ISYS brings new technology to Ancient History
at Macquarie University
How far back do you look into your organizations information history?
Maybe you consult the previous years sales figures, or look up legislation
from five years ago. Perhaps youre working with policies and procedures
that were established last decade, or databases holding 20 years
worth of data. At Macquarie University in Sydney, Dr. Chris Forbes looks
a little further back than that, using ISYS to search information that
is 2,000 years old.
Dr. Forbes is a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History with a special interest
in New Testament history, Hellenistic history and the intersection of
Christianity and Graeco-Roman culture, and he has been lecturing at Macquarie
University for more than 15 years. In that time he has amassed a huge
collection of administrative, teaching and research materials, and on
any day he may have to search his repository for the name of a student
he taught in 1998; a reference to Thebes in a lecture about Alexander
the Great; or the transcript of a papyrus from around the time of the
birth of Christ.
With ISYS on his desktop, Dr. Forbes can find any of this information
in seconds. Ive taken all sorts of different classes, so remembering
when it was I talked about Andronicus revolt in Northern Turkey
can be difficult, says Dr. Forbes, With ISYS I just type in
Andronicus and I can see every document that mentions him.
Knowledge-gathering methods have changed a lot over the last 15 years,
and the range of information formats in Dr. Forbes knowledge store
reflects this. It includes everything from early-80s teaching materials
in WordStar file format to research articles downloaded from the Web and
assorted material from the university library. Such a large variety of
formats does nothing to slow Dr. Forbes hunt for information, however.
ISYS provides a single point of access to a variety of current and legacy
file formats, even if the original application is not installed.
Like many professional academics, Dr. Forbes has trouble devoting as
much time to research as he would like. The Web is an increasingly useful
research tool, and Dr. Forbes uses ISYS to help him take advantage of
what the Web has to offer. More and more research material is becoming
available on the Web, particularly in HTML and PDF format, he says,
ISYS is really the only tool Ive come across that works so
well with PDF.
Perhaps one of Dr. Forbes most tedious tasks is the referencing
of his research. Anyone who has ever submitted an essay knows that creating
a reference list or bibliography can be an onerous task. But with an index
of hundreds of journal references, Dr. Forbes makes light work of it.
ISYS lets me devote more of my scarce time to actually doing research
and less of it to the time-consuming task of annotating it, he says,
I dont have to remember which issue of which journal I first
saw a reference in. I just type in a referenced quote or term and find
the source immediately.
Obviously, Dr. Forbes history research involves looking at new information
as well as old. Information from 2003 is just as important as information
from 100 BC, and there are dozens of research journals available in the
university library that are relevant to Dr. Forbes studies.
The challenge for any researcher is to glean the valuable facts from
each source without spending hours wading through less pertinent information.
Dr. Forbes has taken advantage of ISYS capabilities to streamline
his research procedure significantly. His ISYS index is automatically
updated with the tables of contents from about 90 journals held in Macquaries
and other libraries, so he doesnt need to visit or even contact
the library in order to gain access to these publications. Each time he
performs a query with ISYS, he knows that the latest published historical
research is included in the scope of his search. Any results worth following
up can then be requested from the library.
Dr. Forbes current research project is an investigation into letter-writing
in the Ancient world. It is known that a significant proportion of the
Bibles New Testament was originally in the form of letters. Most
of the letters from which it was compiled were written to groups, rather
than individuals, and read aloud to the group. Dr. Forbes is investigating
whether writing letters addressed to groups is particular to the New Testament,
or if it was practiced elsewhere and at other times in ancient history.
Evidence to date based on the universitys vast database of papyri
reveals few examples of letters addressed to groups, and little research
has been undertaken in this area. By searching his collection of ancient
letters for plural greetings and farewells and similar clues, Dr. Forbes
hopes to determine more accurately the extent of group correspondence
before 49 AD, the date of the earliest New Testament letters. He will
present his findings at an international conference in Bonn later this
For more information about Dr. Chris Forbes and the Macquarie University
Ancient History Department, visit www.anchist.mq.edu.au