Review of LacusCurtius

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LacusCurtius: Into the Roman World

RomanSites, which has become part of the larger Lacus Curtius site (a site that needs its own review), is a rather large site containing more information than one would think possible. This project, maintained by Bill Thayer, is simply the dream of the web fulfilled. Although this might seem high praise for a web site, the site will speak for itself.

It was a commonplace a few years ago to speak of the World Wide Web changing the way education was carried out; it was touted as the future for libraries, for distance education, and other higher education applications. Some of these applications have been realized, others have not. Bill Thayer's site however is one that fulfills the dreams of those "early" soothsayers of the web.

RomanSites began at first as merely shared links on the Latin mailing list. Someone posted a question in late 1995 regarding quality sites containing graphics pertaining to Rome. Thayer responded sharing a list of links with graphics related to Latin and to Rome. Others quickly asked for a repeat of the email, and soon mailing links to the list metamorphosed into the RomanSites mailing list maintained by Bill Thayer on his home computer. The mailing list continued until 1997 when the University of Kansas History department offered Thayer space on their server to make his mailing list of RomanSites a web page. And thus, RomanSites as a web presence was born. Now a part of LacusCurtius, RomanSites is nonetheless a free-standing entity.

The site now contains over 2100 URLs from all over the world relating to all aspects of ancient Rome. The site is also available in three languages: English, French, and Italian. RomanSites is largely bibliographic in nature, cataloging what is currently available on the web. The main page of RomanSites is separated into two sections: Topics and Places. Topics listed include resources, books, coins, language and literature, and history, to name just a few. After choosing the desired topic, for example language, a second browser window will open containing that topic's listings. The advantage of such a set-up is that, should one desire to navigate back to the main page for any reason, a single click on the appropriate window does the job. Continuing with the example of language, the second window listing language resources will then enumerate a number of subsections including: Latin, Latin Literature, and Latin Clubs; then each subsection will list the sites. When choosing a linked site from the second window, a third window appears so that one may navigate among three browser windows: one with the original RomanSites page, the second with the page listing Language resources, and the third with a page from the desired site. Thayer has thus created a site easily navigable, full of information, and useful for a number of teaching applications and in some cases even solid research.

For each site included in RomanSites, Thayer gives some basic information at the beginning of his analysis. This information includes giving the site a number, which is the year it was added to RomanSites and the number added that year. After this he records the name of the site, then the email of the site author or administrator, the last date the URL was checked, and the date that the report was written. So for example, an entry would appear like this:

--99-772 (i. e. the year added, and the 772nd site added that year)
L. J. Swain's List of Latin Links and Grammar
URL Last Checked: 4 April 2000
Report written: 12 December 1999
Lang: Swahili
After this bibliographic information Thayer then describes the referenced site. He gives information about content, organization, and usefulness. He does not, however, rate the sites. Some of these descriptions are rather cryptic, such as the reference to Allen and Greenough's Latin Grammar online at Perseus, which only mentions that the site contains the entire grammar. Other descriptions offer lengthy details of the contents; for example, the Voices of Stone site, dedicated to things Etruscan, is described with the contents as if providing an index to the site.

In addition to the topics listed on the main page, there is also a list of "places." The sites containing places are also subdivided into geographical areas such as the City of Rome, Britain, France, the Greek world, and so on. As with the topics, these are further subdivided. Thus, under Britain, one finds General Roman Britain sites, Archaeology, Journals, Late Antiquity, and sites relating to specific shires.

One weakness of the site is that while the front-end topic listing is extremely helpful, once one enters the sub-pages navigation becomes more difficult. Thayer informs the reader at the top of each subsection how many sites are listed on the page, but there is no menu listing the subcategories. It would be helpful to have such a quick, clickable menu available, making navigation even easier.

Another weakness of the site is the lack of either a quick heading index or an index of sites, though perhaps at this point it would be almost impossible to list the number of web pages contained in RomanSites. But an index either at the top of the page or elsewhere on the site, perhaps in a table at the left listing the subject headings, and then allowing a subject heading to expand into subheadings, would make the site that much more useful than it is already.

As is obvious, these are issues of web design and not content. The site is still extremely useful. It is not difficult to find the desired subject areas or locate sites dealing with the subject at hand. The breadth of content, the descriptions of the contents, and other features make this one of the best sites, certainly one of the best lists of links, on the web.

The author has made RomanSites a part of a much larger site that deserves its own review. Listed on the main LacusCurtius site are maps, secondary works of importance on Rome, photogazeteer of Roman cities, including a section specifically on Roman Umbria, complete texts of Pliny's Natural History among other Latin texts, information on reading Latin inscriptions, and a catalog of Latin stone inscriptions. All of the contents on this site are in the public domain, but remain important sources of information for the study of the period. In addition, Thayer's diary of trips he has taken to Roman sites is online, an interesting read and travelogue to accompany the photogazeteer.

RomanSites contains a wealth of information useful for beginning research and for teaching resources. It exemplifies what is best about the Web: quality content available to all for free.

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