19 Jul 2009

Want data on Etruscan inscriptions? It'll cost you dearly.

Last month at Current Epigraphy, Benelli's Thesaurus Linguae Etruscae and Wallace's Zikh Rasna: A manual of the Etruscan language and inscriptions were given top pick from among Bryn Mawr Classical Review's May & June 2009 listings.

Chuck Jones, a librarian at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, compares the two comically like this: "Thesaurus Linguae Etruscae 445EUR = $630 = a dollar a page with enough left over to bind it. A manual of the Etruscan language and inscriptions $65 = 15 cents a page with enough left over to bind it and buy lunch."

And now a darker perspective: Why does the study of history seem almost as though it's being held for ransom by shrewd academic capitalists as if humanity had no right to its own past for free? Isn't $630 a little obscene for the majority of the world to pay for raw information? All most can hope for is that it may one day travel its way to a local library in one of the coming decades. What a pity that scholarly institutions can't do any better to share this basic knowledge with the entire world in the so-called "Information Age". A lot of historical mysteries could be solved faster if the data was generally available to all restless minds in the world. Then again, a lot of career authors would be out of a job.


  1. You might be able to request it via Interlibrary Loan (ILL) from your local public library.

  2. Let me elaborate in regards to, say, the accessibility of information on all currently known Etruscan inscriptions.

    Question: Where as a general layman can one obtain information on *all* currently known Etruscan inscriptions online in its entirety?

    Answer: After 15 years since internet browsers became popularized, nowhere.

    Has academia truly committed itself to sharing its information to the general public through the most reasonable, cost-effective means at their disposable? I'd say: Nope. So libraries have people wait an inordinate amount of time through these aptly named "ILLs" for information that should be freely available online instantaneously.

    There is of course The Etruscan Texts Project, which shows the public some of the latest inscriptions. However, it's not exactly user-friendly and it doesn't record all extent inscriptions as far as I've noticed.

    So back to price, there's an obvious advantage to scholars who have greater financial means because those with no money become heavily reliant on these 'institutions of learning' to obtain the same information at a much slower pace (if indeed the information is available to them at all).

    Now, that being said, what have I missed in this picture?

  3. Perhaps scholars with greater financial means do have some slight advantage; they can purchase the books they use most frequently to have at hand all the time. However, in my experience, frequent trips to the library and liberal use of ILL are mainstays of the mainstream academic's life, regardless of financial means.

  4. Yes, however the mainstays of a scholar's life are not the topic here that I brought up. It's really about the lavish prices for books, journals and other materials - costs that many people, especially in the midst of an economic crunch, simply cannot absorb.

    To mix the topic of good scholarship with good finances as you subtly do in your comment is potentially classist and I'm far too sociocapitalist to accept that attitude without a fight. ;o)

    Fact is, many people are tapped out for good reason. The global economy sucks. Hard-working students struggle. Many are legitimately on social assistance programs or disability. There's a strong economic reason why many things formerly paid for like music or books, for example, are being obtained without cost on sites like Youtube or Scribd by users without shame.

    A good portion of our global society cannot afford these books, journals, videos and other materials, as well as any exorbitant fees passed on to the consumer via the ILL system.

    My point is simple: the internet can distribute and replicate information freely, instantly, and without cost of "shipping" via digital formats. The physicality of information is an irrelevant novelty. In a perfect world, everything would be available already in digital format so that any high fees amassed from the physical publishing of books or physical shipping are annihilated.

    Regardless of whether one feels ILL is "handy" or "vital", I maintain that the very physical exchange of materials from one library to another is completely unnecessary, antiquated, and less equitable to all users than what it can and should be in this new century. I'm sure things will be changing drastically in the next decade or two.

  5. And maybe I should also add to clarify what bugs me about ILL, by example: Let's say I want to get the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture at my local library but it's not available. We all know that it would be a while before I can get that copy. However, in the Internet Age, does anybody not ask why we must wait at all? The fact is, we don't if the system was working to full capacity. By being more efficient, it would incur less costs and serve the people better... but bureaucracies of any sort, like heavy elephants, are tough to budge in a hurry. So it appears that the world evolves despite libraries.

  6. For a while I tried to do humanities scholarship as an independent / unaffiliated scholar. It was very difficult because the necessary texts were expensive and hard-to-get.

    It occurred to me that, even though humanities professors are not paid much in the grand scheme of things, the research subsidies that they get indirectly via a good, university library are hugely important. If they need a book, they can often get their library to buy it.

    Independent scholars, on the other hand, are forced to wait, spend large sums out of pocket, or both. Then it is harder to publish.