In 1999 CSA, working initially with the Archaeological Institute of America, launched an online presentation of information about archaeological projects. Originally intended to include only archaeological projects in the Mediterranean, it grew to include projects located anywhere. (The AIA's active participation ended at the end of 1999, and the Institute withdrew from the project altogether earlier in 2003.)
The initial reception of the site was very good, and the number of projects represented grew to over 100. The site even received a Scout Award shortly after it was established (http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/report/socsci/1999/ss-991019.html#1).
Despite the initial reception, it has been difficult to get enough information about projects to keep the site up to date and to offer information about a sufficient number of projects. There seem to have been two reasons for the difficulties with obtaining information. First, the wide use of internet search engines has made such sites seem somewhat less necessary. Second, information from project directors has not continued to be offered at the initial pace, suggestion that project directors see no benefit from being listed. Since there was never an intention that CSA personnel could or should locate and describe projects, the second problem, fewer and fewer project directors sending information, made the database difficult to sustain. A request for ideas from CSA Director Harrison Eiteljorg, II, was sent to a variety of scholars in January to see if there were some ways to reinvigorate the project. It brought neither new ideas nor new enthusiasm, and the AIA withdrew from the project after that request was sent.
It seems that continuing the database is not useful enough to justify the time required. Without greater coverage the Web site is of marginal use, and getting broader coverage seems unlikely. As a consequence, active work on the archaeological projects database has been terminated. The database information will remain available until the end of 2003 and will then be removed from the CSA web site.
The difficulties encountered with this project suggest some general questions. First, are such compilations useful, or does the use of search engines on the Web make them unnecessary? This is the crucial question, of course, but there is no certain answer. Information about archaeological projects can certainly be found with search engines, but many projects have no Web presence, and finding those on the Web often requires significant information simply to begin the search process. In addition, the categories included in a database such as this one provide more effective ways to obtain those bits of information likely to be of use and value to the searcher. In short, a constructed database can provide more structured information about more projects. If such a database is valuable – as just asserted and as the Scout Award suggests -- what is required to convince archaeologists to assist? It is, of course, likely that some see the value but simply do not take the time to offer support and that others would offer support after proof of success but not before. However, it is certainly true that supporting an effort such as this database brings no credit or reward of any kind to the supporters. It may help the larger community of scholars and/or the still larger community of interested students (especially those at small institutions with minimal archaeological programs), but it only helps them when there is a critical mass achieved. This is not a new chicken-and-egg question. Many Web sites are useful only when they are large, but they can only become large when they have become successful. This one was not large enough to be successful or successful enough to become large. Alas.
For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities or other CSA/ADAP projects, consult the Subject index.
Table of Contents for the Spring, 2003 issue of the CSA Newsletter (Vol. XVI, no. 1)
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