Electronic publications and Egyptology,
with special emphasis on the Topographical Bibliography.

Jaromir Malek

Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford OX1 2PH (email griffox@vax.ox.ac.uk)

August 26, 1995

1. Introduction and definition of the problem.

On August 5, 1995, I posted the following note on the ane network (ane@mithra-orinst.uchicago.edu):

"Electronic publishing is here to stay, and the balance between 'standard' hard-copy publications and their electronic counterparts is bound to shift in a significant way in favour of the latter. I wonder how much consideration has been given to how to refer to electronic publications in scholarly works and to related questions. I would single out three main problems:

(a) How to quote an electronic publication?

We have begun to resort to references of the type C. Baldock et al., 3-D reconstruction of ancient Egyptian mummy [http://www.pavilion.co.uk/HealthServices/BrightonHealthCare/m ummy.htm] (1995). This may be an extreme case but it shows well how clumsy it looks. Can anybody advise on a better way?

(b) How to ensure that an electronic publication remains available?

To quote a publication of any kind only makes sense if it is possible to go back to the reference and assess its usefulness. At present, there is no guarantee that the publication will remain available at the original address indefinitely. Has anybody thought about how to deal with this?

(c) Should specialized libraries start acquiring electronic publications?

To rely on others and wait for global solutions to this problem will get us nowhere. It looks as though it will be necessary to keep copies of electronic publications at more than one place. But in what form? A hard-copy printout is a retrogressive step. Has any library started actively collecting electronic publications in their original form?

As Editor of a major Egyptological bibliography (Porter-Moss) who is also involved in the work of the Annual Egyptological Bibliography, I am, naturally, very interested in these questions and shall be very grateful for advice."

2. Limitations of the notes which follow.

Although some of the questions raised above may have wider consequences, they were designed to help us solve specific problems connected with our work on the Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings (Porter-Moss). This objective has been achieved thanks to the excellent response we received. I am very grateful to all those who have shared their views and knowledge with us, and I apologize for not listing everybody individually. We have been able to prepare viable guidelines for our work - the Topographical Bibliography now includes references to all relevant electronic publications and the direction in which we should proceed has been defined with some precision.

It seems worthwhile to give some thought to the more general problems touched on in the discussion and to record some of the views expressed, if only so that we can refer to these notes later when the need to look at these questions arises again. It is, however, necessary to bear in mind that

(a) the following is not a full summary of the discussion and is, inevitably, personally biased - some contributors would not agree with me;

(b) different circumstances require different solutions, and we are dealing with only a few facets of a complex problem;

(c) nothing in electronic publishing is cast in stone and only experience will show us how many of these ideas will stay;

(d) we are here mainly concerned with publications available on the Web;

(e) I am an Egyptologist for whom electronic publishing remains just another way of publishing, albeit with a tremendous potential, but nothing more and nothing less.

3. Some answers and opinions, as they appear at present.

3.1. How to quote an electronic publication?

The premise with which I start is that an electronic publication which represents a source of significant information should be quoted in scholarly publications, in full agreement with Elizabeth McDonald (elizabem@aruba.ccit.arizona.edu, August 6, 1995). The citation seems relatively simple, and there is quite a substantial bibliography which one may consult. I have found the following publication very useful:

Walker, J.R. "MLA-style citations of electronic sources" (htttp://www.cas.usf.edu/english/walker/mla.html, January 1995, rev. 4/95) [August 26, 1995].

Mike O'Brien (obrien@antares.aero.org, August 13, 1995) was right when he said that "the forum in which one is quoting will have its own rules of style". So was Nigel Strudwick (ncs3 [at] cam.ac.uk), August 7, 1995) and several others: "the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is the correct way to do it" because it is "the first standard there has been for electronic references". So, the Topographical Bibliography references to WWW publications will look something like this (and variants):

Smith, J.J. "Amenemhet I and Senwosret I" (http://nutty.ac.uk/Amenemhet.html, April 1, 1995) [May 29, 1995]

or, if part of a larger electronic publication:

Smith, J.J. "Amenemhet I and Senwosret I" in Thamos 2 (http://nutty.ac.uk/Thamos2/Amenemhet.html, April 1, 1995) [May 29, 1995].

Quoting the date of an electronic publication is important, and has been stressed by many, e.g. Glenn Meyer (glennm@jayhawk.tamri.com, August 8, 1995). The date which immediately follows the URL in our reference is the date given in the article itself (if the publication is not dated, this then will be absent in the reference), while the date in square brackets is the date of the visit or the date on which a copy of the consulted publication had been made. As several contributors remarked, the ease with which electronic publications can be updated makes it essential that one knows the contribution's "real" (as opposed to the "stated") date. If working with a copy, and therefore not with a file kept at its original address, one may consider mentioning this.

A date-stamp mentioned by Mike O'Brien (obrien@antares.aero.org, August 13, 1995) would go a long way towards solving this awkward problem, and once this becomes available, the desire to have one's electronic publication accepted will quickly make us conform. It seems a long way off, but one day electronic publications will be taken into account when applying for an academic post or another job.

One can foresee a completely new type of publication. It is often said that some university lecturers prepare their teaching material when they are very young and use it, with minor emendations, for the rest of their often long career. A superior version of this can be achieved electronically, with errors being corrected, new material incorporated as it appears, and conclusions updated. You can do it for all your articles and monographs, so at the end of your academic career, as the dotage approaches, you may have all your publications up-to-date, having been honed to near-perfection in the course of the previous forty or fifty years (at present, one tends to show only reluctantly publications of one's early years).

This seems alien to much of the generally accepted academic thinking but, maybe, it is here that electronic publishing will make its greatest impact not just on how we publish academic works, but on how we approach and view such works, i.e. not just on the ways and means, but on the whole concept of the presentation of research results. Electronic publishing may bring us much closer to the "perfect publication". However, the difficulties for anyone wishing to refer to a publication in the state of a "permanent revision" are obvious.

3.2. How to ensure that an electronic publication remains available?

No doubt, before long we shall learn to distinguish between the anecdotally ephemeral (such as most email responses, etc., the equivalent of a spontaneous intervention in a discussion at a seminar or conference), and the more permanent (such as a paper or report published in an electronic form, comparable to an article in a scholarly hard-copy periodical or a monograph). Never mind the former, however interesting it may be. It is the latter which must be preserved so that it is available for consultation by future scholars, pace P. Daniels (pdaniels@press- gopher.uchicago.edu, October 5, 1995).

Nevertheless, by the simple act of "publishing" views on the Internet their author accepts the possibility that these will be repeated and may be criticized. I do not share Mike O'Brien's view (obrien@antares.aero.org, August 13, 1995), that "an electronic publication should remain for as long as, and only as long as, its creator believes it is relevant". This would greatly reduce the credibility of electronic publishing. In other words, I believe that, like in real life, we may acknowledge a mistake, retract and correct it, but we cannot undo making it in the first instance.

I see the main scope for electronic publishing in dissemination of information and believe that it will have a major impact on hard-copy publishing. Here, I fear, I differ from the view expressed by Greg Reeder (reeder@sirius.com, August 5, 1995). Electronic publications will, in my opinion, gradually replace most reference books, bibliographies, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, etc., i.e. publications where the contents are not permanently fixed but are constantly being updated, re-evaluated, etc.

Paradoxically, they will probably also become dominant at the other extreme of academic publishing, in matters such as excavations reports where the more information is provided (and more quickly), the better (but not when published as a hard copy because this puts the publication beyond the reach of all but well-funded libraries - I have mentioned this in my contribution to J. Assmann et al. Thebanische Beamtennekropolen, Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag, 1995, 43-8). Few things are of more permanent value than excavation records, so they must be preserved. While CD-ROM and its successors appear to provide a plausible alternative, this still suffers from the necessity to manufacture, distribute and store the disks in the same way as required by books and journals.

So, there is, in my opinion, little doubt that we must start developing a reliable system of archiving electronic publications, be it on tape or in other ways. This will ensure that they survive if the original site where they are kept for one reason or another becomes defunct. There are many ways of going about it, mostly depending on the people/time/funds factors, but I strongly believe that we must start attending to this problem immediately.

The Topographical Bibliography will keep copies of all the electronic publications which we wish to quote (I should not like to sound too deprecating, but the number of such publications is still very small), but we shall, of necessity, disregard publications which are of no interest for our project. This is, more or less, the course of action advocated by John G. Younger (jyounger@acpub.duke.edu, August 5, 1995). If these publications disappear from their original sites, we shall make them available at least to readers of our own library (the Ashmolean Library in Oxford).

3.3. Should specialized libraries start acquiring electronic publications?

Nigel Strudwick (ncs3 [at] cam.ac.uk), August 7, 1995) may have been right in pointing out that the word "acquiring" is not quite appropriate when discussing electronic publications. To re-phrase it, "should specialized libraries start making it possible to consult electronic publications no longer at their original sites"?

The word "library" may mislead here. Apart from the monuments in situ, the study resources of our subject are divided among museums (and similar, e.g. for the preservation of scientific samples), libraries and archives. If we now can add to these also specialized institutions which will store electronic publications and make them available to others working in the subject, fine. But I do not see any such institution prepared to start doing this as yet.

We have, however, a well-developed system of libraries and very experienced people working in them. They have been able to cope successfully with the other new media such as microfiche, videos, and CD-ROM. To quote an example which I know well, the Ashmolean Library in Oxford now makes it possible for its readers to have access to Internet, albeit still in a limited way. There is no reason why readers should not be able to consult the electronic publications, the copies of which we are going to make because of their inclusion in the Topographical Bibliography, which no longer exist at their original sites.

This is no universal solution, but a practical, though limited, way forward. When one day these publications are available online from a specialized institution elsewhere, or on CD-ROM, as suggested by Peter Sullivan (peter.sullivan@vuw.ac.nz, August 7, 1995), we shall, with a sigh of relief, gladly give up their collecting ourselves.