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Response to the AIA/APA Task Force on Electronic Publications' Final Report

The Archaeological Institute of America and the American Philological Association (AIA and APA, respectively) produced a report on electronic publications which included several recommendations on how to better manage electronic scholarship, on-line peer-review, and also included a call to develop "high-quality, non-commercial digital library of Latin texts". The Final Report was released as a PDF file on March 31, 2007, and can be accessed from here.

The fact that the AIA/APA has a joint task force for electronic publications is both forward-thinking and right, and does a good job at identifying contemporary issues concerning on-line scholarship and pointing researchers, students, and curious laypeople to a single repository of Classical data in support of both archaeological and philological pursuits. The Task Force is an outgrowth of the strangely defunct APA Committee on Computer Operations, and has as its focus how to deal with and promote Classics research that is published on-line as opposed to being published in more traditional print media (journals, monographs, etc.). It should be noted that the 13-member Task Force is composed of a mix of academics, APA/AIA officers, librarians, and two academic presses (University of California and Indiana University). I was surprised to see that no commercial publishers of Classics scholarship were on the Task Force (e.g. Pearson Prentice Hall or Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers), but that does not mean that a commercial publisher was not invited to sit on the panel.

While most of the points raised by the Task Force are, in my opinion, valid, astute, practical, and attainable, I got the distinct impression that the Task Force members still see electronic publication of Classics scholarship as two-dimensional, that is to say that they seem to want to treat on-line scholarship the same as print scholarship. Printing a journal article for distribution through the post and placing that same article on-line (as is done by many outstanding journals like Classical Journal and the American Journal of Archaeology) does have its place, but it fails to take full advantage of the extra dimensions available to on-line publications.

For example: If I wish to read about the continuing excavations at [site of your choice] on-line, I would expect to be able to read scanned field journals, visit interactive maps tied to artifact findspots, follow links to cited sources and related publications, and be able to perhaps even manipulate data to assist, if I could, in interpreting site data. From a philological point of view, one could include small/large images, audio, links, and more. There is a very good example of this kind of data and metadata at work in archaeology (albeit North American archaeology at Open Context. Follow this link to see information on a single American site in Minnesota which includes a site report, map, list of significant finds, links to excavators and links to associated projects.

But we can take this several steps further with on-line publication and peer review. If we treat each on-line journal article or eBook as a work-in-progress, a launching pad for future study (or for the validation or refutation of the scholarship itself), then these on-line documents should come equipped with their own wikis or blogs. For instance, I could write an article on Paul in Korinth where survey archaeologists actually found the barbershop where he had his hair cut along with an inscribed lintel stating as much. This article could be posted as a scholarly blog entry with photos and citations, all the trimmings, but does leave room for comments from individual reviewers who have read the article and are ready to respond to it.

Better yet, the AIA/APA can sponsor wikis on various subjects of interest (say Korinth or Koine Greek) where scholars can visit and post articles that they have written on those various topics which then leaves them open for comments and even additions. The original author(s) name(s) can still appear at the top of the article, but others can come and flesh out the scholarship, add more points, make corrections, and the like. If we are about producing and promoting scholarship as opposed to publishing for publishing's sake, then the wiki is the way to go. Wikis can be restricted to approved users, too, so the AIA/APA can serve as gatekeepers to those individuals who qualify to add/edit wiki entries.

One final comment on peer-review of on-line scholarship: The AIA/APA should create and maintain a social networking site (like this one on Ning) to manage their membership, encourage dialogue, foster communication around the world in real-time, and provide blog, wiki, whatever to interested parties. This can all be free, too. The Task Force's report did cite MERLOT, an-on-line clearinghouse of teaching materials for all disciplines (including Latin and Greek) which approaches the end-goal of a collaborative environment for peer-review of Internet resources, but this could be improved with the addition of blogs, wikis, and of course the networking aspect which is so important to Classics professionals.

On-line scholarship is more valuable, useful, and practical than its printed counterpart. The research is organic and alive, and thrives from peer review. The multi-dimensional aspects of published on-line research cannot help but provide added detail and dimension to Classics, offering visualization, oral interpretation, still images, video, and full access to work straight out of the field.

This on-line scholarship benefits everyone including Classics teachers and students who wish to dig into the real meat of our field and explore what it is to do good research, to interpret data, and to help advance our understanding of the ancient world.

Andrew Reinhard

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