Vol. 23, No. 1 (Fall 1999)
Review by Kai Stoekenius
Simon-Ritz, ed. Germanistik im Internet: eine Orientierungshilfe. Informationsmittel für Bibliotheken: Beiheft, 8. Berlin: Deutsches Bibliotheksinstitut, 1998. 149 p. ISBN 3-87068-548-4.
Anyone at all familiar with the volatile world of the Internet might consider an attempt at a definitive listing of Web pages devoted to a given topic — especially when subject to the snail-paced process of print publication — a quixotic enterprise. Web sites pass in and out of existence overnight, and even those that seem durable and have persisted for a long time change servers and addresses with disconcerting frequency. Not surprisingly then, nearly a year after it was first published, some of the links listed in Germanistik im Internet (made conveniently clickable in the on-line version of the monograph are no longer available, and more will doubtlessly soon slip into oblivion. This is not likely to disturb editor Frank Simon-Ritz, however, since a comprehensive listing of Web pages devoted to Germanistik was not the primary purpose of this collection of ten essays by Germanists and librarians. Rather, Simon-Ritz indicates in the introduction, he hopes the essays will present a spectrum of views on the both positive and negative aspects of Internet activity in Germanistik, along with specific suggestions for how the presence of German studies on the Internet might be fostered and improved. The contributors of this volume have, to varying degrees, risen to the task.
Each of the ten essays takes up a different aspect of Germanistik, and summarizes — in some cases criticizes — a selection of Internet offerings relating to that aspect. It is perhaps indicative of the relative newness of Internet activity in Germanistik that there is much overlap in the sites listed in the articles, and that many of them are not, strictly speaking, mounted by or for Germanists. Still there is an interesting sampling, and certainly most readers will likely make one or more interesting discoveries.
The contributors have also taken up the challenge of editor Simon-Ritz, however, and made listing specific Internet sites secondary to a free ranging speculation on all kinds of issues relating not only to Germanistik and the Net but to serious academic work in the humanities in general. Some issues addressed repeatedly are the slowness of the humanities and social sciences to take up work on the Internet, the shortcomings of present Web resources, and the potential advantages the Net offers for doing research in these fields.
The observation is made by Simon-Ritz and several others that the organization and exploitation of the Internet for Germanistik remains in its infancy, and that there is still reluctance, particularly in Germany, to see the Net as a viable medium for work in the field. This is attributed to a number of factors including the nature of Germanistik itself, and disappointment with the ephemeral quality of much of what is currently available on the Net. Alan Ng, creator of the Internet Resource for Germanists, based in Madison, Wisconsin, brings the perspective of a non-German Germanist to his essay. Ng notes that acceptance of the Net as a medium for academic exchange and distribution of resources in the U.S. is somewhat ahead of that in Germany, and explores differences in the way non-German Germanists use the Internet.
Ulrike Steierwald, in her essay on sites devoted to author studies, sets forth evaluation criteria for Web resources. Her criteria are echoed as criticisms of some current Web offerings in other essays. Her co-contributors take sites to task for being low on content while containing a lot of high-tech bells and whistles which serve only to increase loading time for users without the latest equipment. Ng especially deplores the marketing orientation of many home pages that emphasize style over content, and he tries to limit his list of sites to those he considers to be seriously involved in research and communication. Other criticisms repeatedly voiced are that sites often fail to take full advantage of the hypertext and e-mail possibilities offered by the Net, for example the linking of text with non-textual materials such as photo archives.
Several of the essays sound a more visionary than critical note. Achim Bonte, while also critical of design flaws in many current Net offerings, advocates convincingly for the advantages of the Net in the exchange of research information through discussion forums and E-mail lists. In an ambitious essay that runs the gamut of Internet issues, Werner Bies explores the possibilities of the hypertext and hypermedia presentation of texts and other documents. Bies also touches on the advent of a whole new genre of literature created on and for the Net, a topic that is followed up in an essay by Sabrina Ortmann devoted to Net literature as a new object of study for Germanists and other literary and cultural academicians.
Taken together, the essays in this collection offer more widely ranging perspectives on the Internet than what the title would suggest. The reader interested primarily in uncovering sites in the field of Germanistik is unlikely to be disappointed, but these essays go well beyond a review of web resources on Germanistik. They prepare food for thought about the Internet not only as it exists today, but as it is likely to develop in the future, as an invaluable research tool for practitioners in the Humanities. Some of what is presented here may be familiar to Librarians who have been dealing with issues relating to the proliferation of Web resources for some time, but the collection is likely to present at least some new insights for most readers.