Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Scholarly works online

More and more serious scholarly work is being made available on the web. I talked last time about De Re Militarii, but that's just one example. I was browsing through Andrew Holt's Crusades Encyclopedia and found a page on William Urban, one of the leading authorities on the Baltic Crusades.
That page has links to several of Urban's articles in various journals. There you can read about religion in the Baltic, the organization of armies, and even Teutonic Knights jokes.

The same Encyclopedia has links to the works of other scholars, including Thomas Madden, Malcolm Barber, Christopher Marshall, and many others.

The University of Wisconsin has "The Crusades" edited by Kenneth Setton, all six volumes of it. This work, done in the 1950s, is filled with excellent articles on a surprising variety of topics.

There's even Michaud's history, written almost 200 years ago.

And that's just the Crusades.

The real message here is that there's a considerable body of work in just about every field. Not on every specialty topic, not by a long shot. Nor are the most important works necessarily online. But there's more than enough material for most any given course, even upper division (probably not graduate work, yet).

All of which raises an interesting pedagogical question. Would it be possible to design a course, let's say a course on the Crusades, using *only* online resources?

Certainly it wouldn't be ideal. Most of us would immediately say that our campus library is far richer in resources. Moreover, using on the Web would be designing a course around what happened to be there, not around what was best and most appropriate.

But then I thought about that.

First, don't we all find ourselves constrained by what happens to be at our campus library? Yes there's ILL, but I don't need to tell you the drawbacks of that, especially if you're on the quarter system.

Moreover, it's been a long time since I could design around what was best and most appropriate. Ever since publishers started letting books go out of print left and right, it's been increasingly difficult to use the texts I prefer. Instead, I've had to design around what happened to be in print. So this idea that we currently make assignments into unconstrained resources is simply wrong. In which case, the Web is simply another constrained resource.

I've done more than just think about this. Everything in my Western Civ course is online. I'm seriously considering moving my Crusades course to that format. The Late Middle Ages is problematic because most of the resources are hopelessly "Renaissance" in orientation. The Reformation is a mixed bag: great on primary sources, pretty good on secondary literature as long as it centers on religion or on a couple of specific topics (witchcraft, New World), but dreadfully thin in other areas.

Still, it'd be interesting, even as an exercise, to design a course around what *is* there.