Managing 'AegeaNet.' (Discussion and Newsgroup on the Pre-Classical Aegean world)(Special Section: Electronic Archaeology)

Article excerpt

I became acquainted with email discussion lists when I subscribed to my first one, 'ANE' (ancient Near East), in September 1993; the discussions were so lively and informative that my colleague Paul Rehak and I thought there should be an Aegean counterpart for the Minoan-Mycenaean world. 'AegeaNet' was thus born on i December 1993, 'a discussion and news group on the pre-classical Aegean world from Palaeolithic to Homer and beyond'. Three and a half years later, it is still growing with over 780 subscribers, archives (as of November 1995), and plans for more sophisticated services like digest and moderated versions.

When 'AegeaNet' started, email and the World Wide Web were still young, at least to the Humanities, but both have developed quickly in the interim, and, for me at least, they are now indispensable to the way I conduct research and my profession.(2)

Owning 'AegeaNet' and co-managing it have caused me to consider seriously the medium of email, its goals and ethics. Fortunately, I have gotten help and advice from the owners and managers of other lists. Not only is there an email discussion group for all list-owners (of course),(3) but the list-owners of the major classics and archaeological lists are in constant communication with each other, discussing problems and issues, and at the December 1996 meetings of the Archaeological Institute of America I organized a panel of six such owners and managers to assess the medium, its development and impact.(4)

Three years ago, many subscribers seemed unfamiliar with this new way of communicating. Email lists, as has been often remarked, constitute an odd medium: contributions to discussions look formal but read like oral conversations, they can be exchanged almost instantaneously and often participants are unknown to each other - such conditions can lead contributors to be careless and their contributions to be misunderstood. Tempers flare, and people 'shout' (write in upper case) and even 'flame' (insult) each other.

As more people have become email-literate, such situations have become less common, but early on email etiquette ('netiquette') was the subject of much discussion and trial and error. I recall several instances of subscribers flaming each other (a gentle reminder to 'keep it civil' tended to restore calm), and a major row that occurred when an undergraduate student who asked some basic questions got flamed. 'AegeaNet's' welcoming message now succinctly reminds people 'do not email anyone anything you would not say to them face-to-face' and 'if you will not take the time to help, do not take the time to hurt'. Recently, however, most people seem comfortable with email, and netiquette has not been much of an issue.

Another aspect that still needs to be worked out, however, concerns the public nature of email speech: do email postings constitute 'publication', and, if so, how does one cite them? Occasionally this issue raises real fears; scholars who voice cherished opinions, opinions they would not consider publishing in a conventional medium, can get genuinely worried about being quoted. Even I have been known to express warmly held beliefs about Linear A, only to find out from an expert that my facts are wrong and my opinion is worthless - I wouldn't want either posting to be cited! But some postings are valuable, and in these cases I have been urging scholars who wish to cite email messages to contact the authors and inform them of what they intend to do, and, if possible, get their permission to do it. Some kind of official guidelines, however, are still needed, and these should probably come from journal and book editors (is the editor of ANTIQUITY listening?).(5)

Another interesting area that also has had to be worked out concerns the position of the list-owner. Since list-owners define the constituency of the list and procedures for posting, these should give the subscriber clues as to how the list will be managed. …