RESEARCH AND SCHOLARSHIP IN THE ARTS AND HUMANITIES: CAN HOME PAGES REPLACE TOME PAGES?

Hope A. Greenberg
University of Vermont

Keywords: World Wide Web, WWW, Internet, humanities scholarship, online publishing, digitizing images, primary sources, electronic text centers

Abstract: Humanities scholarship is alive and well on the Internet and in many cases is pushing the technology beyond that which is needed for the simple electronic billboard approach taken by many commercial sites on the World Wide Web. This discussion looks at some of the resources to be found on the Internet, both those created by large organizations and those developed by individuals. The Web provides an exciting environment that is eagerly being enlarged, strengthened and challenged by humanities scholars.


A favorite stereotype of a humanities scholar is that of a tweedy, pipe smoking, no-longer-middle-aged man surrounded by dusty tomes scribbling away on a yellow pad. If a computer manages to find it's way into this bookish vision, it is tucked quietly in a corner and used only for the simplest kind of word processing.

There are a growing number of real humanities scholars who would scoff at this stereotype, and rightly so. Today's scholar is more likely to point to the wealth of digital manuscripts and then complain that computing has lagged behind the needs of the Arts and Humanities. Some assert that the complex task of weather mapping is child's play compared to the need to seek out primary and secondary resources, compare and analyze multiple texts, and bring cohesion to disparate opinions--tasks that are all in a day's work for today's scholar.

1. AREN'T WORDS THE BUSINESS OF HUMANITIES SCHOLARS?

People in humanities disciplines are finding that the Internet provides an environment ideally suited to the pursuit of these goals. Even before the World Wide Web and its associated browsers made access to Internet-based multimedia projects easy, humanities scholars have used the Internet to further their teaching and research. The earliest online resources for scholars were electronic mail and discussion groups. A relict of the higher education-based BITNET network, discussion groups continue to expand and flourish, now numbering in the thousands. When added to the more recently developed Usenet newsgroups, the range of topics covered is broad indeed. In the area of History alone the H-Net lists, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and hosted by the University of Illinois-Chicago and Michigan State University, sponsors fifty-seven electronic discussion groups on subjects ranging from agricultural history to the design of historical databases. [1] Like most lists, this group allows scholars to discuss new ideas, share methodologies and teaching approaches, publish book reviews, job announcements, syllabi, course materials, and other materials. They also serve as a forum for asking and answering questions for colleagues and students.

Other early Internet projects involved putting public domain text corpora online. The Online Book Initiative, [2] the Gutenberg Project [3] and the Wiretap [4] site are just a few of the many efforts to make electronic versions of texts freely available to the Internet community. Electronic text centers, [5] generally housed in university libraries, bring these and CD-ROM based texts available to their local communities as well. In addition, centers like the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia are working on ways to make Internet-available texts as robust as CD-ROM texts by adding images and searching capabilities.

Internet versions of that mainstay of academic life, the scholarly journal, are slowly being accepted. [6] Many of these are an outgrowth, augmentation, or derivation of paper journals. For example, a recent electronic journal on paremiology, or the study of proverbs, De Proverbio, [7] includes many articles originally published in Proverbium, a journal that continues to be published on paper. Other journals, particularly those interested in exploring the possibilities of hypertext literature, eschew the paper world and continue to thrive in electronic form only.

2. IS THE WEB A SUITABLE VEHICLE FOR HUMANITIES STUDY?

The most exciting possibilities for scholars, however, lie in the World Wide Web. This is not simply due to the ease in which graphics can be incorporated. The Web allows for self- publishing, for timely dissemination of new materials and ideas, and for flexibility.

In looking at the projects and exhibits that characterize this new development in scholarship, it seems appropriate to begin with one of the earliest, the Vatican Exhibit, Rome Reborn. Found online at EXPO, [8] the project originally presented information from the Library of Congress. EXPO now contains six large exhibits. The Vatican Exhibit grew out of a physical exhibit on display from January 8, 1993 through April 30, 1993. It presented some 200 manuscripts, books, and maps from the Vatican Library, particularly those focusing on humanists and their studies. According to the exhibitors, the "exhibition presents the untold story of the Vatican Library as the intellectual driving force behind the emergence of Rome as a political and scholarly superpower during the Renaissance." [9] Although the physical exhibit has long since left Washington, D.C., the online exhibit is still visited by thousands of people. This particular exhibit bridges the old and the new by also offering a large full color hardcover exhibit catalog.

Also resident at EXPO are the 1492: An Ongoing Voyage, the exhibit titled Scrolls from the Dead Sea: An Exhibition of Scrolls and Archeological Artifacts from the Collections of the Israel Antiquities Authority as well as a collection of materials from the Soviet Archives. More recent additions, and those whose materials are not from the Library of Congress, are the Exhibition of Fossil Life from the University of California, Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology and the exhibit The "Palace" of Diocletian at Split , an architectural history exhibit focusing on the city of Spalato founded by the emperor Diocletian.

As might be expected by its title, The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, or IATH, at the University of Virginia, contains several compelling Web projects. The Valley of the Shadow: Living the Civil War in Pennsylvania and Virginia looks at two communities in the Shennandoah Valley, each on either side of the Mason-Dixon line. Conceived by Professor Edward Ayers of the History department the project draws on population and agricultural censuses, rosters of both the Union and Confederate soldiers, official records, maps and diaries. It uses a hypertextual narrative form with connection to the source materials because it intends to "make available not merely information about the past but also to make palpable the complexity of the past, its interconnectedness, its contingency and multiplicity."[10]

Projects like these have inspired many others on the Web including the Ovid Project. The University of Vermont, houses a broad collection of Ovid materials from which the multimedia Ovid Project will draw its content as it evolves. Today it includes electronically imaged engravings from a rare 17th century German edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses by artist Johann Wilhelm Baur. This collection of 150 engravings has been photographed, stored on PhotoCD and is currently being brought online. Ultimately, other rare illustrated editions from UVM's collection will be made available on this Web page.

3. WHY DIGITIZE PRIMARY SOURCES?

Exposure to primary sources adds depth to research and engages students' interest. While many University libraries have fine collections, these resources are often available on a non- circulating basis, limiting the number of people who can use them at any given time. A source that can and should provide inspiration to many is limited by its rare nature to access by a few. As new technologies develop scholars have used these technologies to attempt to provide new and better ways to access these materials. Thus, reproductions in books, prints and in slides have been the accepted ways of extending the circulation of primary sources. However, these methods have serious limitations. Reproductions are expensive, which limits their purchase by individuals and libraries. Including images in a book is also expensive, which generally means that few images are chosen and many are cast aside. Slides are cumbersome and not very flexible to rearrange or to display.

All these technologies also suffer from being available only on a limited basis, either to the few that have access to the book or reproduction or to the few who are present during the particular slide show. While we are not yet to the point of being able to produce lifelike three dimensional holographic images, recent developments in image technology have brought us closer to the goal of providing primary resources to many scholars easily and cost effectively. The World Wide Web provides an increasingly viable way to share those images with many scholars.

The Web also brings the ability to share newly discovered or rediscovered works to a broad and geographically disparate audience quickly. The recent discovery of a series of previously unknown prehistoric cave paintings in the south of France [11] is one such example. Discovered only in late December 1994, the first images were available on the Web in January 1995. From there they could be seen by thousands of visitors immediately without physical incursion and damage to this rare resource, leaving the original site intact so that it can be studied in its entirety.

4. MAY BEHEMOTHS ONLY STALK THE WEB?

But the greatest strength of the Web is the fact that it is not limited to major projects but can be a publishing vehicle for all. Smaller projects with a limited focus, that of barn architecture in northern Vermont, [12] for example, are just as much a part of the Web as massive undertakings. This ability for all participants to self publish, is, however, one of the most controversial. Traditional publishers see their roles threatened, maintaining that unlimited publishing means including the worthless with the worthwhile. Scholars wonder how the peer review process, a process which is supposed to add validity to published items, can be maintained in this environment. Nor is the Web, in its present incarnation, a tool that can be applied to all scholarly endeavors. However, its potential is enormous.

When I first broached the subject of the Ovid project to the director of computing, he enthusiastically gave the approval for a limited amount of funds to get the project off the ground. When he saw the first set of images he conjectured that digitizing these sorts of holdings, of which the library has many, could become a massive project—one that might, by the way, be more appropriately funded by the library. When I suggested the project to Z Philip Ambrose, Professor of Classics, who uses the Ovid materials regularly in his classes, he immediately asked if we could include all the slides he has been using for his course along with his syllabi and related documents. An art professor, seeing the images, has encouraged her students to use portions of them in their computer art works.

These three responses, one envisioning expanding possibilities, the other suggesting ways to utilize the project as a whole, and the third focusing on drawing from specific portions of the project images to create new works, show not only how Web projects can be adapted to many uses but how they also act as sparks to generate new ideas and new ways of looking at resources. It is this potential that has generated the kind of excitement among humanities scholars that some see as equalling that of the movement that gave birth to the humanists, the Renaissance.


The paper version of this document references the following notes, which are, of course, integrated into the text of this Web version as links.

NOTES: In keeping with the spirit of this paper, all references will be to URLs on the World Wide Web. However it should be remembered that the Web is a changing environment. Thus, as these addresses age the assurance that they will be active weakens.

1)gopher://gopher.uiuc.edu/00/UI/Dinfo/History/H-Albion/misc/human
2)gopher://gopher.std.com/11/obi
3)http://med-amsa.bu.edu/Gutenberg/Welcome.html
4)gopher://wiretap.spies.com/
5)A growing list of Electronic Text Centers is published by Mary Mallery of CETH, the Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities, established by Rutgers and Princeton Universities in 1991. URL: http://cethmac.princeton.edu/CETH/
6)http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/DataSources/bySubject/Electronic_Journals.html
7)http://info.utas.edu.au/docs/flonta/
8)http://sunsite.unc.edu/expo/ticket_office.html
9)http://sunsite.unc.edu/expo/vatican.exhibit/exhibit/About.html
10)http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/vshadow/vshadow2.html
11)http://dmf.culture.fr/culture/gvpda.htm
12)http://www.uvm.edu/~hag


Hope.Greenberg@uvm.edu, 3/23/95.