New grant to foster global study of ancient Near East history
by Lew Harris
The ancient Near East holds significant keys to human history, but accessing those keys is cumbersome because research information is so difficult to locate, said a Vanderbilt professor who is participating in a project to enhance that study through establishment of an Internet site.
The project, which has received planning funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, would attempt to bring together at one Internet site "electronic journal articles, books, images of artifacts, maps and reports of excavations, and many historic texts in a number of ancient languages," said University Librarian Paul M. Gherman, who is leading the effort.
"The civilizations of the ancient Near East are the world's oldest, and they are also uncommonly significant for human history," said Jack Sasson, the Mary Jane Werthan Professor of Judaic and Biblical Studies and an authority in the field. "They were remarkably diverse and occupied a large region of the world. The range of material surviving from the Near East is incomparable and the diversity of its societies remarkable.
"Accessing this material and the literature about it, however, is not for the faint of heart, because it is either located in learned journals and books that are published internationally or, as is it is becoming increasingly common, on Internet sites that are not always easy to find," Sasson said.
The project "aims to ease entry into this material and to facilitate discussion about its significance," he said.
Gherman said a $27,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation will fund the planning process. "We are hopeful that Mellon may choose to fund the actual project."
Details of the project are to be developed in the planning process, but the overall sense and goal of the effort is to provide scholars with better access to a wide range of both retrospective and current resources on the ancient Near East and the technology to develop such resources, Gherman said.
The ancient Near East generally consists of the areas from Iran westward to the Mediterranean, including Egypt and North Africa -- Iran, Mesopotamia (Babylon and Assyria), Anatolia, Canaan, Israel, Arabia and Egypt. Among the many civilizations that existed during that time were the Egyptians, Babylonians, Hittites, Canaanites, Hebrews, Phoenicians, Elamites and Hurrians.
Participants in the project, which is tentatively named ETANA (Electronic Tools and Ancient Near Eastern Archives), include the American Oriental Society, the American Schools of Oriental Research, Case Western Reserve University, the Cobb Institute of Archeology, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the Society of Biblical Literature, Vanderbilt University Press and Vanderbilt's Heard Library. Other interested organizations may be invited to participate as the planning process proceeds. The project is named after a Mesopotamian mythical hero who strove for immortality by flying to heaven on the back of an eagle.
Collectively the participating organizations represent more than 7,000 scholars who are interested in the academic study of the ancient Near East. Each of the participants brings certain strengths and interests to the project, which promises to be a focal point for all scholars working in ancient Near Eastern studies.
Also assisting with the project at Vanderbilt are Douglas M. Knight, chair of the Graduate Department of Religion and professor of Hebrew Bible; Robert Drews, professor of classics and the history of classical studies; William J. Hook, director of Vanderbilt's Divinity Library; Anne C. Womack, associate director of the Divinity Library; Marshall Breeding, library technology officer; and Michael Ames, director of Vanderbilt University Press.