Academic journal article Shofar

Resources for Jewish Biography and Autobiography on the Internet

Academic journal article Shofar

Resources for Jewish Biography and Autobiography on the Internet

Article excerpt

The Internet and associated digital technologies are useful to Jewish Studies scholars who research, write, and teach Jewish biography and autobiography. Increasing amounts of secondary and primary sources originally preserved in manuscript or print form are now being digitized and made available as electronic resources. A number of newly created databases and web sites provide diverse biographical information. The Internet is also a vehicle for the creation and dissemination of various forms of life writing and self-narrative in textual, visual and audio formats. The incorporation of biography and autobiography into the multidisciplinary field of Jewish Studies is coming of age. This paper looks at the availability of biographical research materials and autobiographical expression on the Internet and helps scholars locate these resources.

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Secondary Sources

Introduction

The Internet and associated digital technologies are useful to Jewish Studies scholars who research, write, and teach Jewish biography and autobiography. Increasing amounts of secondary and primary sources originally preserved in manuscript or print form are now being digitized and made available as electronic resources, in some cases with highly sophisticated search capabilities. A number of newly created databases and web sites provide diverse biographical information. The Internet is also emerging as a vehicle for the creation and dissemination of various forms of life writing and self-narrative in textual, visual and audio formats. The incorporation of biography and autobiography into the multidisciplinary field of Jewish Studies is coming of age. Mara Cohen Ioannides describes her experience teaching a course on Jewish American autobiography at Southwest Missouri State University.1 The Winter 2005 issue of Jewish Quarterly Review was devoted entirely to various aspects of Jewish autobiography. During the past three years, Michael Stanislawski, Jan Schwarz, and Marcus Moseley have written monographs on the genre of Jewish autobiography. Gabriella Safran has reviewed these in Prooftexts.2 This presentation does not attempt to continue or add to their discussion. Rather, the intent is to look at the availability of biographical research materials and autobiographical expression on the Internet and to help scholars locate these resources.

Search Tools

Locating biographical information on the Internet can be time-consuming and overwhelming. A search in a general search engine such as Google or Yahoo on a personal name may retrieve a large number of hits, but there is no guarantee that the information is reliable, current, or accurate. Another common starting point is Wikipedia, which is surprisingly comprehensive, but cannot be 100 percent relied upon because it is not authoritative.3 However, a number of web-based tools exist that can provide scholars with high-quality information. These can be very brief entries with perhaps a date of birth, occupation, address, etc., while others have more in depth, essay-type information.

Biographical Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Directories

Biographical dictionaries, encyclopedias and directories vary in type and publishing style. Many of these are "dynamic" or "open," which means that editors or the public can edit or update the biographies, or even add new entries. These are constantly changing, and can provide very current information. Others are or contain electronic facsimiles, which are popular because they contain the text and look of the original print publication. However, their appearance on the Internet allows many of these also to receive new or enhanced information.

For many years, World Biographical Index, issued by the prominent German publisher of biographical and other scholarly reference books K. G. Saur, has been one of the best online resources for Jewish Studies scholars in need of retrospective biographical information. …

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