A book by any other name

July 14, 1995

Richard Poynder scours the Net for resources for the humanities and offers some good starting points. For those prepared to make the effort of seeking it out, there is a rich seam of material on the Internet in the fields of literature and the humanities.

The starting point for many Internet users will be email. Not only does it offer fast and convenient communication with colleagues but it also enables you to join mailing lists dedicated to specific topics and participate in discussions with others working in the same field. In the humanities the most widely used list is Humanist (email the word "help" to listserv@brownvm.brown.edu for details), which discusses the use of computers in the humanities.

There are hundreds of highly focussed lists covering all subject areas of the humanities. Usually accompanied by mnemonic titles, they range from Shaksper (listserv@vm.utcc.utoronto.ca) and Balzac-L (listproc @cc. umontreal.ca) to Austlit - Austrian literature - (listserv@vm1.nodak.edu), Artnet (mailbase@mailbase. ac.uk) and Heidegger (majordomo@world.std.com). For a frequently updated subject directory of mailing lists connect to gopher://nisp.ncl.ac.uk:70/11/other/kovacs).

The drawback with mailing lists is getting inundated with uninteresting email messages. An alternative is to browse through the postings in topic-related newsgroups. These range across a wide spectrum of topics, from rec.arts.literature and sci.classics to rec.arts.theater and bit.lang.neder-l (a Dutch language and literature newsgroup). Michael Strangelove's Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists is an excellent guide to what is available. It can be downloaded by ftp (file transfer protocol) from ksuvxa.kent.edu.

Strangelove's directory will also be useful to those with an interest in the increasing number of academic journals which are published electronically. Normally the table of contents is emailed to subscribers at the time of publication, with an invitation to view the full text of the journal through one of the Internet's document-publishing facilities, either gopher or the WorldWide Web. One of the more established ejournals is the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, with 2,400 subscribers worldwide. Others include FineArt Forum, which covers applications of science and technology to contemporary arts and music, and for philosophers, The Metaphysical Review.

Those interested in creative writing can choose from a wide range of zines (electronic magazines), including Fiction-Online, which publishes poetry, short stories, serialised novels and plays, Twilight World (fantasy and science fiction) and Unit Circle Magazine (art, prose, poetry, music reviews and liberal commentary).

For the researcher probably the most useful tool offered by the Internet is telnet, which enables you to log in to a distant computer just like a local user. With telnet you can interrogate online catalogues situated in hundreds of universities and libraries around the world as simply (if not quite as quickly) as accessing your own institution's library over a local area network.

In the UK alone it is possible to access the OPACs (online public access catalogues) of nearly 70 libraries, including those at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The British Library is now testing a facility which will eventually allow remote access to the electronic catalogue developed for its new St Pancras building. With the right software installed on their own machines, researchers will be able to search for material in non-Latin scripts including Greek, Cyrillic and Hebrew. Those wanting access to British Library holdings over the Internet today must pay for the privilege by taking out a subscription to Blaise-Line. An annual subscription starts at Pounds 85, with connect time priced at Pounds 12 an hour and a charge of 45p for every record displayed. Subscribers to Blaise-Line can telnet to the service, which gives access to 21 databases holding over 15 million bibliographic records. Once your search is complete, you can place an electronic order for the documents you want.

Other services that charge for information over the Internet include OnLine Computer Library Center, an American company which offers access to information from hundreds of library catalogues and collections around the world, and UnCover, a joint venture between Carl Systems and B H Blackwell. UnCover allows users to search some 17,000 journals. A particular attraction is that it costs nothing to search the bibliographic records. Only once the user has identified an article of interest and asked to receive a copy (delivered by fax within 24 hours) are any charges incurred. UnCover is now on the World-Wide Web at http://www.carl.org/uncover/ unchome.html.

Bath Information Data Services (01225-826042) has negotiated discounted access to a number of commercial database services for users of JANET, the academic network which is the gateway to the Internet for those working in United Kingdom higher education establishments. Initially Bids focussed on providing medical and scientific information but there are plans to introduce a number of literary and humanities sources. The advantage of Bids to academic and research staff is that although universities pay an annual subscription for access to the services, the information is free to the end-user.

The driving force behind the recent explosion in the use of the Internet has clearly been the introduction of the World-Wide Web and easy-to-use browsers such as Netscape. By clicking with the mouse on certain words or pictures in a Web document, users can leap to related information, gopher menus, downloadable files or any other Internet resource.

Using the Web's capabilities the University of Texas has created annotated hypertext versions of a number of works of literature, including Pride and Prejudice (http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/churchh/janeinfo.html/). Besides the novel itself this site offers a picture and biography of the author and a diagram of her literary influences. Users who click on a character's name are presented with a detailed description of that character and their role in the novel. Other links lead to a list of events in the novel and an index of motifs.

At Virginia State University (http://jefferson.village.virginia. edu/) Pompeii's forum is being re-created in hypermedia. A combination of text, images and architectural plans and reconstructions enables visitors to "walk through" the site. Also at Virginia State, Hoyt Duggan is creating a multi-level, hyperlinked electronic archive of the textual tradition of all three versions of Piers Plowman.

At Pennsylvania University (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/jod. html), classics lecturer Jim O'Donnell has attracted students from as far away as Japan by offering what he calls the "first multi-time-zone live Latin class". Students can download O'Donnell's Late Antiquity lectures and correspond regularly with their teacher by email.

Another valuable resource for researchers working in the field of humanities is the growing body of texts available, often in plain Ascii format, via the Internet. The Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts (http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/stacks/ alex-index.html) lists more than 1,700 titles. At least two major projects are dedicated to offering the full text of books electronically. Project Gutenberg offers texts as varied as the Bible, Virgil's Aeneid (in Latin), Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge and Descartes' Discourse on Method. The Oxford Text Archive has released over 1,300 titles ranging from a collection of pre-Islamic verse in Arabic to A. J. P. Taylor's English History 1914-1945, James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake and Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

Electronic texts are particularly useful for textual analysis, and you may even be able to obtain the software you need for this purpose through the Internet. For instance TACT, an interactive text retrieval program, can be downloaded from the directory pub/cch/tact.dist 1.2b by FTPing to epas.utoronto.ca. A vast quantity of other freeware and shareware can be located through Archie servers (try http://www.gold.net/internet-access/index.ht At some sites, texts are already mounted with the host institution's own online searching software, allowing users to telnet into the archive and analyse the texts remotely. Frantext, a large textbase comprising 2,600 French texts, can be searched using the built-in Stella software. The Divina Commedia can be searched remotely by telnetting to lib.dartmouth.edu and typing "connect dante". Although an ever-increasing number of indexes and lists is being compiled by helpful individuals and organisations, it is still essential to undertake an initial period of desk research and to constantly update personal hotlists as resources come and go in an extremely volatile environment.

A good start in this area can be made with the excellent Yahoo humanities index (http://www.yahoo.com/ Humanities/).

Oxford University's Humbul gateway is another good entry point (http://info.ox.ac.uk/departments/humanities/international.html). Readers interested principally in literary sources could begin with Andrea Coombs's Literary Links (http://coombs.anu.edu.au/andrea/andrea/LiteraryLink.html). Among other things this will lead you to Wolfgang Hink's exhaustive list of literary resources on the Internet, covering everything from mailing lists and ejournals to the various thesauri, encyclopaedias and dictionaries available online. Mediaevalists should try Georgetown University's Labyrinth home page (http://www.georgetown.edu/ labyrinth/labyrinth-home.html) and linguists can access the University of Toronto's index (http://library.utoronto.ca/www/csubjectlinguistics.html).

Other subject specialists could conduct an initial search on the extensive subject index at Cern's Virtual Library (http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/ DataSources/bySubject/Overview2.html).

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