INSTITUTE ON THE INTERNET
By By Tim Cashion, Membership Coordinator of The Oriental Institute
The University of Chicago
(This article originally appeared in The Oriental Institute News and Notes, No. 152, Winter 1997, and is made available electronically with the permission of the editor.)
That we are in the midst of "The Information Revolution" is a standard introduction to any news report about the future of education, business, entertainment, and virtually every other sphere of life. However, we rarely see exactly how that revolution is occurring, how its stages distinguish themselves from one another, or how it can and must be controlled. This article seeks to provide just such an explanation of the impact of electronic information and computing on the public face of the Oriental Institute.
Of course, there are many applications of computers for the academic work underway at the Oriental Institute. News & Notes 149 discussed the work of the Afroasiatic Index, while the 1995-1996 Annual Report reported on the latest developments of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project, and a future issue of News & Notes will profile the electronic debut of the Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions under the supervision of Professors Gene Gragg and Matthew Stolper and Research Archivist Charles E. Jones. All Institute departments are affected; for example, the Publications Office uses Macintosh computers to produce the camera-ready copy (or postscript files) for all Oriental Institute publications (including News & Notes), and the Suq uses the Internet to track down and order special-order books.
The focus of electronic resources is the Oriental Institute World-Wide Web site. The real power of all web sites lies in their structure: because they are composed of groups of individual files, all ultimately linked and accessible from a central home page, one site (and the computer [or "server"] on which it is stored) can serve the needs of both children and adults, of scholars and amateurs, of first-time users and regular visitors. Thus, much of the computer-based research-such as the Achaemenid project-will eventually have its home on the web site, where it can be accessed by scholars from around the world. At the same time, the same location provides information on the newest Adult Education onsite and correspondence courses. As new research is produced and new programs are announced, the relevant files are simply updated or modified.
There is no question that the web site has become a central part of the public face of the Oriental Institute. Over the last two years, usage statistics have grown as much as the resources on the site. During the week of 19-26 October 1996, there were 1,067 visits (or "hits") to the central home page. While some visitors just popped in before moving on to somewhere else, many stayed to view sites of particular interest to them, leading to a total of 57,000 files being viewed (many, of course, by multiple users) in just one week. The viewers lived in over sixty countries, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, and there were hits from over 600 colleges in the United States alone. By comparison, the first week of statistics (in December 1994) had 2,813 hits for all files over seven days; the Web site now has more hits in an eight-hour period than it did in a week just two years ago!
The Oriental Institute web site has also received several awards from Internet reviewers. In late 1995, the Software Publishers Association included our site on their list of 100 "exceptional World-Wide Web sites," while in April 1996, the prestigious McKinley group, through its Magellan Internet directory, gave the Oriental Institute site a four-star rating, its highest category. When they reviewed our new Virtual Museum (see below), it received three stars. These awards, along with the ever-increasing number of hits and email messages from our admirers, are of course very gratifying and help inspire us to expand and improve our electronic services.
Electronic Resources at the Oriental Institute are under the overall direction of John Sanders, Research Associate and Head of the Computer Laboratory, and Charles E. Jones, Head of the Oriental Institute Research Archives. They are together responsible for the conception and "look" of the site and for most of the individual files that are now on it. Individual departments and faculty members are now beginning to take over responsibility for their own pages, partly because of the advances made in web page-design software and partly due to the workload required to maintain the various files. While the challenges are not insignificant, the response to our work thus far has been so positive that it is an inspiration to all of us at the Institute to continue improving the site.
The technological specification of the web site's hardware and software are constantly being updated and improved, largely due to the generosity of the Institute's friends. In the spring of 1996, the University of Chicago Women's Board generously awarded the Oriental Institute a grant supporting the expansion of its computer capabilities with the purchase of a Sun SPARCstation and a Macintosh computer system, scanner, and CD-R (recordable CD-ROM) technology.
THE WEB SITE: AN OVERVIEWWhen you access the home page in your web browser (the site is accessible through most graphical and text-based browsers, though some pages are specially enhanced for Netscape), you will be viewing the home page of the Oriental Institute's web site. Note that, by using your browser to add this page as a bookmark, you will not have to type any cumbersome addresses in the future; the home page can be called up with the bookmark, and you can move around the other pages by simply using the Back and Forward buttons and by using the many links which we have incorporated in the documents.
The home page serves as a gateway to the various resources on the site, ranging from the work of individual faculty members to selections from the photographic archives. Choosing one of the links generally leads to an introductory page that features an introduction to the area in question and a detailed table of contents. For example, clicking on the "Oriental Institute: Annual Reports" leads to a screen with graphics of the four most recent Annual Reports (the 1995-1996 Annual Report will be presented online by the end of 1996). After choosing the specific year, you are presented with a table of contents. Selecting the item in question (for example, the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary) calls up the report for that year. If it develops that a different year's report contains the information you want, you do not need to return to the main Annual Reports page. Instead, you will find a link at the bottom of the page that presents a synopsis of the work of the CAD and contains links to all its electronic resources on the web site (sometimes there will be links to items stored on other sites). The ability to jump between pages without having to "retrace your steps" is one of the more flexible elements of web browsing and represents an immense improvement over the linear models of gopher and file transfer protocol (ftp) systems.
On the main page, you can also examine the latest offerings from the Museum Education Office and an up-to-date list of titles from the Oriental Institute Publications Office. Some of the more distinctive pictures from among the hundred thousand photographs in the Photographic Archives are on display, as are gift, book, and video lists for the Suq. As the Web becomes a more commonly-used medium and Internet security continues to improve, our long-distance members will be able to renew their memberships over the site, order Oriental Institute publications, and register for Museum Education courses. In the meantime, we are providing forms that can be printed out and mailed. All departments have links that will send an email message to John Sanders, Charles E. Jones, or the department itself. If you have any ideas for resources that could be added to the web site, please contact us by whatever means you prefer, and we will do our best to incorporate your suggestion.
THE VIRTUAL MUSEUMThe visual centerpiece of the web site is without doubt the Oriental Institute Virtual Museum, which serves as both an excellent public-relations device for the Institute and as an archive of the physical appearance and curatorial thinking of the Museum's first sixty years. The Virtual Museum is a collection of over fifty Apple QuickTimeTM movies, which can be downloaded to a personal computer for viewing off-line. The software required to view the movies is free, and our site has links that will allow you to download it. Typically, each movie covers one alcove in the galleries as they formerly appeared, though for some alcoves, two views were required to capture centrally-located cases or very small objects. Each gallery has an introductory text section, and registration information is provided for the more than 5,000 exhibited objects that are included in the Virtual Museum.
The creation of the Virtual Museum took almost a year, with Oriental Institute Associate Curator Emily Teeter, Photographer Jean Grant, and Computer Laboratory Head John Sanders devoting part of each week for eight months to planning, photographing, and preparing text descriptions for all the objects. The alcoves were photographed with a 35 mm still camera, and processed images were transferred to Photo CD. Processing these still images into seamless QuickTimeTM movies was made possible by the gracious cooperation of the University of Chicago Visualization and MultiMedia Laboratory, where Director Chad Kainz and staff member Peter Leonard worked on the project for six months. Full details on the technical creation of the Virtual Museum are available from its page on the web site.
There are several ways to tour the Virtual Museum. For those without high-speed modems or graphical browsers, a text-based tour of the galleries is available. Most users, however, want to take in one or more of the spectacular movies; perhaps the alcove in question was always a favorite, or there was an area you never quite were able to fit in while visiting in person. A diagram of the Museum galleries is color-coded so that when an alcove is clicked, the appropriate movie is loaded. Two graphical tours are in place: for those with less time, there is the gallery-by-gallery tour, while visitors with a particular area of interest or more time can tour the alcoves one by one. You may move from gallery to gallery or from one alcove to another on the other side of the Museum; there is no need to follow a physical or chronological sequence. Once one of the full-color panoramic movies is on your computer screen, you can move around the images easily by manipulating your mouse. Objects can be viewed up-close or in a broader view, and every artifact's registration information is available with the click of a button.
If you are a regular visitor to the Virtual Museum, please come back often and bring your friends (of all ages)! If you have not stopped by, we encourage you to do so. For those who would like a little help in getting started, note that John Sanders, Head of the Oriental Institute Computer Laboratory, will be conducting a free demonstration of the World-Wide Web and our Virtual Museum on 5 March 1997, using the new video equipment in Breasted Hall (see page 8 for more information).
ABZUIf the Virtual Museum is the pictorial focus of the Oriental Institute's Internet presence, ABZU is the center of textual information. ABZU (the name is a Sumerian word meaning, among other things, "a place producing raw materials") is the brainchild of Research Archivist Charles E. Jones, who first publicly posted it two years ago, and who remains responsible for it today. ABZU intends to provide comprehensive coverage of the material available for the study of the ancient Near East on the Internet. Because it is an electronic resource (rather than a traditional paper or computer catalog), ABZU is both a central index of items on the ancient Near East and an easy gateway to the items themselves.
ABZU is organized into several indices, all of which are accessible from the main page. The two primary indices sort by author and by project or institution, respectively. The author index has an alphabetical arrangement. Looking under "Johnson, Janet H." reveals a list of electronic publications by Oriental Institute Professor Janet Johnson. This "list" is really a series of links to the items themselves, which can be quickly loaded for reading.
The project index is also alphabetical, by project name. The term "project" includes archaeological expeditions and linguistic databases, electronic journals and special-interest newsletters. In the former cases, you will likely find progress reports or sample pages. For example, the Oriental Institute Nippur Expedition has publications dating back to 1978. The electronic journals and newsletters typically have recent and archived issues. Staying with the letter "N," there is the Newsletter for Anatolian Studies, edited by Oriental Institute Research Associate Hripsime Haroutunian, Ph.D., which has the most recent number in HTML (Web) format and older issues in ASCII (text) format. As the Web has grown in importance, this HTML/ASCII division has become more pronounced; where initially most users placed electronic copies of full-length paper documents-without any breaks or tables of contents-new additions tend to be conceived with the web viewer in mind, so that longer items are broken into sections that can be more easily loaded and viewed onscreen, and the formerly gray presentation style is now colorful and accompanied by graphics.
In addition to the primary indices, our indefatigable Research Archivist is busy working on more specialized subdirectories, while still expanding the reach of ABZU. These items include library catalogs online, directories of organizations, publishers, book vendors, and a growing subject index. Anyone may suggest an addition to ABZU by emailing email@example.com and including the address of the electronic document to be added.
THE ANE LISTOne of the early, common uses of the Internet was the electronic mailing-list, which was typically a simple list of email addresses of individuals with a specific interest. Messages could be sent to a central address, which would then forward them to each of the individual members. These lists became very popular for several reasons: they were inexpensive, information could be disseminated very quickly, and any interested party could post information or opinions to the group. As time has passed, however, some problems have developed. Commercial concerns often posted (or "spammed") advertisements to groups intended for discussion only, disputes occasionally broke out that led to personal attacks (or "flames") on group members, and frankly absurd opinions often wasted the time and bandwidth of the group's members. Many mailing lists had moderators who approved each post before distributing it, though this brought with it concerns about bias and slowed down the rapidity of distribution. In all too many cases, one or more of these issues led subscribers to leave their favorite lists, even though they remained interested in the list's subject.
Some of these issues eventually came to affect ANE, the mailing list devoted to the ancient Near East, maintained by Research Archivist Charles E. Jones. On 23 July 1996, the list was temporarily closed with the following message:
It is clear, after slightly more than three years of service, that the ANE list no longer serves the function for which it was intended. Consequently, we have decided to close it pending a reassessment of the means by which we might again provide a useful, interesting, and productive means of communicating ideas and information on the ancient Near Eastern world. It is virtually certain, at this point, that any successor to ANE from the Oriental Institute in Chicago will be moderated in a number of ways at both the subscription and the posting levels. It is, however, premature to discuss any other details of the configuration of such a successor.Happily, we can now report that ANE has indeed made a comeback, and that the concerns that led to its closing have been addressed. ANE will become a partially-moderated list, and our list administration software (called majordomo) will allow serious (and some lighthearted) discussion of the ancient Near East while still protecting subscribers from having their mailboxes filled with personal attacks, bizarre "scholarship," or commercial solicitations. The moderator will not have to approve every post, but if a particular user's behavior draws enough protest from the group's subscribers, that user will be locked out of posting further messages. The moderator can also call a halt to topics that have played out their usefulness by rejecting further posts that add nothing to the understanding of the issue.
There are now two ANE lists: the regular list, which will include informational postings and discussion threads. There is also a smaller list (ANENews) which will be strictly moderated and consist entirely and exclusively of professional announcements (conferences, job postings, calls for papers, etc.). All items posted to ANENews will be posted to the full ANE list as well. Both lists will be available in individual-post and digest formats. The former-which forwards individual messages to the subscriber's mailbox one at a time-works best for individuals who check their email several times a day and want to read posts as soon as possible, while the latter collects all the posts of one day and sends them as one message and is thus the better option for the subscriber who can only check email once a day.
THE METHODS FOR SUBSCRIBING TO THE ANE LISTS HAVE CHANGED SINCE THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN PRINT. LISTED BELOW ARE THE CURRENT METHODS!
1. The ANE list [ANE]. This version of the list is open. Participants are subject to the foregoing rules and to the adjudication of the moderator. Send communications intended for distribution on the list to firstname.lastname@example.org
To subscribe to ANE, or to change your subscription options, use the form at:
2. ANE News and Information [ANENews]. This version of the list is strictly moderated subset of the ANE lists. Items of news and information (job announcements, conference announcements, publication [on-line or print] notices) and other pertinent items which are sent to the open ANE list will be forwarded to ANENews. Each item posted to ANENews will also be posted to ANE. There is no need to subscribe to both lists at the same time.
To subscribe to ANENews, or to change your subscription options, use the form at:
Subscribers to these lists have a number of delivery options. Please see the subscription form for further details
VIRTUAL EDUCATIONThe newest Internet project here at the Oriental Institute is "Introduction to Ancient Egypt" a course designed by Peter Piccione, Ph.D. (a longtime associate of the Museum Education and Travel programs) and Carole Krucoff, Head of Museum Education. Using electronic mail and the World-Wide Web, this course, which began in early November, brought students together in an electronic forum with Mr. Piccione to take part in an introduction to ancient Egypt from prehistory to Alexander the Great. The course used hard-copy readings and graphics especially designed for the course and placed on the web site. Translations, facsimiles, maps, and photographs were all part of the course, which was among the first such efforts to take advantage of the flexibility and power of the World-Wide Web.
Over twenty-five students registered for the course, pioneers all in this new form of continuing education. Once they registered, they were given passwords that "unlocked" the web pages designed for the course, which are inaccessible to other users. We hope to add more courses of this sort in the future and will use the lessons learned in our first effort to make future offerings even more appealing.
THE FUTUREAs the preceding paragraphs indicate, it is very difficult to predict the future of electronic resources at the Oriental Institute. There are a few items of which we are very confident: our presence on the Internet will only expand, as more departments incorporate electronic presentation into their conceptions of programming and public relations. We will house an increasing number of original projects on our servers, including the Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions and the Afroasiatic Index. Now that the Institute has its own CD-ROM recording device, we are looking into making the Virtual Museum available on disk to members, and publishing some of the highlights of the Photographic Archives on CD-Rom. Museum Education is examining new ways to incorporate the World-Wide Web into their course offerings and the Research Archives catalog (which is currently being converted to electronic format) will eventually be accessible from outside the Institute.
More than likely, there will be as many new projects as the ones listed above in our relatively near future. We will keep our members updated by announcing additions in News & Notes and summarizing each year's work in the "Electronic Resources" section of the Annual Report. Of course, to find out the latest news, simply check into our home page and click on the "What's New" link at the top of the page. There, you will find all significant additions to the web site or other electronic resources.
Revised: February 7, 2007