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Bridging the Communication Gap: Should academics go public with what they know?
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The Skies Are Clouding Up Even More
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John G. Younger
(See email contacts page for the author's email address.)
AegeaNet is a listserv(e) or email discussion list about "the pre-classical Aegean world from Paleolithic to Homer and beyond" (http://people.ku.edu/~jyounger/AegeaNet.html). It was born at Duke University in December of 1993, the brainchild of Paul Rehak and myself. It was a response to the two earliest listservs Classics-L (1992), the first email discussion list to concern antiquity, and Ancient Near East (ANE, July 1993). The AIA list (AIA-L) was also in operation as of February of 1992, but it was a moderated list, unlike Aegeanet, Classics-L, and ANE. Since listservs in general date back to 1985, Classics-L, ANE, AIA-L, and AegeaNet were obviously the first in the area of archaeology.
Mr. Rehak and I distributed short flyers about AegeaNet (its subject matter, how to subscribe, what it was intended to do) at the Archaeological Institute of America's annual meeting on December 29th, 1993, in Washington D.C. It was a short notice, half a page, with a border of Cretan Hieroglyphs spelling out A-SA-SA-RA in a font specially designed by Louis Godart and Jean-Pierre Olivier (see illustration).
Fig. 1 - Announcement Flyer for Aegeanet.
Interest was immediate, and within a couple of months subscribers numbered over 100. From the late 1990s to about 2005 subscribers numbered above 700, but recently they have risen to just under 1000. At the moment, the largest group of subscribers subscribe from generic accounts (yahoo.com, gmail, hotmail); so their nationalities are not known (367 of 974 subscribers, 37.7%). But of those whose nationalities are known, the majority are in the USA (34.8%), Britain and Greece (about 12% each), and Italy (7%), with a smattering of subscribers in other parts of Europe, and in Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, Israel, Japan, Taiwan, and Zaire. I find it interesting that we have no subscribers (that I can recognize) coming from Egypt or the Near East — perhaps those with an interest in archaeology are subscribed to ANE.
In the early years, people were unaccustomed to email, and we managers/list-owners struggled to impose appropriate restrictions on expression. Subscribers would "shout" (write in capitals), "flame" (denounce and berate) each other, and even use profanity. The managers of Classics-L (Linda Wright) and ANE (Chuck Jones), and others like Pedar Foss and Ruby Blondell, and myself, consulted with each other on how to manage obstreperous subscribers, eventually evolving the concept of "netiquette." Occasionally, too, we would hear from officials at the FCC and even the military, although by 1990 the internet was no longer patrolled by the military; they were, however, interested in our attempts to control discussion and curb outbreaks of incivility. For the most part, through a judicious use of de-subscribing unruly members and gentle persuasion, we could channel discussion into civilized discourse, but tensions on ANE often ran so high that ANE would shut down for a time. (This happened at least twice.)
AegeaNet, however, has remained running smoothly and uninterruptedly since its founding. In 2002, Mr. Rehak and I moved to the University of Kansas, and AegeaNet moved with us, with no break in service. And in 2008, it celebrated its 15th birthday at the AIA/APA meetings in Philadelphia.
New subscribers to AegeaNet receive a copy of the Welcome message, which contains information about subscribing options (message-by-message or in digest form, postponing messages, setting up alias addresses), common problems like addresses that change suddenly, and netiquette. The last is addressed with a couple of pieces of advice:
More casually, I tend to inform new subscribers that they should not post anything they wouldn't want their mothers to read.
In traffic, AegeaNet is fairly moderate, unlike Classics-L whose traffic is so high (at present over 1500 subscribers) that a moderated list (Classics-M, 330 subscribers) emerged by the mid-90s. Most AegeaNet messages advertise job positions and conferences, announce calls for papers, and inform us of the passing of our colleagues. Occasionally a "string" will emerge, a series of emails that elaborate on a subject and often branch out into slightly different conversations.
Linear A always generates interest, and emails concerning it are scattered throughout the year. By the late '90s enough information on Linear A had been assembled from various AegeaNetters that I was able to produce a website on Linear A (http://people.ku.edu/~jyounger/LinearA/) to publish the documents and provide a home for the various insights and observations. The site has proved enormously helpful for understanding this intriguing script.
Rather early on, there were two long strings on ancient dogs and horses, the former identifying two major early breeds, the hunting hound and house dog, with separate contexts that were also gendered. In the Classical period the house dog is almost invariably depicted at home and with females and young boys, while the hunting hound is invariably depicted with males above the age of 12 or so.
It was the introduction of the horse in the Aegean that proved most interesting. While the domestication of the horse (as shown by bit-wear on teeth) occurred early, by 4000 BCE in southern Russia, its introduction to the Aegean occurred toward the end of the Early Bronze Age with bones from EH III Tiryns, early MH Dendra, and MBA Troy.
Perhaps AegeaNet's greatest service, though, is to link people who are interested in early Greece. People will email the list a question and others will respond on- or off-line, the latter often spinning into long private conversations. For instance, I am always interested in ancient music, and I usually respond to questions concerning it on-line. But occasionally I get into long and involved conversations that go off-line, especially when they become mathematical.
Sometimes these conversations develop into good friendships and, for some AegeaNetters, sometimes even something more; I myself have found "email" friends, many of whom I have never met, and I know of at least two couples who have developed romantic relationships that started with conversations over AegeaNet — there are probably a lot more.
As for the future: within the next couple of years I will survey AegeaNetters regarding content and the survival of the discussion list. Should it continue? In an age of instantaneous knowledge and social networking, is a "discussion group" for prehistoric Greece still relevant, and is a listserv the appropriate venue? If so, should it remain the property of an individual, or should it migrate to a sustainable institution — sustainable in that such an institution is, and is guaranteed to remain, a home for interest in prehistoric Greece?
It may be that discussion lists like AegeaNet have all served their purpose and need either to morph into something else or fold up and quit. Or it may be that AegeaNet especially needs to survive because it is a viable and necessary means of communication amongst far-flung scholars in a fascinating but very specialized subdiscipline.
As I tell my students, the future is difficult to predict.
-- John G. Younger
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