Launched in 1997, Recent Ovidian Bibliography (ROB) was for its time the most comprehensive online reference for Ovidian studies available. It began, simply enough, as a text-file compilation of bibliography I used to keep track of research I was doing for my dissertation. How much better to make it searchable, and if I made it something I could search why not make it something anyone could search? A little time spent with Perl::CGI and I had an online resource useful enough that it became widely linked from many academic sites and footnoted in books and articles.
ROB was originally hosted at NYU, and after I earned my PhD I moved it to a personal site, jiffycomp.com, and rewrote it in PHP. In 2000 I became the webmaster at Brooklyn Museum—no longer working on Ovid and without access to many of the subscription-only bibliographical resources I had enjoyed, updates naturally slowed and then stopped altogether. Since it was still an excellent bibliography of work on Ovid from 1990–2000, the site remained alive and used by many researchers even as it was sliding into obsolescence. ROB still has links from many pages and high rankings in many searches though it no longer exists! Versions are available on the Internet Archive:
In August 2000 I added a “New Ideas” page where I laid out a few possible directions the site could go if it was going to be worth putting any effort into it. On this page I asked:
Is there any interest in a “Preprint Exchange” ? This would be a place to post notes, short articles, or abstracts of work-in-progress in order to get comments and feedback from other scholars. Like the FAQ, the comments would appear on the page with the preprint itself, and it would be easy to post new comments or new replies. This is one of the best ways to foster the community of Ovid scholars. If you are interested in this and especially if you have material you would like to post, please send email…
No one expressed any interest, though I still think this is a good idea and wish I had pursued it. At the time I was unaware of ArXiv, which is the exact same idea with the word “Physics” instead of “Ovid.” Paul Ginsparg, ArXiv’s founder, won a MacArthur Fellowship for implementing that idea.
In my mind, ArXiv is the best example of using the internet to tear down some very counter-productive walls. ArXiv postings have essentially replaced print journals as the place physicists and mathematicians go to catch up on the most current work in their fields. More importantly, papers posted there are available to anyone willing to download a PDF. Want to read Grigory Perelman’s papers proving the Poincaré Conjecture for yourself? Go ahead (arXiv:math/0211159v1, arXiv:math/0303109, arXiv:math/0307245). Heard about Garret Lisi, the surfer-cosmologist? His paper “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything” right there (arXiv:0711.0770). Trackbacks are even listed for each paper, so you can find out what others are saying on their blogs, both professional and amature.
As I said, Paul Ginsparg, the founder of Arxiv, won a MacArthur Award for implementing his idea. Meanwhile, nothing similar exists for Humanities, and the most current research in fields like Classics languishes behind online paywalls.