Vol. XX, No. 2
CSA Newsletter Logo
Fall, 2007

Website Review: stoa.org

Susan C. Jones
(See email contacts page for the author's email address.)

Stoa is a consortium for electronic publication in the humanities; it was created by Prof. Ross Scaife, but no further details of its organization are mentioned on the site. The associated organizations mentioned on the "about this site" page include the Perseus Digital Library and the Digital Classicist. Projects whose web presences are hosted by Stoa have individual participants, and Stoa does not seem to have been involved with them before their publication phase. In three cases, including Dr. Kevin Glowacki's site on Athenian archaeology, I used them for a number of years and know that they had had other hosts.

Stoa's funding sources have changed over the years; major contributors mentioned are the U.S. government (Department of Education, National Endowment for the Humanities and National Science Foundation); the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC; and the University of Kentucky. Individual projects have their own funding sources.

stoa.org is the public face of the consortium; this public face is difficult to review as a web site because it is so diverse and covers a wide range of material and topics. Neither "portal" nor "hub," quite describes the site, although it has aspects of both. The Stoa site has a blog devoted to news and trends on the web, as well as links to important on-line resources for classicists and links to other blogs and announcements of interest to computer-literate classicists.2.

Content and Layout

Despite the incredible diversity of information on the site, it is easy to navigate and all stoa-based pages include links that will return you to one of four pages with the main menu along the right-hand margin. Starting with stoa.org and navigating to one of the related sites, of course, may leave the reader without a direct return route. Mr. Scaife, Professor of Classics at the University of Kentucky, has been Stoa's only editor since its inception in 1997, and the remarkable clarity of organization seen on the site must be the results of his strong vision.

The home page has a listing of new information available on the site and a menu down the right side of the window. Submissions on the main page are frequent and prominently list the submitter, a correct citation, the date of posting, a synopsis of the original article, the number of responses that the posting has evoked to date and an easy way to submit your own comment. There is also a link to a subject archive to see other similar posting. Individual postings are listed with the latest first, and seem to remain on the main page for several weeks. On July 31, 2007,there were 19 announcements, the newest dated July 27, and the oldest June 6. Topics ranged from "post-doctoral research assistantship in e-science, imaging technology and ancient documents" to a call for papers at the electronic corpora of ancient languages conference in Prague this fall to an announcement of new photos loaded to Flickr.

There are two kinds of announcements, simple, complete announcements and summaries with links to fuller resources or other relevant web page. These announcements are archived in two ways and can be accessed by month of posting ("Blog Archives") or by subject matter ("Blog Categories"). For example, the post-doctoral assistantship is only 1 of a number of such announcements posted over the past two years and gathered into the Jobs Blog Category; the same announcement is also stored in the archives for July 2007. A search of all blog entries may also be made from the home page.

One of the few criticisms that I have is that the submission process for primary postings is not readily apparent. There are two links labeled "Entries (RSS)" and "Comments (RRS)" at the bottom of the home page. "Entries" is a dead-end link, showing only recent submissions; "Comments" leads to a form that appears identical to the one which can be accessed at the end of each posting. Presumably, you can make primary submissions as well as comments through this form.

Stoa has developed a remarkable set of interlocking partnerships with many of the major digital resources in the area of classics and classical art and archaeology. Perseus, the Center for Hellenic Studies, the Digital Classicist and Creative Commons are among the collaborators mentioned under individual projects. Each project that the Stoa participates in has its own distinct set of resources for funding, its own approach and a unique subject matter. Some projects such as Mr. Glowacki's "The Ancient City of Athens" have had previous hosts, and seem to have found a comfortable home here. The projects included in the right-hand side menu are:

What connects these sites/projects is an underlying philosophy of providing direct access to their materials and the use of digital technologies to further education and research in the humanities (specifically Greek- and Latin-based studies). There is no single subject, methodology or institution. I will return to a discussion of this underlying philosophy after completing a description of the home page.

Links to blogs included in the menu are

Other links within the menu are to tutorials and advice on digital resources, and to home pages of partners in various projects -- Perseus, The Digital Classicist, etc.

Discussion and Evaluation

The underlying philosophy of Stoa, shared by its linked resources, is one of free and open access to scholarship. The vast majority of scholars agree in principle with this goal, but few have thought through the ramifications of a rapidly evolving digital environment and fewer still the requirements to disseminate their research in it. This website at the very least promotes awareness of specific issues and a forum within which to discuss them. Topics as diverse as copyright and fair-use issues, peer-review, academic credit for tenure, training in new technologies, proprietary software and standardization of terminology are addressed by contributors and through links found here. To find discussions on individual topics, the appropriate Blog Category will normally work and, if not, the search mechanism provided will. An alphabetic listing may not emphasize the lasting value of the postings in the "rights" category versus those under "call for papers" but a simple list makes the link to any given category easy to find.

What I find somewhat surprising is that so few of the posted announcements evoke comments; only 2 of the 13 recent posting under "teaching" have received comments. Looking at several randomly selected, archived, monthly blogs, this appears to be typical -- archive for June 2007, 5 of 17 with comments; archive for April 2007, 3 of 18; archive for January 2007, 4 of 20. Admittedly, some postings are not those that would attract commentary such as announcements of conferences, grants and jobs, and occasionally there are also comments on the web site of the original posting. However, this passive response to postings may indicate that Stoa is preaching to the converted rather than proselytizing. Alternatively it may indicate that only a limited number of classicists have gone beyond thinking of the computer as a substitute for the written word, or have thought about those problems unique to the digital resources. Or is it simply that competition for attention and time is acute, and responses to blogs have a low priority. Whatever the reason, the forum provided here for scholarly discussion of e-scholarship is underutilized.

After more than 20 years or more of exposure to digital media, it is definitely the time to assume that the scholarly community has embraced the technology. Stoa made this assumption and has advanced the dialog beyond justification of its use and the latest cool applications. It is a forum to highlight complex interactions between its use and the broader world of humanities scholarship. For instance, a site search on "intellectual property" produced some 20 primary postings with responses over the past 3 years. The postings included (1) announcements of academic conferences, (2) access to an editorial article on the American Anthropological Association' decision to shift publication of its journals to a commercial firm from an academic press, and the decision's potential impact on open access and professional public outreach practices, and (3) a discussion of the recent breakdown in negotiations between the British Ordinance Survey agency and Google to incorporate OS data into Google Earth. These last two seemingly unrelated events are part of the environment surrounding the debate on copyright issues and may have a direct bearing on judicial and legislative actions. Those judicial and legislative actions, in turn, will have a profound impact on scholarly access to information.

The overall vision behind the Stoa is one that I personally advocate -- free and open exchange of information and resources among the scholarly community accompanied by adequate documentation for that information to be understood. (Hurray for mom, the flag and apple-pie!) This free and open exchange must be in stable, non-proprietary formats whenever possible, and it must also acknowledge authorship of ideas without restricting access to them. On the other hand, some of the Stoa's particular editorial positions are not those that I espouse, for instance, the extensive use of a hierarchic approach to data organization (i.e. XML), but open debate on such fundamental methodologies is vital.

The projects hosted by stoa.org are examples of excellent e-scholarship, and each deserves an individual review; the blogs and other postings are timely and important. I applaud Stoa's effort and recommend that our readers periodically check the pages of Stoa for current takes on issues that effect us all.

-- Susan C. Jones

1. Although it is not mentioned on the pages of stoa.org, there are peer review processes for individual projects. In response to an inquiry by Mr. Eiteljorg, Mr. Scaife stated that "There is ongoing peer review of contributions being made to the Suda On Line. All essays in Demos: Athenian Democracy were subject to peer review, as were all translations in the anthology to be found in Diotima, essays in Trajan's Column, articles in Ancient Journeys, and the textual editions in Neolatin Colloquia." Return to text.

2. A hub is defined as "a business-to-business Web site for a particular industry," while a portal is "a Web 'supersite' that provides a variety of services including Web searching, news, white and yellow pages directories, free e-mail, discussion groups, online shopping and links to other sites." There is an obvious commercial component implicit in both these definitions that is lacking at the Stoa site. The services and links mentioned are also more numerous than those included at the Stoa website.
A blog has a very loose definition -- "a Web site that contains dated text entries in reverse chronological order about a particular topic." In other words, it is the diachronic aspect of the material added to the site, rather than content, format or authorship/editorial policy that is paramount. By definition, the entire Stoa site could be considered a single, complex blog. However, a blog does not usually host/support more standard web pages such as the project sites found on stoa.org.
   -- The computer dictionary included in The Free Dictionary by Farley, http://computing-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/, accessed 7 Sept 07. Return to text.


For an index of other CD and Web site reviews available from the CSA Newsletter, see the review index.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

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