Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Future of the New Testament Gateway I: Who is it for?

As I have mentioned previously, I have been invited to present a paper on the future of The New Testament Gateway at the SBL Computer Assisted Research Section next month, in San Diego. In a series of blog posts before then, I will be mapping out the future as I see it, and throwing out some ideas that I will be discussing in the presentation.

1. What I am not talking about

Before beginning to do that, I want to make clear what I am talking about here. I am talking about The New Testament Gateway proper, the gateway site that is a series of annotated links to academic material about the New Testament. I am not talking about sister sites like the All-in-One Biblical Resources Search, which, like all of my websites, is located at Nor am I talking about this blog, which I think of as the "NT Gateway Weblog", a sister to The New Testament Gateway, but not the gateway itself. I make those things clear lest there is confusion about what I am discussing. And while discussing these sites, let me add that it is now necessary for me to retire the All-in-One Biblical Resources Search which has outlived its usefulness and has been overtaken by the technology. Meanwhile, it is my plan to resume updating The Case Against Q Website (my oldest website, now over ten years old!), the Aseneth Home Page and others.

2. Who is it for?

With those preliminary questions out of the way, I would like to begin looking to the future for The New Testament Gateway by asking a key question: Who is it for? When the site began in 1998, this question was easy to answer. It was aimed at students. Specifically, it was aimed at my students. Back in 1996 and 1997, I was giving out class hand-outs to students with typed-out links and they were failing to find the sites I was recommending. So I appended a list of "Useful links" to my homepage, which quickly morphed into its own site, Recommended New Testament Web Resources, an early version of what eventually became The New Testament Gateway. But the site evolved to become something bigger, a gateway site for scholars as well as students.

For most of its life, then, I have conceived of it as a site for both scholars and students. Now, there is no question that it is still broadly used by students. It is still useful to students. It is recommended in standard student introductions like Bart Ehrman's. If they are set a research paper on the Historical Jesus, googling is not going to be especially helpful -- far too many resources, far too undifferentiated for academic quality. But going to the section here on the Historical Jesus gives them a selection of pre-selected links by an academic working in the field. There are many, many examples of scholars using it this way in their teaching, recommending the site as a whole, or specific pages, as gateways to reliable academic material on the topic.

The explosion of internet resources has in fact increased the need for good gateway sites for students, to guide them through the maze, and using the site in my own teaching has persuaded me that its relevance here has, if anything, increased. But at the same time, the explosion of internet resources has impacted quite differently on the usefulness of the site for scholars. I think The New Testament Gateway has become far less relevant and far less useful for scholars now than it used to be. Think back to the early days of the internet, when searching with Yahoo! and Excite was pretty hopeless. If you found a decent resource, you needed to bookmark it because you might not find it again. And this was where something like the New Testament Gateway came in. A gateway site used to provide an elaborate public bookmarking system. These were the days when people used to submit their sites to search engines in the hope that they might get them picked up. Googleization has changed all that. Now, if you want to find it, you google it. And even the more techno-tentative academics are learning how to tackle Google Scholar and Google Books (as well as databases like ATLA). The scholar doing research now knows, or ought to know, how to use the internet. If they need an article on a given subject, they know how to find it. The New Testament scholar finds less of value in The New Testament Gateway than s/he once did.

To be continued . . .

1 comment:

David said...

Mark, although as you rightly say, the number and quality of resources has blossomed during the life of NTG, it is still a mainstay, and a first point of entry. I hope it will actually be grown, not diminished.