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Home >> Customers >> Success Stories >> Macquarie University

ISYS brings new technology to Ancient History at Macquarie University

How far back do you look into your organization’s information history? Maybe you consult the previous year’s sales figures, or look up legislation from five years ago. Perhaps you’re 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. “I’ve 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 I’ve 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 don’t 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 Macquarie’s and other libraries, so he doesn’t 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 Bible’s 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 university’s 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 year.

For more information about Dr. Chris Forbes and the Macquarie University Ancient History Department, visit

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