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Archive for February, 2009

Controversial religion encyclopedia

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Inside Higher Ed has a discussion of the controversy over the recently released Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. “Controversial” and “encyclopedia” are not typically words one finds in the same sentence, but there are apparently some questions about the objectivity of the editor-in-chief and about the accuracy of some of the entries. Coverage by a columnist at the Telegraph is a little more incendiary.

Google Earth for fun and profitable research

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Google Earth continues to add new features and to be used in interesting ways. Originally based on satellite photos by a company called Keyhole, the scope and usefulness of it has grown as Google has added new data from a variety of sources. Version 5.0 was recently released, and adds high quality imagery of the ocean floor and Mars, with data from NASA (including photography from the latest Mars rover project) and other government agencies (review).

Another relatively recent addition is a three-dimensional map layer of ancient Rome built in collaboration with the Rome Reborn team at the University of Virginia, with models of the city and buildings (including some interiors) in their ancient context as of 320 AD. I can see the potential of this even as my office computer struggles gamely to cope with the relatively high processor and graphics requirements–the moving 3D modeling is pretty rough on my poor under-appreciated Dell, but the static images work quite well. And you can see Google’s promotional video to give you a taste of what the glorious full version looks like.

I was also delighted to find a description of a game for archaeologists on the Ancient World Bloggers Group site. Given an image from Google Earth, the game is to identify the site. The first to correctly identify it gets to host the next round of the game. I’m sure Google didn’t have this in mind when they designed the product, but part of what’s most delightful about the web is the unintended uses people find for it.

New in JSTOR

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

JSTOR is currently running a trial of a new type of information, 19th-century British pamphlets, at least through June 30th, 2009. The collection consists of several thousand pamphlets scanned by British universities, on a variety of subjects, mostly political and religious, with a good mix of government documents, reports, and speeches mixed in. Looking for contemporary commentary on a speech by Disraeli? Are priests sumptuous livers, wine-bibbers, and thorough idlers? Interested in an 1825 list of grievances from coal miners?

Video lectures on Greek history

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

A very happy discovery today: twenty four lectures, with course materials and syllabi, from Donald Kagan’s Introduction to Greek History course at Yale are available in several places online. I found it through Academic Earth, a new website which pulls together open course materials from several universities, including MIT and Yale. As it happens I like the additional features Yale offers on its site (copies of reading assignments, syllabi, and audio and video versions of the lecture material), but I think Academic Earth may have a business in reaching into the silos of this kind of information kept by universities and making it more approachable and findable. It certainly worked for me. (Note: I’d mention iTunes University, which is aiming in a similar direction, but since I don’t have iTunes on my work computer at the moment it was easier to look at the competition. iPods are ubiquitous, but not as easy as web video for this kind of thing.)

Kagan is most famous for his work on the Peloponnesian War. He does not exhibit the tendency of many scholars to gloss over the darker details of the Athenian Empire, which by itself is an argument for reading his works. A good place to start is his 2003 The Peloponnesian War, in which he revisits the topic of his earlier works: The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, The Archidamian War, The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition, and The Fall of the Athenian Empire. The series looks at the history very, very closely, and ends up being a more approachable companion to Thucydides, the major source for the time period–at least for the general reader. Hornblower and Gomme are still the places to go for the heavy stuff on Thucydides.