New Technologies and Old Methodologies: Jewish Studies Research in the Digital Age

By G, Heidi | Shofar, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

New Technologies and Old Methodologies: Jewish Studies Research in the Digital Age


G, Heidi, Shofar


Rapidly changing information technologies and networking capabilities are transforming scholarly research in Jewish Studies. Computer screens work alongside and even supplant the printed page as a research tool. The next generation of Jewish scholars and academics must be prepared for these changes or suffer the consequences of not keeping up with them. Jewish Studies librarians, as information specialists, can help train researchers in the use of electronic resources and searching techniques. Librarians and scholars need to work together to integrate these new resources into their research methodologies. Contemporary research methods courses may be the best place to introduce and forge innovative, collaborative teaching partnerships.

Introduction

As we enter the twenty-first century, an increasing body of electronic resources is transforming the way traditional scholarly research is conducted. Rapidly changing information technologies and networking capabilities are modifying the practical means by which scholars look for information and disseminate their findings. The next generation of Jewish scholars and academics must be prepared for these changes or suffer the consequences of not keeping up with them. Given the increasingly important role that electronic and digital technologies will play in the lives of the next generation of scholars, Jewish Studies librarians also need to look at their role as information specialists and see how they can help today's graduate and even undergraduate students. Whereas once Jewish Studies faculty members taught students research methodologies, today it is often the academic librarian, not the Jewish Studies professor, who is best prepared to train researchers in the use of electronic resources and searching techniques. Contemporary research methods courses in colleges and universities, currently taught by faculty, may offer the best places to forge innovative, collaborative teaching partnerships.

Ability of New Technologies to Improve Access to Judaica and Hebraica Collections

For Jewish Studies, as well as humanities and social science research in general, scholars have traditionally depended on printed or paper-based bibliographic tools. These materials require their users to be able to handle a variety of languages and scripts, and to have an understanding of complex historical, social, economic, cultural, and religious traditions. With the advent of advanced information technologies such as the hypertext transfer protocol (better known to web surfers as http), digital imaging, creation of relational and other types of databases, multilingual computing, multimedia, text encoding, and other applications, the scope of Jewish Studies research can now expand.

When we think of computer-based research, tools, and output, we are talking about text, data, images, and sound, as well as electronic communication. In order to examine the impact of new technologies on Jewish Studies, scholars need to look at these developments in terms of the types of information involved.

The use of computers in Jewish Studies is most pronounced in the following areas: general library resources such as online catalogs, indexes, databases, and bibliographies; conversion of manuscript and print texts into electronic format and the accompanying avenues of content, stylistic, and linguistic analysis; and the creation of research tools such as image or sound archives. Some of theses resources are freely available over the web;(1) some are available only though paid, institutional subscriptions; some are distributed through commercially available CD-ROMs; others are in-house computer applications.

Judaica librarians have very often been at the forefront, helping to shape the evolution of these new technologies to meet the needs of their distinct constituencies. The first major development was the emergence of the vernacular Hebrew script capability in the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN) in 1988.

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