilation of resources on classical antiquity; the link list of the Abteilung für Alte Geschichte at the University of Munich includes ancient Egypt and the ancient Near and Middle East. Universities worldwide offer such lists of links and library guides, e.g., the Department of Classics at Harvard University, the LibGuide Classics at Princeton University, the Classics Department at the University of Oxford or the LibGuide Classics at the University of Cambridge. One may question whether it makes sense to have several institutions producing lists of links and library guides, all of which more or less duplicate each other.

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